A Wine Writers View on the World of Wine. Formerly Magics Wine Guide and Reviews for Newbies
When I last wrote I mentioned a new wine business that I would be involved with called Warren Wines. The time frame in getting the business set up was severely hampered by forces beyond our control. After we found our site, which was first seen by us in December 2014, it took us until July 2015 to finally get the contract agreed, and signed.
These delays, as I’m sure you can imagine, were nothing short of frustration as the landlords lawyers kept making unauthorised minor amendments after they had already been agreed with by us and the landlords UK representatives, I might add that the buildings owners live abroad.
What these delays did allow us to do was get ahead with our plans; in terms of shop layout, ranging, equipment and developing a philosophy that we could all buy in to.
As a shop site goes, it’s not the biggest. It also has no store room of real note, a place to store loose bottles really, a total exercise in stock management! What it does have though is character!
The unit is situated down Church St in Twickenham, South West London. Church St, and the surrounding area, is in a conservation area and is often referenced as “The Jewel of Twickenham”. The street alone has been used as a facsimile location for Oxford in TV programmes, such as Silent Witness. The street is also home to The Eel Pie pub, a regular and famous haunt for rugby fanatics attending games at Harlequins RFU – The Twickenham Stoop or the RFU’s national stadium, a leisurely 15 minute walk up the road. Church St is also home to St Mary’s Church, a Grade II listed building that is the final resting place for luminaries such as poet, Alexander Pope and Mary Poppins author, PL Travers. Church St also sits on the bank of the River Thames with Eel Pie Island opposite, a place in itself that has a long history with developing some of the UK’s most famous bands and artists from the 60’s.
Before we got our hands on the place the shop had been a jewellers for several years. This brings its own complications because, unlike taking over a business that has a history as a drinks outlet, we have to literally start from scratch, developing a customer base from nothing. But these are where the challenges are…right?!
We had commissioned a carpenter to help design and create our shelving units, this guy is a genius I might add. Anyone looking for a quality chippy then you won’t go too far wrong with Mat.
Mat had been in and taken precise measurements of the shop where he worked with my colleague, and business owner, James Hamlett in delivering bespoke shelf, counter and display units to an incredible standard.
Whilst this was going on I had several meetings with James and his family in what we were going to do in terms of ranging. As the shop is small it was decided that we would avoid using one or two large suppliers but, instead, use lots of smaller boutique style suppliers. This would allow us to be more flexible in our range, and also help in our stock management of the shop as we could then look to bring in smaller quantities with a broader range. It would also help us try to establish an identity with our potential client base as a business that can feature more unique, niche style wines.
This was a bit of a task because we didn’t want to alienate people from coming in and spending with us. As a single, small independent we felt we needed to get the pricing right across the board. We knew that, because of our size, we would probably end up being a business whose prices would reflect that of a more up market wine business as we currently don’t have the buying power, or room, to bring in a lot of wine that would sit at under £8 a bottle.
As we were to discover this wasn’t going to be too much of a problem. The real issue was trying to fit a competitive, interesting range in a shop that could only hold roughly 300 wines. That figure
sounds a lot but when you take into account varying styles, the amount of countries and regions there are, it’s quite a narrow amount. Besides, we also needed to leave room for spirits and beer.
It took us a couple of weeks to figure out and finalise our range but we were generally happy with the eclectic mix we had chosen. The beauty of being an independent is freedom. We have the freedom in choice! If something doesn’t shift, we just move it on and get a replacement in. We also decided that we would work with our customers. It’s all well and good creating an interesting array of wine but all that can come to naught if no one actually buys them. So the plan was that once we had opened we would ask for recommendations, what would people want to see on our shelves? This thought process then, or hopefully, would allow our consumers to feel part of the business, build a sense of community too, to say this is your wine shops as well as ours. My philosophy has always been that if I have one person who buys a particular product, it’s worth having in………except Gallo. That’s an offensive term in here!
James took charge of building the stores spirit range, about 125 lines. I’m not a spirit guy, never gotten into them. The range he created was effectively following on with what we were attempting with the wine, very few commercial brands but a major focus on the niche. I would say right now that we don’t have anything against commercial brands. Our point in ignoring them is they are everywhere and you could probably buy them cheaper in other outlets too. We want to highlight the world of drink outside of commercialisation. The only real area in our launch range where we ignored this was with our beer.
Our beer range, we thought, should reflect the current trends. Again to avoid the proportionate commercial branding, we ignored all the canned lagers that have dominated over the last million years and put together a very extensive range of beers, craft beers and ales, around 130 lines. To be included in these we wanted to work with local brewers, such as Kew Brewery & Twickenham Fine Ales, as well as Belleville Brewing Co in Battersea.
When trying to develop a new business, especially in the drinks sector, it gets incredibly hard to come up with new ideas, you almost have to try and reinvent the wheel! What you can try and do though is work on a service. From day one we always knew we wanted an Enomatic machine. This would be our pride and joy and, let’s face it, not too many businesses have them right now. We want to use our shop to educate the public, dispel myths and remove the fear factor of buying wine.
Buying wine should be a pleasurable experience and not be full of the old guard stuffiness. What better way to try and get round this then by having a constant selection of wines on tasting where you can introduce new wines, new styles, new tastes to the public whilst guiding them through it all. You get to share your knowledge and educate at the same time. And what’s more…it’s free!!
From conception to opening it took us about two years to get going and on the 18th of September 2015, myself, James and our other partner, Didem Sezmis finally got Warren Wines open on the first day of the Rugby World Cup.
It’s not been smooth sailing. There have been teething problems but that’s another story for another time.
56 Church St, Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 3NR
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