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Looking ahead: Ted Sandbach, managing director, Oxford Wine Company

Published:  02 August, 2018

How has the first half of 2018 been compared to 2017?

Things have been relatively vibrant, especially in our new city centre shop, which is still buzzing with activity and energy. The trade side of the business has bottomed out a little, which we are combating with more emphasis on quality products than inexpensive everyday wines. There is no doubt that people are very money-conscious at the moment and not spending as freely as they once were, particularly with Brexit looming.

What, currently, are the biggest challenges for the trade (excluding Brexit)?

Certain supermarkets are deliberately causing issues with aggressive and unrealistic pricing, which is putting pressure on the independent sector. As such, I would like to see the introduction of minimum pricing spread south from Scotland. At present we are looking at differentiating ourselves from such supermarkets by focusing on providing our customers with an experience: young, passionate people who are enjoying (and standing up well to) the challenge of offering something distinct, different and attractive.

What outcome would you like to see from Brexit and why?

The most important thing for the trade is to be able to continue to trade freely. We also need to see a decision and some stability, whatever that is. Hopefully then the exchange rate will stabilise and we will be able to begin making plans.

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

We will continue to build on our reputation as a fortified wine specialist (following on from our IWC win this month), and aim to have the best selection of fortified wines in the country. This will be supported by a strong focus on educating both staff and customers. We have been delighted with the success of our expanded tasting programme so far this year, and plan to push this even further with more tastings for customers as well as a strong focus on staff education.

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

Oxford has seen a huge new shopping centre development with a lot of bars and restaurants, which has put pressure on the rest of the businesses in the city. This is posing a challenge for The Oxford Wine Café, which we are combating with a new, more comprehensive wine list, decanters for all red wines, and as in our shops, a focus on education. We will be rolling out a blind tasting programme for customers at the Café, and strengthen its links with the Oxford Wine Company’s retail offering.

Any specific trends you anticipate?

I’m starting to see a move back to European wines – whether that’s reverting to the classics, or experimenting with newer areas to the British market such as Greece or Slovenia. There’s also been a trend towards drinking less but better, which as an independent merchant I am delighted to see!

Which channels are likely to perform best and which will be under the greatest stress and why?

The trend towards people drinking more at home, as well as looking to explore and learn more about wine, is hugely benefitting our retail channel, and I see that continuing. The flip side of that trend is that the wholesale side of the business will be under pressure, and we will need to continue our focus on providing great quality and service.

How optimistic are you – will business for the drinks trade be better or worse between now and 1 Jan 2019 compared with last year?

Tentatively optimistic. Sales are already up by over £300,000 compared to last year, and we hope to continue with this upward trend. However, we are continually under pressure with staffing costs, rates, and high street rents, so I’m remaining cautious.