Inspiring Indies: Bottle Apostle
This innovative London wine merchant recently opened its third store in Clapham’s Abbeville Road, to join outlets in Hackney and Crouch End. It offers a broad range of wines with a particular emphasis on Portugal and Italy, as well as spirits and craft beers and ciders – which have their own section called the Brew Testament. Enomatic machines, online sales and themed tastings are all part of the service. All wines are colour-coded according to style, food-matched and concisely described both in-store and online. The Telegraph Magazine named Bottle Apostle Britain’s best small wine shop in 2011. Owner Andrew Eakins tells OLN about it.
Sum up your shop.
Relaxed, unpretentious and informative – but most of all, full of great wines.
What sets you apart from other drinks retailers?
Our range. We meticulously select of importers as well as importing directly to offer more selection. We’ll never compromise to get wines just to fill a certain category. It’s not what we’re about, and it’s not why people come to independent merchants.
Who is your fiercest competitor?
Like-minded independent stores with the same focus on sourcing distinct wines.
And how do you maintain an edge over them?
Staff knowledge, loyal returning customers and a great rapport with our suppliers. By balancing these three factors we’re able to create a successful independent environment where everyone wins.
How do you keep customers coming back?
It’s not as easy as selling wine – trust and loyalty are key. We spend the time to get to know who walks through the door, their likes and, just as importantly, their dislikes. The trust you gain helps to develop long-term relationships and some of the most loyal wine-drinkers in London. You can’t build a thriving independent business based on one-time customers. We love being able to get a unique wine with the confidence that our customers are going to give it a go on our recommendation.
What area of the business is performing best at the moment?
Our range of Portuguese and northern Italian wines are particularly interesting at the moment. Like us, our customers are seeing a lot of value and exceptional quality in these areas. There’s a lot of room for exploration and so many varieties that are new to a lot of palates which keeps things interesting. Also, our side project dedicated to craft beers and ciders called the Brew Testament has really taken off over the past year. We’re thrilled to be able to reach a new segment of our customers with this rapidly growing list of beers and ciders. It’s becoming increasingly important to the business.
What’s your biggest challenge as a retailer?
Sharing the retailing environment with supermarkets and the discounting of wines.
Give us your top retailing tip:
Sell wines to match the food people are eating.
What has been your biggest business mistake?
Thinking I could run this business properly while holding another full-time job. I opened the first Bottle Apostle shop in July 2009, but continued working as a maintenance manager in a hotel four days a week until December 2012. It was good because it kept me in wages – when you open a business you don’t make anything in the first three years – but it didn’t help the business.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
You’ve got two ears and one mouth.