Inspiring Independents: Amathus Soho
Bartending experience gained when he was an anthropology student propelled Nick Bell into the world of drinks retailing.
He started out as a sales adviser and moved up to manage Amathus Soho in Wardour Street, a modern, industrial-chic space in the heart of London’s West End. The shop, which has been open for four years, has a 3,000-strong range including 150 beers and 600 wines alongside a treasure trove of spirits. Amathus started out as a drinks retailer in the 1970s but later moved into wholesale and shut down its retail operations. It opened shops in Soho and Leadenhall Market in 2011, and recently added outlets in Knightsbridge and Old Street.
Can you sum up your shop in one sentence?
A room full of beautiful drinks and wonderful people in the heart of Soho.
What sets you apart from other drinks retailers?
Like many of the great retailers we have a selection of some of the greatest wines, spirits and beers in the world. What sets us apart is that we have some of the greatest staff in the world to support the selection.
Who is your fiercest competitor?
Well, for the past two years we have got to the finals of OLN’s Independent Spirits Retailer of the Year category in the Drinks Retailing Awards, and been pipped to the post by the Whisky Exchange and the Tasting Room. But we love all those guys, and they both have great stores.
And how do you maintain an edge over them?
I’ve mentioned before about the fantastic team I have here working for me, and I believe that this is key to how successful we have been. It can take time to build a great relationship with customers and having brilliant staff who have been here a while can help cement that relationship.
How do you attract and keep your staff?
In the recruitment process I will interview a lot of people and invest a lot of time into finding the right person. Most people that apply will have such good product knowledge that it becomes almost a secondary attribute. It is about finding someone who will fit personality-wise into the team so it becomes a close-knit group. We organise regular training and do things together — next week we are all going to karaoke. A lot of shops can make people feel isolated and not let their staff have fun, so you get high staff turnover. Being able to keep hold of people is a key thing. I have invested a lot of time and patience into training them, so the last thing I want is for them to leave.
Has it helped you to work your way up through the ranks?
It is quite nice starting at the bottom and working your way up to the top — you learn every role really well.
How do you keep customers coming back?
One of the most important parts of selling wine and spirits is trying to understand what the customer is really after, and making sure that you get them what they want, not just what you want to sell.
What area of the business is performing best at the moment?
Our whisky and mezcal sections are the areas that are showing the greatest growth right now. These are both sections that saw a bit of growth last year, so we invested in increasing the range. This has made a real difference and we are seeing the sales leap forward.
What’s your biggest challenge?
We have around 3,000 different lines in the shop that we need our small team to be able to talk about confidently. As we are surrounded by some of the best cocktail bars in the country, the staff need to know their spirits and cocktails as well as their wines. Keeping them motivated to learn and squeezing in training sessions in a busy shop is always tough.
What is your top retailing tip?
I know it may not always be possible, but try and be as kind and empathetic to both your customers and your staff as you can.
What has been your biggest business mistake? I have spent time lamenting the bits and pieces that we may not be able to get hold of, instead of concentrating on how great so much of our stock is. I think we can all be guilty of forgetting this, as we are always looking for the newest gin, or rarest whisky.