Inspiring Independents: Cambridge Wine Merchants
This seven-strong chain has expanded beyond Cambridge to Salisbury, Royston in Hertfordshire and Ampthill in Bedfordshire and has scooped the OLN Drinks Retailing Award for Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year three times.
It has a team of buyers who source many products directly from producers to give the range a difference, and makes a point of championing upcoming and on-trend wine regions and spirits categories as well as keeping a strong offer of all the classics.
Fortified wine is a particular speciality, but Cambridge Wine Merchants has also won accolades for its southern French, overall French and Spanish wine ranges. It also has a wine bar in Bridge Street near Cambridge’s Magdalene College, where drinkers can try wines by the bottle or glass using Enomatic machines, along with deli platters, cakes, tea and coffee.
The business was set up in 1993 by Hal Wilson and Brett Turner, and has grown to become one of the country’s biggest and best-known independent wine merchants.
Sum up your shop in one sentence.
What sets you apart from other drinks retailers?
A large and changing range of wines, spirits and beers on display.
Who is your fiercest competitor?
How do you maintain an edge?
We strive to be at the heart of the Cambridge food and drink community.
How do you keep customers coming back?
Education, events, sampling, Enomatics, wines by the glass, atmosphere, pop-ups, MW masterclasses, wine festivals, always thinking of ways to engage customers and involve them in our business.
What area of the business is performing best?
Our newly expanded central riverside Cambridge branch has a wine bar with seating for 50 inside and out, Enomatics, sharing platters and a large wine list as well as a great retail selection. Sales are up 60%, gross profits up 110%.
What’s your biggest challenge as a retailer?
Rises in taxes, rents and business costs. The timing of payment of duty is a massive factor in our ability to invest.
Give us your top retailing tip.
Never stand still or be satisfied.
What has been your biggest business mistake?
Opening a shop in Scotland.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Work because you love it.