Optimism abounds among indies after Majestic news

Independent retailers are bullish about their chances of flourishing after the news that Majestic is retreating from bricks-and-mortar drinks retailing. It said store closures are inevitable as it turns its focus more towards e-commerce, and finer detail on this new strategy will be announced in June.

Jayesh Patel, owner of Westholme Stores in Oxfordshire, said: “If Majestic and Oddbins disappear from the high street it opens up an opportunity for indies and convenience stores. There are a lot of Majestic customers and if we have good wines then our sales might increase.

“Recently I have been looking at working with ABS Wines with a view to introducing a quality wine range in June, in line with the wines you can find through the Sunday Times Wine Club, because my customers have been telling me this is where they source their premium wines. If Majestic stores close then I think I will try to introduce this tier of wines even earlier than planned. There is a Majestic in Reading, which is quite far away from me, but it did used to do deliveries in my area so I know there are some Majestic customers near my store.”

Sujit Desai, owner of Nisa Tongham and Witley Village Store in Surrey, added: “If Majestic stores do close then there could potentially be ex-Majestic staff needing jobs. This could present a good opportunity for the retail sector as it is expensive and time-consuming for us to send our staff on training courses and we would welcome new staff who came with this wine knowledge under their belts already.  

“I do think there is an opportunity for independent retailers to take a lead on wine retailing, but for the convenience sector one of the challenges is the lack of knowledge our staff have about wine. The other challenge is that we are often restricted to what our suppliers can offer us. In addition we have to consider the competition in prices from the supermarkets. 

“I have started trialling my exclusive, more premium wines from my Witley shop in my Nisa Tongham store and this works well, but I mainly only see trade-up around the weekend. During the week people want everyday low-priced wines.”

Tim Carlisle, new business manager of the Vindependents group, pointed to a huge opportunity for the next generation of independent merchants to come in and do something special. “Majestic stores are big enough to hold a shop, bar, microbrewery, gin still etc in one place, making it a destination too,” he said.

Dafydd Morris, owner of Welsh retailer Cheers, has a Majestic store nearby in Swansea. “It will affect us if it closes,” he said. “I know a few of our customers who go to Majestic if there’s an offer on. I definitely think there won’t be any detrimental effects for us. I’m not sure if people who shop there will just jump to Naked if it changes, but I’d like to think we could scoop up a few new customers.”

Jane Cuthbertson, of Barrica Wines in Preston, said she feels shoppers are increasingly moving towards supporting local and independent retailers, and that the sector can thrive.

Hal Wilson at Cambridge Wine Merchants, pointed to the potential demise of Oddbins and Majestic as a route to market closing for producers and said indies can capitalise by ramping up direct imports. Ted Sandbach at Oxford Wine Co said he is amazed by Majestic’s decision, but also delighted, as it means his business can scoop up extra customers.

Hugh Sturges, chief executive at Jeroboams, said: “It is extremely sad to see the probable demise of such great names as Oddbins and Majestic, brands that changed the face of wine retail in the UK. Something may emerge from the ashes of both, of course, but there is no doubt that the wine, beer and spirits presence on the high street has changed.

“For many of the independent merchants in the UK, of which we are one of the larger, the future may actually now look brighter, but we mustn’t be complacent.

“So why have we done all right on the high street when all around seem to be falling away? The high street works when time, money and energy are spent on getting to know your community, your customer and having them trust you in return. The success and survival of the independent is to do with what you give rather than just what you take.”

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