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Lea & Sandeman talks renewed wholesaling focus

Published:  10 April, 2018

Quality London retailer and wholesaler Lea & Sandeman is putting renewed focus into re-building its on-trade wholesale arm, following the tragic death of founding member Patrick Sandeman in 2012.

Since being set up by Charles Lea and Patrick Sandeman in 1988, the business has grown steadily to become one of the city’s leading merchants, with four shops in West London, a strong private client base and on-trade distribution arm serving much of London and the south east.

In 2018, under the directorship of Charles Lea, the company is now focused on re-invigorating its on-trade wholesale arm and continuing the legacy of Sandeman whose expertise lay with this section of the business.

“There’s no doubt that, despite the incredible loyalty and support of our wholesale customer base, we did see wholesale slip as a percentage of total sales over that time,” Lea told Harpers.

“In 2014, Phil Weeks came on board to drive the wholesale side, which had previously been Patrick’s focus. I wanted Phil to help expand the on-trade team, so as to re-balance the company which has always had an even split between retail (with online growing fast), wholesale and private customers all over the country.

“I feel we have done this successfully, but we continue to be ambitious for further growth and so we will be adding to the team when the time is right. We are always on the look-out for talented salespeople.”

New hires also include Derek Robertson, based in Norwich, at the end of 2015, while Weeks was also responsible for training up two members of the retail team to bolster on-trade sales in London that same year.

There has also been efforts to back-up private sales as this side of the business continues to garner interest with en primeur campaigns for Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Accounts continue to grow in London, East Anglia and the West Country, but according to Weeks, expansion opportunities in places like the Lake District, Cotswolds and, in time, Scotland, means the company is casting its eye further afield.

Any expansion however will be underpinned by Lea’s slow but steady ethos.

This extends to the retail side of the business, which saw its newest store open seven years ago in Chiswick.

He doesn’t rule out further openings in the future, although any new stores will have to follow the example of the Fulham Road store, which was moved to a slightly different unit up the road so the company could buy the freehold.

“I would love to open another shop this year and we could easily open two, but finding the right site is absolutely crucial,” he said.

“The retail rental market is completely skewed against tenants, via a combination of landlord and chartered surveyor greed. On top of that, the high street is suffocating from being over rented and overtaxed and by draconian parking, which is essential for something heavy like wine.”

“There has been a definite shift over the years,” he added. “In the beginning, we watched people only supplying restaurants going bust. It was a good time for retail. It’s a good time now too, but getting the right site makes all the difference.”