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Indie Insider: Reserve Wines, with Nic Rezzouk
Indie Insider profiles and showcases the brilliant Indie Wine Merchant scene in the UK.
Indie Insider is a new thing from me, talking to people from within the Indie trade about what they do, how they do it, and why it works for them.
Most of this is directly quoted from Nic because he wrote quite a lot, which is really quite helpful.
Name: Nic Rezzouk
Job Title: Wine and Spirits Buyer
Key Responsibilities: Maintaining a range that supports and maximises the sales at each of our sites and sales channels while staying “on brand”. Managing stock levels adequately to balance cash flow and customer experience.
Location / Region: North West… Manchester and surrounding areas.
Reserve Wines have five sites: Altrincham, Macclesfield, Manchester, Warrington, & West Didsbury.
What’s the Reserve Wines Buying ethos?
Well, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking and work to kinda nail this side of thing in recent months and considering our growth plan, this is still work in progress.
We come from a “ooooh that’s nice and good value, let’s get some” to “ok what have we got, how is it working, what should get delisted and how much space have we got for new stuff?”
We’ve always been generalists, we love good wine from anywhere and I’m not the only one weighing in, thankfully. Once upon a time we were claiming a strong suit in Italy. We’re still strong but I wouldn’t claim a specialism over many of our Indie friends. We’re still deciding whether we want to pick a specific area of strength.
I can’t decide. I love too many wine places.
This is an interesting point, and my gut tells me that more Indies don’t actually have a specialism, when the assumption is that many do. A specialism can be a price point, a country, a style or a philosophical perspective.
In essence it’s ballsy for an Indie to to go ‘all-in’ on a country such as Italy, but easy enough to over-index their range on a country or region to give the implication. More often than not it comes down to personal preferences of the team that guide a ‘specialism’ in the end.
Vindependents is very strong for us, it represents close to 50% of the still and sparkling wine range. Then Alliance Wine. Then Boutinot, Raymond Reynolds, Les Caves de Pyrenes and Liberty wines make up most of the rest for now.
We import direct on occasion, some via the Vindies for volume lines, some from ad-hoc opportunities. I’m looking at working with Oakley Wine Agencies for example.
There’s a few solid Indie suppliers here, Boutinot, Les Caves and Liberty all crop up fairly regularly. It’s more than just range that underpins the decision to go with an importer. Service, delivery, good relationships (and a good rep) all play a vital part in putting together a retail range.
I like Oakley, they’re Portugal / Spain specialists, and everything they do is ex-cellars. Meaning they represent wineries, but Nic as buyer would have to arrange and pay logistical costs, collecting the wines from the winery. You often get a decent price for doing the legwork yourself though.
I might write more on the Vindependents another day, as they seem to be a little under the radar, but a lot of good Indies are signed up (you have to subscribe). There are more than a few buying groups in the UK now, but Vindies seem to have the most presence.
What guides your approach to buying?
A mixture of supplier relationship building and nurturing and a tedious, constant observation of sales at various levels. The latter is tricky. I’m one step removed from the final customers so I rely on my colleagues who are customer facing as well as clunky sales reports to guide me.
I also go with feeling. If we come across something one of us truly connects with, we’ll bring it in and pitch it to the team. On the pragmatic side, I’m looking for the right sweet spot between customer satisfaction and profitability.
The right product, at the right price, in the right places. For that, I keep my eyes out for good opportunities coming from my suppliers for good retail activities or by the glass volumes.
For a business the size of Reserve I’m slightly surprised that they don’t ship more themselves directly, but the recent logistical hassles of Brexit and increased costs probably put the boot into looking into that now if they haven’t started already.
I do however like the intuitive nature to wine buying, it’s very tricky buying solely by numbers, based on data, and I often think that it can stifle innovation if you’re always looking backwards.
I genuinely think that’s what a lot of indies do well. Bigger retailers often have to look outside of their sales data for the new things, because they spend a lot of time looking at their own historic trends to guide buying.
It’s hard to keep up with what’s new and the fun stuff often happens in Indies first, as they’ve got the flexibility to act on intuition rather than data.
Who are Reserve trying to Sell to?
