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Importers collective SPOT portfolio offers streamlined buying

Published:  17 September, 2019

Sometimes the best ideas are the most straight-forward ones; at least that’s the hope of Solano Peña-Lenzi from specialist wine importer Hispamerchants.

He believes that his latest idea could shake up the wine importing scene in the UK and offer a platform for small specialists to take on big importers while at the same time offering restaurants and independent merchants a truly unique range of wines.

So what’s the big idea? His plan is to create a collective of specialist importers and bring their portfolios together under one umbrella with each specialist maintaining autonomy over their business and customer base while at the same time accessing wines from partner-importers.

The concept was borne out of frustration essentially, frustration at being overlooked by huge swathes of the trade who were time poor and/or lacked the wine knowledge and experience to deal with a number of small importers.

“What we have found over the years is that there can be problems with the way we want to do business,” explains Peña-Lenzi, who established Hispamerchants in 2003 and today imports and sells wine from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Spain. “The main focus has always been Argentina; we are pretty much in every Argentine restaurant around as well as other restaurants and places like Majestic and Oddbins, as well as wholesale.”

So what’s the problem? He offers an example: “Let’s say there’s a sommelier who wants to build a really nice wine list with wines from around the world. He comes across our portfolio and he loves it but then he says I cannot have an account just for Argentine wines from you, I’ll go and buy from Bibendum and buy whatever else they have instead.”

This, he stresses, has been a recurring problem for the life of the business. “It happens a lot, especially with companies that don’t have a sommelier, where there’s no-one who knows about wine and they just want to simplify things and get everything from one place, including soft drinks and spirits. In all of those occasions we have looked at how we can filter through.”

His plan was to launch the SPOT collective, which opened for business in May this year, and includes the portfolios of Go Brazil Wines, Spanish specialists The Three Amigos and The Portuguese Fine Wine Co. This way on and off trade buyers have a much broader portfolio to choose from and he doesn’t have to re-shape his business to source wines from unfamiliar areas in order to fulfil customers’ needs.

“We realised that it was quite limiting to move from your specialist area into a broader portfolio because if you want to put together a full portfolio you need a lot of investment and effort, into learning about the rest of the world, travelling and doing the buying trips,” says Peña-Lenzi. “A route that has been tried before is to build a virtual portfolio then buy the wines when you receive the orders; but the limitation there is that you cannot provide a good service. It can be quite messy.”

The key to the whole idea – and the part that’s not been done before – was getting London City Bond on board, and ensuring that each specialist in the group held their stock at the same LCB warehouse. This way each importer still has their own stock holding and when a SPOT order is placed LCB can draw the wines from each company’s stock as they physically pick the order.

This means that the entire SPOT portfolio can work on a single supplier, single invoice basis with its customer base.

“It’s a win-win situation for LCB and all of us,” explains Peña-Lenzi, “because if we are selling more wine through SPOT then each specialist increases stock holding so LCB gets more rent.”

“We know there is a need in the market for many people who want to get specialist wines and they cannot because of financial or operational reasons, certainly during a scenario like Brexit when people tend to want to consolidate suppliers. This is a way for us to grow into a market that we normally cannot access, a broader market,” he continues.

The next step for the project is to recruit new partners which complement the current offering. “We are currently having meetings with other specialists to get them on board,” says Peña-Lenzi. “This is a continuing process in order to build the portfolio, and we are also preparing a crowd-funding campaign in order to get more acceleration and create funds to employ the right people to keep this moving forward.”

Peña-Lenzi is optimistic that things are moving in the right direction and says that conversations he’s having with buyers are a lot easier and fruitful now the collective has officially launched. “We have the best players in each category, LCB is already live and we are already selling,” he says.