Blurring the lines between Off Trade and On Trade: How to capitalise on evolving customer needs
The Off Trade wine scene is on the move, with a growing number of operators moving from a purely retail model, to a place where customers can stay and enjoy the wines they’ve purchased. Consumers no longer just want somewhere to buy their wine and go home, but are increasingly looking for a whole experience, where they can engage with vendors, try wines before (or after) they buy, perhaps with food or with a group of friends.
So how can independent wine merchants adapt to this changing world of wine retail? We chatted to Daniel Leak from The Bishop’s Cave in St Albans to understand how he has successfully adapted to his customer’s needs and evolved his business model.
Lara: How and when did you decide to open your own wine shop?
Daniel: I was working in London for an investment firm when I realised I was fairly bored of my job. One day, while my dad and I were playing golf together, we came up with the idea of doing something completely different, based on our love of cheese, wine and beer. I grew up in East Dulwich, where there was a great cheese shop offering up to 80 different cheeses and a wine shop offering some well-selected wine, and a few tables for people to sit and enjoy their time. I’ve always loved those places, and it taught me how many kinds of cheeses and wines there were in the world! So, I quickly wrote my business plan, put together some numbers, and realised that it was a great idea, if done in the right place. After a little bit of research, we found the perfect location in Stortford, where my dad lives, and we opened our first shop there. It all happened over the course of a couple of months, four years ago, and I couldn’t be happier about how it’s changed my life!
Lara: What are your top priorities as a business person?
Daniel: For me, the most important thing is to make sure everyone is having a great time. I’ve always enjoyed being the ‘host of the party’ in my life, because making people happy is my greatest satisfaction, and this is reflected in my job too. When your customers are having a good time, they are happy and, as a result, your business is more profitable. They keep coming back, bringing their friends to enjoy wine and cheese. Also, the happiness of my staff and family is very important to me. I like to create a vibrant working community in which my employees feel good and enjoy coming to work every day. If your staff are happy, they contribute to the business’ growth too!
Lara: What makes you different from bigger retailers?
Daniel: We offer the drink-in element, so the whole experience of having a glass of wine paired with some cheese is the point of difference with big supermarkets. The team is fully trained on the flavour profiles so they’re able to engage with customers and give them suggestions. This interaction can push people outside their comfort zone and encourage them to order wines they’ve never considered before, rather than choosing the safest options like Merlot or Malbec. We also offer wine and cheese tastings, where we serve wine by the glass and guide customers through the tasting journey. We let them formulate their own ideas rather than forcing our own opinions.
Lara: What is the main challenge to overcome in your shop?
Daniel: It’s finding the time and resources to keep evolving over time in order to adapt to the changes in the market and consumer tastes. When our first shop was opened in Stratford, we followed a retail model where the stock holding was higher and fewer people were stopping by to drink wine with friends. Whereas today, we’ve been evolving towards more of a wine-bar atmosphere, where people are greeted by the sight of the cheese deli, some wine and beer shelves around the shop and a large, welcoming seating area. We’ve found this model hugely successful, because people were looking for the perfect place to have a relaxed experience. We’re almost always completely full now!
I always try to be ahead of the game in terms of offerings and business changes. I believe that constantly evolving your products is the key to being successful. Being aware of vintage roll-overs, new products on the market, or trends among consumers will put you ahead of your competitors. This is not only related to wine and beer, but also cheese. I always try to offer different kinds of cheeses periodically, which my customers love, because they can explore different tastes and different wine pairings.
In these four years we’ve been able to open other two venues, a cocktail bar in Stortford and a wine and cheese shop in St. Albans, with another in the pipeline… I strongly believe that to be successful, you need to be daring and embrace changes, rather than fearing them.
Visit The Bishop’s Cave to learn more about them.
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