Every bit of business advice out there is saying “know your true customer, your super fan”.
Well, we go for a broad church.
We’ve cultivated a broad church over the years and each of our sites attracts a very different demographic and show very specific trends. We have to build a range with broad appeal, without falling into the bland, over commercial trap.
I hope we’re not doing too bad on that score!
Routes to Market?
Stand alone retail, garden centre concession retail, hybrid shop/bar in food halls, wholesale, corporate and of course online ecommerce.
Each site has its own demographic really, for example, Didsbury goes from young professionals to well off pensioners with a core of good earning, to working families.
While Mackie Mayor in Manchester city centre is quite broad due to visitors from near and far but slightly more upmarket. We offer certain things by the glass and Coravin that would not be a hit elsewhere.
At Mackie, we’re also looking at increasing our spirits presence with a specific spirit range by the glass: single malts, premium rums and brandies as I’m hoping we could have a demand for this sort of thing there.
I think that having a diverse demographic can be a double edged sword, it makes it harder to buy for your customers. What Reserve have is city centre venues with by-the-glass and drink in, as well as more traditional retail.
Nic must have to do a fair bit of channel management with the range to make sure that he’s able to put some fun stuff on by the glass in the city, while the out of town, up market areas have some dependable retail wines.
There’s a lot of balance to get right here, as some wines will move at considerably different rates in different stores.
It also calls back the the implication of a specialism being even trickier. You don’t want to put too many people off, especially if your customer base is already potentially fragmented.
Why do think the approach works?
Who says it works?!?
Our overall vibe is friendly, approachable, knowledgeable.
There’s genuinely something for everyone in our range. Price, style, natty, classic… we’ve got it. Can’t think of a scenario where someone would visit one of our sites and there isn’t a wine that would satisfy them there and then.
There’s a lot we can still improve upon but we try to cultivate a strong sense of professionalism, knowledge as well as fun and enthusiasm in the team. We really do care for our teams and we continuously try to give everyone what they need to represent the business well in front of our customers.
Straight up human connection with our customers, active listening matched with good knowledge, we just aim to please and put a smile on people’s faces, matching them with good wines.
Nic doesn’t mention it here, but Reserve recently won an award at the Peoples Choice Awards, for Independent Retailer of the Year, 2022 which I think is pretty cool, there are loads of awards to win now, but it’s nice to see regardless.
They must be getting something right.
We’ve got loads of tasting events happening at our sites (HERE).
We’re planning to open more hybrid bar/shops of our own and continue to develop the online business.
We’re keen to improve our environmental credentials, as well as continuing to build a strong work ethic and business culture to attract and retain talent.
There are many projects progressing in the background and hopefully we and our customers will start seeing the fruits of it soon.
If you could change one thing about the Indie Wine Trade?
A Pan-European consortium of specialist importers would be top.
I’d love for smaller, super-specialist importers to find a way to band-up so as to offer more flexibility and a one-stop-shop for people like us.
For example: I was at a Wines of Georgia tasting yesterday. Very specific, niche styles of wine. Most wineries are unrepresented in the UK. For small to medium indie retailers like us, taking a punt on one pallet is not an obvious risk to take and a one off order doesn’t serve the winery.
If an agency or consortium was formed to bring in Georgian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Greek etc then it makes it so much more flexible for all the indies to get some killer wines to spruce up their ranges at low risk.
All I want is to find more excellent, interesting and exciting wines to show to my customers at the best possible price.
Also… treating everyone with respect, whatever gender or genetic make up. I know, big ask. But wine isn’t politics, we should be in it for the fun and the love.
My Three Key Points
🤓 A great understanding of the customer demographic and core proposition for each site.
🤓 Choosing their range on instinct and good wines. With a democratic process where the team can bring new wines to the range if a fair case if made.
🤓 Using a buying group as a key part of their core range, then exploring the diversity of existing importers to fill gaps. This removes the inventory liability of direct imports.
Thanks to Nic for taking the time to answer these topics so thoughtfully.
All the photos are straight off the Reserve Wines website.
You can shop online with Reserve Wines at https://www.reservewines.co.uk/
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