Oxford Wine Co bullish after shrinking retail estate to focus on wholesale and wine bars
The Oxford Wine Co will target growth in wholesale and the on-trade after shutting its store in Cirencester and ruling out expanding its retail arm in future.
The firm sold its Tetbury store as a going concern two years ago and has just shut Cirencester, leaving it with just two stores in Oxford.
But it has launched two Oxford Wine Cafés in the city and owner Ted Sandbach said one of them makes more profit in a month than the stores he closed did in a year.
He is planning to develop further wine bars in the city and expand the business’ wholesale reach, but will not open any more retail stores.
Sandbach told OLN: “Our whole Oxford operation has been so successful and it was a pain in the neck to go out to Cirencester, which is completely the wrong direction. We weren’t making much money there, so we wanted to concentrate on what we do really well. It just became hard work. I just thought bugger it, retail is not where want to develop any more. Wine cafes and wholesale are where I want to develop. It’s a reflection of the market.
“Retail is hard. We opened the shops [in Tedbury and Cirencester] four or five years ago with a view to develop them. Since the recession people are concentrating on what they are buying. The supermarkets are very competitive, the Aldis of this world, and you need to be embedded in an area for a few years to convince people to shop with you.
“It wasn’t a disaster, it just wasn’t really going anywhere. We weren’t making losses or anything – we just weren’t making much profit, so I just couldn’t waste all my time and energy on it.
“But the wine café concepts are going really well. They are straight wine bars – not half and half.
“The bars are doing phenomenally well, making big, big profits and that’s great. We make more profit in a month than we did in a year at one of the shops, so it didn’t make sense to keep them.
“The wholesale side is going well. We have six sales reps and we are doing business from south Wales to London, mainly with restaurants.
“Retail is not going to be expanded. It’s not a weakness. It’s a strategic decision to concentrate on what we are doing well and develop that.”
Sandbach expanded into Cirencester and Tedbury around five years ago after winning awards for an Oxford store, but struggled to win over shoppers in those areas.
“With the Cirencester shop sitting in the middle of nowhere, maybe retail development we got wrong,” he said. “Trying to get staff in rural Gloucestershire is difficult. In the middle of the Cotswolds it’s hard work getting somebody out there.
“We won awards for our retail store and I thought that was great so I developed it into other areas and nobody knew who we were. Maybe using the Oxford name was a mistake in other areas.
“Everyone has their own way of buying wine. In Gloucestershire a lot of people have a friend who works for Berry Bros or The Wine Society.
“The Oxford retail shop is going really well. Oxford is where it’s all happening. We have a good reputation there. We’ve been around for a long time. Everything in Oxford is going really well. It’s a very vibrant city. We have got other plans in Oxford.”
When asked if he would urge caution to independent retailers that are thinking of expanding, he said: “I know there are independents that have three or four shops and it works well.
“You need a different layer of management in there. I found it very difficult – shoved from pillar to post. You need someone between you and the person in the shop, coming up with all the promotion et cetera. It’s difficult when you are a small company, getting that middleman to take the pressure off.”
Sandbach said he knows that some retailers – like his friend Hal Wilson, who runs Cambridge Wine Merchants – have been very successful at merging a retail store with a wine bar, but he sees more of an opportunity for standalone wine bars in Oxford.