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Spotlight on 2020: Hugh Sturges, Jeroboams

Published:  19 December, 2019

As we prepare for the new decade, Harpers will be taking the month of December to look back over 2019 and ahead to what the coming year will bring – hopefully full of revived optimism for both politics and the trade.

Here, we continue our winter series of reflections, predictions and views with Hugh Sturges, MD, Jeroboams

1. What were the highs and lows for you and your business in 2019?

Highs for 2019 were several and can be categorised under the headings result, recognition and re-generation. We achieved target profit and EBITDA results, the latter being our highest ever and had a very strong Bordeaux EP campaign. We broke into the Harpers Top 10, and were recognised for our work on wines from France (Think France). On the retail front we launched our new look shop in Muswell Hill and gave a complete refresh to our food and wine emporium in Holland Park.

Lows in 2019 are very probably the same as most businesses, weak sterling impacting margins, declining wine sales in the restaurant category and cash flow management as we stocked up pre-Brexit in both March and October.

Personally… High - a sneaky trip to the Rugby World Cup Final. Low - the Rugby World Cup Final!

2. What were the most significant issues and trends that occurred in 2019?

I think that the significant issues we are facing in the wine trade are Brexit (potentially a disaster if there is a requirement for the VI-1 in due course) with its impact on confidence, spend and Sterling strength, a slow but steady reduction in UK wine consumption and the ever increasing costs of delivery.

In product terms we have through our retail, and to a lesser extent, trade arms, seen an increase in interest in craft beers, premium spirits (especially whisky, gin and tequila) and wines from Italy.

3. What Brexit outcome would you prefer to see?

Wearing my business hat I would prefer to stay in the EU as I think in the short to medium term (and possibly longer) Brexit is very bad news for UK plc. However, democracy should take its course and we should move to exit with an agreement so that we can get on with the detail and look at other important issues facing the country. In summary, I would rather we had voted to stay in but, as we didn’t, we should get on with leaving with the best deal possible.

4. What trends do you predict for 2020?

More Brexit chaos I am afraid, though politics may boost incomes and so we could see an improved consumer market in 2020. A review of internet only businesses with some of them looking to add physical space to their web offering.

Drinks wise – South Africa, rum, vermouth, low alcohol and hopefully a continued uplift in the finer wines of Italy and the UK.

5. What are likely to be the biggest opportunities for the trade in 2020?

Not many, there will be winners and losers with the winners being financially well-backed and focusing on and listening to the customer. The wine trade will not be the same in 2030 as it is now, so staying interesting, trying new things and building trusted relationships throughout the chain will be key.

6. Who are the people, companies or retailers to watch in 2020?

It will be very interesting to see what Fortress do with Majestic – they have a lot of retail space to use well or badly. In the mid-market Vagabond is leading the way in trying the on/off trade model. In the spirits world there are some great new craft products coming to the market noticeably in the vermouth and brown spirits sectors. Gin will probably plateau. Maybe 2020 will be the year for rum (but that has been said many times before).

7. What, for you, would make for a perfect Christmas?

Politics aside (because I really don’t like any of the options available), my Christmas would be made if I can go home on 24 December in the knowledge that our shops have been festively busy, that we have played a big part in the communities where we are based.

For our marketing director, a complete recovery from major illness, so that he can spend the time he deserves with his wonderful wife and new born daughter.

(Selfishly) early snow in the Alps and a tick in the box that says buy my lovely wife a present that she will actually like!

8. New Year's resolution?

For Jeroboams, to go live with a state of the art transactional web site in the first quarter and to have the courage to allow the management team and staff to make mistakes in the pursuit of a more interesting and satisfying customer experience.

Personally, earn my coastal yacht master qualification and spend more time on the water. Oh, and say yes more often than no!