Ann has worked in the wine trade for almost 30 years and modestly, she says that she does not consider herself a wine expert, but certainly knows more than the ‘man on the street’. She has a fabulous ‘wine memory’ and can still recall the taste of wines that she tried more than 20 years ago!
Ann was kind enough to lend her thoughts about the trials and tribulations of starting your own wine business, her favourite wine and what to ask for when you’re stumped by a menu in a restaurant amongst other gems of knowledge. Enjoy!
What made you want to start your own business?
I was working for a large wine company, Bottoms Up, for 8 years it was a fabulous job, but then we were bought up by this huge company who ripped it to bits really… So I was pretty fed up and wasn’t selling decent wine. So I just bit the bullet, and mentioned to a few people that I was going to do it (start my own business), and I was overwhelmed with the support that I had. So I looked for premises and here we are!
Would you say due to the size of the company it got a bit impersonal?
Oh well yeah, and they were taking all the wine out. First of all they made us a clearance shop, so we didn’t just have clearance and nice wines- we just had clearance… so that soon got boring. And then at Christmas, for instance, we didn’t have any Chablis! You know, classic wines you sell at Christmas, it was crazy… and now they’ve gone into receivership so that sums that up then!
From what I read, you had a big local following in the region, did that help the decision?
Well I had lots of people… I had a great business down there (Tonbridge Wells/Kent) for somebody else it was really successful, but then they were pulling good wine out of stock, constantly changing it and all sorts of crazy things, and it got to a point where customers were saying ‘what you haven’t got any decent wine- what’s going on?!’
“There is a lot of snobbism in the wine trade and it makes people frightened of wine”
Were you nervous or cautious about starting your own business?
It was terrifying, I remember sitting with my head in my hands after I signed the dotted line for this huge lease, which I’d never do again by the way… I was just thinking to myself ‘Oh my god, what have I done’ it was very scar. Exciting but scary
Was it because you were going it alone, with no backing from a large company anymore?
Well yeah, it was the financial commitment that was probably the scariest bit. I had the confidence to do it because of the knowledge, I knew my customers and people followed me over here and still are shopping with me
What was the hardest part of starting the business?
The most awful thing to admit is not having a head office. I had to do everything.
The premises were also a plus and a minus, the size of the property is amazing for the price that we paid, it was an old garage that was converted as it is just off the high street… however it was quite hard to get people to come in, which is one of the reasons why we did the bar to create footfall because when we first opened it was just a wine shop for 3 years.
So did you have the evolution of the company planned out, or did it come naturally?
Oh no no no… my business plan was just a wine shop. There wasn’t a plan for a wine bar, but I can remember coming back one day from a tasting and I thought to myself where can I go for a decent glass of wine in the town? And there wasn’t anywhere, and then we were trying to think of how to drive footfall for the business, as it was growing nicely enough, and then it all just happened
“Having full control and being your own boss is great”
So all it came because you spotted a demand for it within the town
Oh yes, there was an opportunity and we wanted to drive footfall and it certainly worked, because a wine shop and a bar work nicely together.
I’ve read that you were fed up of the stuffiness of wine companies and you wanted to take a different approach…was this key to differentiating yourself from other wine merchants?
Yeah, there is a lot of snobbism in the wine trade and people are frightened of wine and to ask simple, but important questions. And hopefully people can come here and we can tell them what they need to know without ‘wine speak’ and in an understandable language.
Keep it simple! Because all my customers need to know really, is if they’re going to like the taste and they don’t need to know the other stuff- it’s all about the taste
“I’ve tasted every wine in here… not in one go mind you!”
What is the most enjoyable aspect of the business?
The lovely customers! I’ve made so many new friends
Oh also the buying… I’ve chosen every wine you see around you it’s my wine… having full control and being your own boss is great. You work extremely long hours and it’s quite stressful, but the benefits are obviously that everything is my decision and what I want to do and the buying of the wine is completely down to me. It’s a lovely business.
What are your tops 3 “dos” when starting a wine business?
Ask for help from a professional wine company. Because most decent good quality decent wine importers will help with training staff, tastings, wine lists they will help.
Do you research and have a plan. Do market research into every area of the business and have a 5 year business plan, which I did
Save up a lot of money. I put quite a lot aside but I also borrowed quite a lot of money from the banks, pre-crash when they were much more willing to lend can I add. Cash is king! You would be amazed about how much it costs to run a business like this, it’s a huge amount of money and people often underestimate it
Oh and two more…Location, location location and most of all just believe in yourself!
Don’t get carried away and have too much stock!
If you don’t know anything about wine don’t do it. Customers in this environment need to know information and they need to know what you’re talking about
What’s your favourite wine at the moment and why?
I have been drinking a lot of this lovely Spanish red, called Juan Gil Monastrell, it’s different, interesting- it’s brambly and full of flavour… it’s slurpable
Moving into the summer, I would probably drink a nice Province Sol Rose. It’s great to have with or without food, it makes you think of the southern French sunshine, which is where I’m going on my holidays!
And just for a total amateur like myself, when you’re looking at a menu in a restaurant what 2 or 3 aspects should you look for?
Honestly, just ask for advice, in a restaurant ask the wine waiter as they should know their wine. Ask for a taste if you can. And finally go to your independent wine merchant and they’ll help you.
Avoid supermarkets, it’s a huge problem for independent merchants like myself, and they really do lack the knowledge or know-how of the wines they stock. I think it’s 9/10 wines sold are now sold in supermarkets. And you can’t go in there and ask for advice can you? I’ve tasted every wine in here… not in one go mind you!
For more information about Ann et Vin or to order some wine from Ann head over to http://www.annetvin.com