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The Name: Hedonism Wines
The Place: One glorious outlet in the heart of Mayfair, London W1.
The Story: Imagine you are a Russian telecoms tycoon with 5,000 shops and it turns out that you and Vladimir Putin don’t have that many friends in common. What are the choices? Option 1 – Stay in Russia and eat cabbage soup in prison – not attractive. Option 2 – Come to Russian-friendly London and spend serious amounts of money on realising your dream of opening a shop that is the ‘pinnacle of wine retail’.
Well, now, let me think… Time’s up: It was option 2 that Yevgeny Chichvarkin chose and after selling his Yevroset business for $400 million and knocking two retail units into one on Davies Street ta da … Hedonism Wines was born! And creates an immediate storm of publicity centring on its more extravagant product lines such as a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem at £98,000 or the 1774 Jura Vin Jaune at £72,000, the entrance chandelier made up of 125 wineglasses and the range of Primat bottles (they hold 27 litres of your favourite tipple).
Yes, I’m not sure it’s really me: But this is what we love about it. It is you. Because Chichvarkin himself is no wine expert and has provided 8,000 lines of alcoholic product for precisely that reason. Along with the silly prices come 700 bottles of wine retailing under £30 and you can wander into this shop and ask what to have with your Sunday roast and I promise you no one is going to patronise you.
Are you sure? It is Mayfair: Agreed, most snotty shop assistants in high end fashion shops for example, will call security if you walk in looking as though you don’t have at least £1,000 somewhere about your person and they are rude and snobbish places but this is exactly what Hedonism kicks against. As the founder saw it there was something at the top end of wine retailing which was missing – great customer service.
No, I am still scared to go in: Trust me there are no ugly bouncers standing at the entrance of this shop to stare out undeserved customers and the attentive and multi-lingual staff (around 12 were chosen out of 400 interviewees) have as much interest in advising you on your Sunday roast accompaniment as they do in selling the big ticket stuff. It’s not the kind of egalitarian customer service we expect in this country but it’s going to catch on, believe me.
OK, I’m in. Talk me through it: Right. The point of this shop is that there is no time limit on browsing and you are expected to feel entirely comfortable. So comfortable in fact that you can spin your own discs and just enjoy the theatre of the place.
There’s a dance floor. You’re joking: Not a dance floor but a turntable with a big pile of records and you’re the DJ. It’s near the sampling machines so perhaps one might shake a leg after an evening’s tastings.
Nice one. Dancing might warm me up too: Ah, they know it’s cold (pretty stiff air-conditioning is necessary for the wine) and big fluffy white throws are provided for that very purpose. So wrap up and get bottle-fondling.
They think of everything: Even the security tags on the bottles, and each and every bottle has one, have been specially designed by Checkpoint Systems to make people still feel comfortable in picking up and handling the bottle without fear of setting off an alarm. They don’t ‘shriek security’ says Tatiana Fokina, Hedonism’s CEO.
Talking of that what are the chances of snatching a bottle and legging it? Nil. 50 security cameras are tracking you which means that Fokina is confident enough to leave all the bottles unchained – again adding to that relaxed air of being able to pick up extremely expensive wine without a member of staff then following you about everywhere. Even children don’t get followed.
Umm, why would they be there? Well, some customers do have them you know and once more flying in the face of conventional thinking about children and bottles, the people at Hedonism decide to welcome them with their own play area – crayons and blackboards, big cushions and iPads – leaving parents happy to actually browse without listening out for the sound of breaking glass.
Who actually is buying most of the stuff? It’s 95% men. No-one quite knows why. But there is certainly nothing particularly masculine about the shop – It’s light and open, full of natural woods and bricks. It also has quirky corners that you have to look around to see the wine bottles caught in the branches of a gnarled tree, or held in two hands of various kinds. Partly due to the Wine Searcher site it’s also becoming a destination shop for overseas customers, who factor in a trip to the shop while travelling to London.
Best sellers?Japanese whiskies, I am reliably informed, are selling very well as are Californian wines. 30% of the stock is French but 15% is from the US – a very large proportion. And people are spending on average £90 when they visit.
I’m getting anxious again: Look, we’re not used to it but it works. Having a range in one shop of this breadth is unusual but very refreshing. And yes, you can buy a Penfolds Ampoule for £120,000 where a senior person from Penfolds flies over from Australia to open it for you. But you can also buy a bottle of Champagne for less than you would spend in Waitrose.
Is it going to make a profit? Ah, now this is where Ms Fokina gets slightly cagey. Hedonism has only been trading for less than a year and sales figures are not forthcoming, but the date 2015 seems to get bandied around as a potentially profitable year. As for future plans Chichvarkin is on record as saying that Shanghai or New York could use a Hedonism branch, although Moscow is sadly a non-starter.
At least the range is now available online: Although there are rules against shipping alcohol into Russia and China (taking it to Hong Kong gets round that though). And the US allows no spirits in, but Hedonism will ship to anywhere in the world they are allowed to and promise to deliver within the hour to central London – which takes us neatly back to the beginning of the story.
Pray, tell:A few years ago Chichvarkin wanted a specific bottle of Rioja to have with his wife and he rang round the usual suspects, Harrods, Selfridges and Berry Brothers & Rudd to get one. The answer from all was ‘Nyet’ and it will be a two week wait sir until we do have such a bottle.
I bet he didn’t like that: You guess right. And, the idea for a very upscale off licence was hatched right then and there. He may not be welcome in Moscow but his shop is a breath of fresh air here in the UK.
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