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Northern Ireland's James Nicholson Wine on acquisition trail

Published:  27 January, 2015

Northern Ireland's James Nicholson Wine is on the lookout for a mainland UK acquisition.

Northern Ireland's James Nicholson Wines is on the lookout for a mainland UK acquisition. 

Founder James Nicholson told he has been looking to buy a business in Great Britain for the past two years, and in discussions with three firms in the last six months, but so far has not found the "right fit".

JNWineJames Nicholson is looking to buy another independent wine businessThe company's flagship store in Crossgar, Co Down, also services its wholesale operations across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

"We want a partner or an acquisition who would have a team still in situ to keep running the business," he said. Around 4% of its mail order business is retail into the UK.

The firm is based in Crossgar, Co.Down, but from there services its retail sales, UK mail order/online business, and wholesale sales into the UK and Republic of Ireland. Nicholson is planning a £250,000 IT upgrade this year, with a new website launching over the summer. "It will be very different from any drink site out there," he told

Currently 80% of its business is wholesale, with the remaining 20% coming from retail sales, of which 15% is mail order and online. The online business has been growing at 10-11% year-on-year, and Nicholson is confident web sales will top £1 million within the next 12 months.

Overall the firm, which was set up 37 years ago, has seen its retail sales move up 4-5% in the last 12 months, with UK business up 6-7% and 9-9.5% in the Republic of Ireland. Nicholson says he sells "north of 100,000 cases" per year.

Nicholson says the business from the Republic of Ireland halved in 2007, but 25-30% of that has come back. It employs 37 staff and buys all of its wines direct from source.  He says direct sourcing, rather than working with agencies, "is a big help to us". "It's what you do as an independent - and the relationship with the supplier is much stronger as a result."

He said he is unimpressed with the lack of innovation from a lot of independents, many of whom have "no point of difference" and are just buying the "same boring wines from the big five wholesalers". "It makes for a really bland offer," he added.

It has recently signed a deal of exclusive retailer of New Zealand's Felton Road for the island of Ireland - the first allocations will arrive in July.