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Pierre Mansour, The Wine Society, on trade as the crisis escalates

Published:  19 March, 2020

Pierre Mansour, head buyer at The Wine Society, speaks to Andrew Catchpole on the immediate impact of the crisis, managing the spike in sales, supply and virtual initiatives to keep members engaged.

“These are extraordinary times; this virus that is a threat to life for vulnerable groups, in UK and around world, also very real threat to peoples’ livelihoods. And those two aspects, for The Wine Society, are our priorities.

“The health and wellbeing of our employees is at the top of the agenda, then making sure we can continue to fulfil members orders, currently purchasing in incredibly high volumes.

“We are seeing unprecedented demand at the moment, the last seven days have seen similar levels of demand that we experience at Christmas peak time. But at Christmas we would be running the business with more people and bringing in more - today, we are down by 25% of people as we’re following government guidelines on those in the vulnerable category, so they are working from home or self isolating, depending on their specific situation.

“We are open for business, with a couple of differences. One is that we have suspended all of our tastings and events for members, a programme we take around country, with in excess of 150 events a year. And we’ve cancelled all events up until the end of April, but expect that will be extended that later. And our shop/retail showroom shut yesterday.

“The wine community is important, with our members and, given that so many of our members are going to be (if not already) isolated, we are going to develop a programme of wine related activity to keep them entertained and engaged, using online community, our social media. We have our tastings and events team, now not running tastings and events, so we’re working up plans as to how can we do virtual tasting, to bring some fun and break the boredom for members.

“[More broadly], we are approaching this from a crisis management point of view, with unprecedented demand, but stock levels are currently good and our cooperative business model allows us to carry high levels of stock. The challenge really is fulfilling those orders and getting them out of our warehouse, so everyone across the business that is able to come into the business, can do so, regardless of role, working in the warehouse, jumping in vans, getting on our telephone service. Everyone pulling out the stops.

“And we are helping focus the teams, asking them to help in running the business, rather than developing the future of the business, so longer term strategic development is on hold for three months.

“Currently, as it stands – and bearing in mind things are changing day by day – without a crystal ball, there will be various stages we will go through, along the lines of what other countries are going through, probably with lockdown soon.

“We’ve put in place a three month plan, which will focus all of our efforts and time and cash on ensuring that we have, where possible, good availability of our top 100 wines, so that we will be able to fulfil that with delivery and warehousing, and we are taking out marketing efforts, simply because we do not need to stimulate more demand at the moment. It’s so strong, we don’t need to be putting offers and propositions in front of members to entice them to buy.

“We may need to consider capping [order size] at some stage. We are not going to run out of wine, but we may need to cap the amount we put through the warehouse. There is an element of stockpiling, but it’s hard to know how much longer this will this last. Currently we have enough to keep us busy for the next there months. Our next challenge is the inbound supply.

“The supply chain seems OK, but there is a lot of uncertainty, and with smaller family producers, we are working very hard to support where we can. Shipping routes seem OK, [but] it’s getting the wines ready at the wineries that is proving a bit more problematic. Production in wineries is one thing that seems to be stopping, so in terms of wines bottled for us, but any wines we work with that carry floor stock are saying its business as usually, currently.”