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Indies told 'be proud to be different'

Published:  19 May, 2010

Independent wine merchants have been told their unique strength lies in the fact they are so different from any other part of the industry.

In a morale boost to the sector, producers, agents and importers from across the wine industry told a packed seminar at the London International Wine Fair today that independents have never had such a good opportunity to maximise their potential.

The seminar 'What independent merchants need to do to maximise sales and make the most of increased interest in their sector' was hosted by Harpers Wine & Spirit Editor Richard Siddle.

He said: "As the cost of being on the supermarket shelf increases the opportunity for the independent sector can increase.

"But it is one thing being flavour of the month, it is another knowing how to make the most of the opportunity."

Independent merchants were told there was still enormous scope to expand their business in the wake of the collapse of First Quench.

And they were given expert tips on how to maximise their potential - with suggestions including offering tasting courses and food matching sessions in store, putting on wine education courses and making much better use of the Internet and social media tools, like Facebook and Twitter, to reach new customers and direct existing ones to different and interesting wines.

Crucially, they were told their most valuable asset was their staff, who could offer levels of help and advice unavailable in any other sector of the industry.    

Keith Lay, of Ehrmanns Wine Agencies, said: "Good independents are competing on service and range, but not on price.

"Good independents motivate and educate their team - it's the people behind the counter that are important.

"They can have very personal relationships with their staff and suppliers - people are interested in wine, so independents can give little nuggets of information for people to take away."

James Fleetwood, of Delibo Wine Agencies, said: "One of the delights of the independent sector is to avoid stocking major brands.

"Unlike supermarkets you have the capability to pan-sell wine and interact directly with your customers - that is something that some of the larger companies cannot do."

Gavin Partington, of The Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said a recent survey of 1,600 wine drinkers in the UK found that 53% didn't buy products from their local wine merchant.

But he insisted there were reasons to be cheerful.

He said: "We know that local wine merchants offer people a variety and expertise that frankly you are not going to get at the supermarket - wine drinkers really value what local merchants can offer."

Nicky Burston, of World Wine Agencies, said: "I have a great deal of admiration for independent merchants and now, more than ever, there is a great opportunity for them."