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The new order at boutique merchants Friarwood

Published:  19 August, 2016

Facing fierce competition is a daily reality of selling fine wine in and around London.

We spoke to Ben Carfagnini, managing director of Friarwood, about what it takes for a boutique merchant to succeed in the post-Brexit, highly completive wholesale and retail environment.

Since it began in 1967, the London-based wholesaler only branched into retail 15 years ago by turning a welcoming room at their base in Parsons Green into a retail outlet.

But wholesale remains the lion's share of the business, and Friawood's strategy is based around providing that all-important point of difference.

"Our business plan is quite unique in that we are able to offer a wide variety of products which are exclusive to us both from the wholesale side and the retail side," Carfagnini said. "We have a selected client base and because of that we can guarantee provenance and exclusivity. Exclusivity is hugely important to our customers.

"It's also about finding new wines which customers will want to discover. You have to have your staples like Chablis and Bordeaux, but you also need to step out of the box. We've been working with a Bulgarian range which is one of our exclusive suppliers, and it's been surprising how many people have been interested in trying it. We also have a wine from Nova Scotia which is taking over London."

Ben Carfagnini managing director of FriarwoodBen Carfagnini managing director of Friarwood

There is a personal element to the story of how Carfagnini got to where he is today.

After getting his start as an intern with the business, previous owner Peter Bowen became a grandfather figure to the young Carfagnini.

When Bowen passed away in 2014, his widow offered the sale of the business to him.

Part of the deal was to replace the family's coat of arms logo, and Carfagnini took the opportunity to refresh the company's branding and to make it more current.

With a "young and dynamic" team around him, he is now focusing on the potential that the internet and social media can offer.

"In the last few years of his life, Peter understandably had other things on his mind and the internet side of the business got left behind. We were a bit slow in jumping on the train," he added.

However, this is no different to the rest of the industry he insists.

"Staying current is a big challenge. Technology is changing so much and the wine industry is still only just scratching surface of what it can do.

"We should be looking at beer industry. Young tech guys are coming in and changing way beer is being distributed. The wine industry has plateaued. We need to build confidence within consumers to try something different and embracing technology will help us do that."