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Looking ahead: Muriel Chatel, MD, Borough Wines

Published:  26 August, 2017

With the autumn tasting season almost upon us, as the trade prepares for the run up to the all-important Christmas trading period, Harpers continues its web series asking leading voices in the trade what trends and challenges they’re expecting to face in the latter half of 2017.

We continue our series with Muriel Chatel, managing director, Borough Wines.

1. How has the first half of 2017 compared to 2016?

Our retail business has performed well so far in 2017; in the first half of the year we achieved double digit growth compared to 2016. We were expecting more of a slump in the post-festive period, but this was less dramatic than in previous years and our shops actually did better than expected. We've noted a changing attitude to alcohol over the last few years, with customers driven by a philosophy of 'less but better'. This approach not only suits our business model well, but is also less prone to seasonal fluctuations.

2. What’s your strategy for the second half of the year, through autumn and leading up to the Christmas trading period?

With two new shops opened in quick succession - in Battersea Park and Chiswick - we will be working to maintain momentum and achieve strong growth in those new areas over the next six months. That being said - now those new shops are open and performing well, we can also give a little love to our older sites and ensure we're in good shape across the business ahead of the busy Christmas period. We've got a few refurbishments and updates planned over the coming weeks, a new bar menu and some exciting events in the pipeline too.

Though we are not looking to open more of our own shops before the end of the year, we are actively seeking out new partnerships with other independent retailers nationwide for our Borough Wines Corners concessions (though wholesale arm Borough Wines Imports). These allow us to extend our reach into areas outside the capital, by working with like-minded businesses that are already embedded in local communities. The concept is going from strength to strength and we've recently opened such sites in Herefordshire, Newcastle and Aberdeen.

3. What will be your main focus during this time?

In addition to building business in these new areas and developing our existing sites, a big focus over the coming months will be the website and in particular - our online spirits offering. We've already started diversifying the range and have been working with suppliers to secure exclusive releases and to plan more spirits-focused events. We've updated our online delivery options to make us more competitive on this front and we will be rolling out an improved click-and-collect service in the next few weeks.

In the shops we're developing a more substantial bar menu. This is something we've shied away from slightly in the past, as we didn't want to lose focus from the retail side of things, but we're now ready to make more of that and reinforce our offering.

4. Are there any specific challenges that you’re planning for?

Brexit has already proved problematic and will no doubt be an even bigger challenge down the line. Until we have more of an idea about what that will mean for us though, it's not something we can plan for - beyond ensuring the business is healthy and our supplier relationships across Europe stay strong.

5. Any specific trends you anticipate?

Last year, we were surprised by the strength of our online sales and in particular, the performance of spirits on the website; we anticipate it being a similar story again in the lead up to Christmas this year.

Wine on tap continues to make waves in the on trade and - through concepts like our in store wine refill systems - in a retail environment too. We are now using keg technology to power this system across all sites and have recently diversified the offering by adding more options and premium lines. This is also a significant part of our wholesale business - both through the Borough Wines Corners and on-trade accounts.

6. Have there been any early indications as to what this period has in store for 2017 and what the trade can expect?

We are optimistic about the coming months - our shops are performing well and the signs are good for a strong autumn/winter trading period.

In terms of buying trends - there's been a real surge in interest for low and no alcohol drinks and we expect this to continue as consumer awareness grows. Beyond that - the popularity of low intervention wines shows no sign of abating and the demand for experiences (wine tastings, cocktail classes etc.) continues to grow. We also predict this will be the year of Lambrusco!

Photo shows Muriel Chatel pictured with co-owner Corinna Pyke. Photo by Heiko Prigge.