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My perfect customer: Chris Laidler, Covino

Published:  16 October, 2019

Chester's Covino is a stylish independent wine shop, wine bar and small-plate restaurant boasting over 100 artisan wines. Owner and manager Chris Laidler shares his secrets to attracting new customers and keeping his existing crowd happy.

How would you describe your customer base?

We’re fortunate enough to have an incredibly varied customer base. Ranging from young professionals in their 20s, all the way through to the retired and nearly-retired age groups. If I had to identify the age group the majority of our customers fall in to, I’d say 35-60, which is a very broad group. It would be fair to say our customers are more discerning than average, and have an appreciation not just for quality, but an appetite for things they are perhaps unfamiliar with. They’ll happily spend more than they’re used to, providing their expectation of quality is there.

What would be your perfect customer?

One with deep pockets and rich mates would be the obvious answer! But the customers I most enjoy dealing with are ones that keep coming back. This gives us an opportunity to get to know their preferences. The perfect customer is one who leaves happy in my eyes. If I was a customer of my own business, I certainly wouldn’t be spending the amounts of money some others do, purely because I don’t have it, but as long as I left happy, I’d come back, and continue to spend money in the future. A happy customer is the perfect customer!

What can you offer to customers that supermarkets and national wine retailers cannot?

Quite simply, a better product range and greater depth of knowledge. Those are the first two things I think any independent wine merchant must trump supermarkets and the likes of Majestic on. Each independent wine merchant should have its own style and personality. Product ranges at wine merchants in the past have almost always been focused on classic wines and regions, but now there are a lot of merchants who are known for their supply of minimal-intervention wines. The supermarkets and Majestic can’t really touch upon these areas in the same way a small indie can, giving indies an area to specialise in.

How would describe your range?

We have a fairly eclectic selection of wines at Covino, ranging from classics through to the more leftfield. Our brief is more aligned to sourcing delicious wines from small producers, which would never get picked up by supermarkets and Majestic, partly because they’re too small, and partly because those making the wines would never sell to large corporations. Secondly, knowledge is something we pride ourselves on. If small indies aren’t able to provide at least twice the amount of wine knowledge you’d expect to receive from Majestic, then we aren’t giving the consumer enough of a reason to come and shop with us. Yes, our wines may have been more carefully chosen, and generally taste better, but in an extremely competitive market, we must stick to our strengths. Selection and knowledge.

How do you go about attracting new customers?

We have a fairly hands-off approach to marketing ourselves, at least in the more traditional methods. We find posting pretty pictures on social media channels of the food we serve and wines we sell is a pretty efficient way of getting the message out there. We focus a lot on the customer experience once they walk through the door, to the moment they walk out, and let word-of-mouth do the rest for us. It’s hard to quantify but the results speak for themselves.

And how do you maintain relationships with existing customers?

Again, we have a pretty hands-off approach to this as well. A lot of businesses send out newsletters, blanket emails, and admittedly, it’s something we should perhaps look at doing more often, but I hate the idea of forcing ourselves on people. Things like loyalty cards are a load of bollocks, I think. We offer what we do at a good price to begin with. Customers loyalty is generated though the value we pass-on. Our relationships with customers are maintained purely through trust, that their money and our wines, and direction (if required) will land them with an enjoyable glass or bottle of wine.