Vino Vero, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
Vino Vero was established by Sam and Charlie Brown, who decided the Leigh-on-Sea store would be the perfect spot for their first venture. It sells beers, wines and spirits to take home or drink in, and was a hit with the local community from the start.
How did the business evolve from those early days?
Neither of us were in the wine industry when we started, it was just a hobby but we had been getting more and more into wine, inspired by a trip to California in 2011.
Around the same time we met with a few producers and knew we wanted to run our own wine shop, but we were hesitant as we didn’t have any experience. But we did the WSET course and learned as much about the subject as quickly as we could.
We started with 60 or 70 wines and had to quickly expand the offer, but our intention from the start was to be a hybrid business
The first few weeks were quite busy and we were relieved but it did get harder when it quietened after the initial rush. So we had to extend beyond word of mouth.
Once the business became better known in the area our sales kept growing and we have been doubling sales year on year, which is great considering we started from scratch.
What kind of drinks does your store specialise in?
We always wanted to source from independent producers and the vast majority are biodynamic and organic. We favour wines which are terroir-driven rather than commercially made.
We are strong in wines from France, Spain and Italy; those are the areas we are most passionate about.
Have you had to make any major investments in the business over the years?
We always wanted to be fully independent so we haven’t sought out investors or bank loans. The building is sound and we have a pretty good layout that works well, so we’ve not really had to do anything major to the store itself.
We have carried out some small refits over the years. We started with a tiny amount of money and after a while we were able to invest more of our profits. We plan to install a new kitchen this year.
The challenge for us is space. We have 350 wines in a room, which makes us quite focused. We have to have some rigorous testing on each new wine and we change our lines quite a lot, so there isn’t too much overfacing and every wine has to earn its place on shelf.
What has been selling well recently?
We love Old World wine regions but we also love California and South Africa. We have seen good sales of wines from Beaujolais, Valencia and other Spanish regions, such as Rioja.
In Italy we love some of the northern regions, and at the moment we have a lot of wines from Piedmont.
A few years ago Prosecco was something we were getting asked for a lot, but now Crémant and Cava have really overtaken Prosecco in terms of customer interest.
People are now asking for orange wines and health is playing a part, so we get asked a lot about vegan wines and ones with low sulphur. We are having to do a lot of work to check which wines are vegan, and we are doing a project this year where we will be revising our shelf talkers. They are quite comprehensive but we will flag up whether wines are vegan. We already note whether they are biodynamic or organic.
We have sold spirits for the past four years and gin is massive. We have found gin drinkers are very experimental and they always want to try the next new thing. It forces us to keep a selection from new distilleries.
The challenge is keeping ahead of the supermarkets, so it does keep us on our toes. We have tried to add a few limited-edition gins.
Are your events working well?
Our events are incredibly successful and they sell out really quickly. We release a batch of four to six events at a time, with 16 places on each, A lot of the time we have done standard regional tastings and we enjoy them, but more recently we have been trying to mix it up, so we have food and wine tastings and cocktail masterclasses. We have also done collaborations with our wholesale customers and have some charity events outside of the shop, which help us to attract more people and are open to the wider community.
What is the balance between off and on-trade in your store?
Retail is the strongest part of the business, including wholesale.
The bar and events side probably accounts for 30%. We have always wanted it to be that way.
We want to be the place where people come for their first drink of the evening, not the last. Lots of people come here to drink then go out for dinner, which means it gets quieter here from around 9pm.
We have always liked that interaction. People coming in to buy wine see people drinking in the store and it becomes less intimidating and makes it more appealing to browse.
We have a large mailing list and use a lot of social media. We see a lot of direct sales to private clients as well. We use Whats App if we have some new wines, so we can share things of particular interest.
Do you feel you made the right choice of location?
We always thought this area had potential and it has definitely changed. There has been a big influx of people moving out of London and there are now a lot of families around here.
We don’t have any direct competition but we do have a Waitrose down the road. Leigh-on- Sea is full of independent shops, which is very unusual. There are very few chain shops on the high street. We supply a couple of cafes and restaurants with wine and we often do the job of a sommelier for them.
What are your plans for the future?
We have just taken on a new full-time manager, so we can look at importing more and doing more direct imports as it will give us more time to work on building these new relationships. We don’t have plans to expand, we just want to focus on scaleable things such as online, wholesale and private client work.