Retail Species – the pioneer

The Person: Julia Stafford

The Company: The Wine Pantry

The Job Title: Director
The Story: There she was just minding her own business, working in the City on the legal shipping side of the oil and gas industry, dealing with liability and pollution claims. And just when it all seems settled your honour she winds up running a niche wine company out of a tiny unit in Borough Market. She enjoyed what she did but felt very distant from any end product and some instinct to sell to the great British public made itself felt.

Niche? It only sells English wine.

Now, is that wise?Careful. Stafford will have your eyes out. But you won’t be the first to doubt the viability of a shop that only sells British wine. Her own potential backers actually weren’t too enamoured with the idea but she is a stubborn so and so and she and her boyfriend invested their own money instead because they were told ‘it wasn’t possible’. They took a unit in Borough Market so small that no one knew what to do with it.

Well, that should suit English wines because there can’t be that many of them are there? This just shows once again that you know nothing.  This tiny unit stocks 85 different wines and also houses a sampling machine. The unit is emphatically run as a tasting room – ‘a mouthpiece’ for English wine – not as a bar. Customers buy 125ml glasses for £4.50 but you cannot buy a bottle and drink it on one of the tiny tables.  In fact the tables shouldn’t even be there….

And why not?It’s all part of the rich tapestry of retail that Julia Stafford is coming to terms with. Learning as she goes, she is still in a ‘teething’ stage. No one on Stoney  Street  is supposed to have tables or chairs outside but everyone does and blind eyes are turned. But cometh the Olympics, cometh the Council so they all had to go. Not good for a sampling wine business with a unit as small as a postage stamp. Still, the tables are back now.

Seriously now, you can’t build an empire on a unit this small. Stafford is well aware of the limitations of the site. Retail Insider found her still reeling from the news that a unit she had her eye on for two years on Marylebone High Street had just been given to another wine retailer.

Why? One guess. You cannot run a shop that sells only English wine.

 I’m sensing a theme here. Possibly, but actually the English wine is only part of Stafford’s vision. The end game is a one-stop-shop for all British produce. No one would think anything of it if it were a shop selling only Italian produce so get patriotic.

First things first, how does the wine shop model stack up? The online side of things is minimal as are telephone orders. In contrast, wholesale sales are a big proportion of sales and Stafford works closely with lots of the restaurants in Borough Market. She does quite a lot of charity do’s where she sells the wine at trade price – getting the name out there, and of course there is the walk-in trade from the market. A lot of the success of this retailer is based on the personality of Stafford herself.

How so? She will try anything – it is a constantly evolving business. If you propose doing a wedding list of wine she’ll give it a go. If you propose a corporate tasting event for your top City firm she will give it a go. Hampers she is thinking about. Saying ‘no’ is not something she finds easy because there is always this desire to show off the wine that she is passionate about.  60% of English wine she reckons is very commercial, the remaining share you need to advise people about.

Wine Pantry: No bigger than a pantry.
Hmm, now just wondering how expansion will work with the money men. Are they a bit dubious?SEIS approval has just been sorted and the investors in the business are now private after the bank wussed out of supporting the wine part of the Stafford vision. Having said that she urgently needs a larger unit and the couple of employees The Wine Pantry employs need space for office functions  and wine storage. On the other hand her whole retail focus is on service and she definitely does not want to expand too quickly. Her ideal is to combine the organisational coherence of an office where everyone has a role with the service levels of a shop.

Best of British to her. Tell me more about Marylebone High Street? Definitely a temporary blow but she is not a gal to keep down for long. There is another unit of interest on the road although it is smaller and she would still have to get additional storage. But it could be a ‘blessing in disguise’ as it is obviously cheaper too.

Surely they will need more staff soon? For sure, as she points out ‘one person can run a shop,  but you need more people to run a business.’ And she doesn’t have enough time for marketing and advertising as it is. She’s even had to defer her Masters.

Wait, don’t tell me she is trying to study as well as everything else! She’s driven, her father’s Greek, they build empires over there. What can I tell you! Either way, with only one month to go to complete her thesis she has put it off for a year. Just so you know… it’s an MSc in Business and the Environment focusing on supply chains and local producers.

Very relevant. It certainly is. The big boy English vineyards like Chapel Down and Nyetimber provide the vast majority of English wine on sale. Small vineyards just can’t make enough to interest the supermarkets and 2012 is going to be a dire year for English grapes so expect trouble at t’mill.

Oh dear.Don’t worry. I have a feeling Julia Stafford will change the scene once someone has the sense to give the woman a shop.

1 Comment

  1. Gareth Jones on September 10, 2012 at 9:24 am

    There’s the best part of four hundred commercial vineyards in England and Wales. Why would you be surprised that stocking 85 lines is possible?