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Kevin Hanley, operations director at Direct Wines Group (Laithwaite’s)
1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
We’re incredibly fortunate to have a very loyal customer base. They value our total focus on making, sourcing and delivering the most exciting and affordable wine that we can. There are millions more wine lovers out there, who would value our passion and service, so we are working to build awareness and affinity of our business amongst these groups through strategic partnerships with the likes of the English Cricket Board and Classic FM.
2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?
From a personal point of view, delivery is a huge challenge. The UK carrier industry has been through a period of upheaval and many of the main players are still unprofitable. In this environment service can be patchy and innovation has been slow. It’s always going to be a big job, but we’re working closely with our partners and innovating with them to deliver on this front.
3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?
We focused on streamlining our back office systems to make the wine buying process as slick as possible for customers. But with hindsight, we might have done more to make this clearer upfront so that they can see how the improvements are helping them.
4. What is the future of the physical store?
Apple has shown that if you get the retail experience right, stores can become physical embodiments of your brand values. There are numerous other examples across categories where retailers have done something slightly out of the ordinary to create these destination stores. Customers have the opportunity to interact with the products and talk to knowledgeable staff in a way that online retailers can find difficult to replicate. The Arch, our shop at Vinopolis in Borough Market, is a great example. There are always wines available to try, customers get to see the breadth of the range in a spectacular environment and the staff are great and friendly, with a real passion wine.
5. What will the high street look like in a decade?
Hopefully less like the identikit high streets of the last 10 years as rents fall there are opportunities for new businesses to spring up. My local street has seen a number of small businesses including a fishmonger, and a cheese shop open in the last 12 months. On the main thoroughfares it is likely that brands we don’t currently associate with the high street will start to develop a physical retail presence. In a recent interview Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos says that bricks and mortar stores are possibly the next step for his business. Virgin Money has started opening high street branches something which would have seemed inconceivable a couple of years ago.
6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?
Mobile is a small but rapidly growing channel for us; it is however, hard to see it being the dominant channel in the near future. It is all about choice and what is appropriate for the customer at that time. Personal service from a Wine Advisor via phone, web chat or in a store will always be a major part of the Laithwaite’s channel mix.
7. What other retail business do you admire?
As a keen cyclist, Wiggle is probably the first one that springs to mind as a pure-play online retailer. They have achieved phenomenal growth in a pretty competitive sector, admittedly on the back of a boom in the cycling market. The website is easy to navigate and buy from and they reward loyalty through improved discounts to their best customers. They have also used event sponsorship and TV advertising in a very targeted way to gain brand awareness.
8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?
A wine maker. I think everyone at Laithwaite’s dreams of being a wine buyer or wine maker. The punishing schedule our buyers follow on trips to far flung corners of the world make me think I might be better suited to making it.
9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
There are things I’m proud of but the challenge of keeping the business thriving in what is probably the most intensively competitive wine market in the world means any score I give myself would be accompanied with the dreaded “could do better” of my school days.
10. Who would you place in the Top 20 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?
As someone who’s always so modest, he might be horrified to read this, but Tony Laithwaite our founder and co-chairman. He created the world’s biggest direct to consumer wine business and is still innovating every day, blogging, tweeting and connecting with customers, producers and the team.