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Interviews

Brexit, Covid, Onward

11/01/2022

Even with the challenges faced through Brexit and then Covid, Brett Fleming of Armit Wines is poised for growth this year and beyond

Tell us more about yourself.

Born in New Zealand, trained as a winemaker but spent my first few years making wine in France and realised I was no good at it!. Worked more in the commercial side of the business and built my career up working for producers building distribution solutions on the global stage. Love cooking and drinking great wine whilst watching cricket - with friends!

Brett Fleming, Managing Director at Armit Wines

Tell us about your business and your role in it

Managing Director for Armit Wines. We are a premium distributor in the UK focused on 5 channels. Private Clients, Premium On Trade, Independents, Merchants and Premium Retail. Our DNA is Italy, but we also represent top producers from regions around the world. La Rioja Alta from Spain, Ch Lafleur Domaine LEFLAIVE and Liber Pater from France and many others. To suggest we are only Italian is wrong. Recently for example we just listed Domaine Des Maplier from Provence and Mendel wines from Argentina.

Walk us through your day. What do you do? What are the different tasks involved?

Up at 5.30am and in the office by 6.30am. Depending on the weeks agenda this will involve driving the commercial team to deliver their monthly targets, working with suppliers, visiting customers, management meetings internally to address efficiency and finance challenges, Market visits with team members, tastings, represent the company face at various industry bodies, work with our Investor Invivo in ROI, Manage HR and staff issues, build plans for growth and solutions to opportunity, look at R/O and adjust as required, Supplier visits both current and new, The list goes on! No day is the same as opportunity waits for no one.

Hiring tips for wine reps: what do you look for? Define a good wine rep.

Relationships are key. Build them and protect them as they are your equity as you develop your sales career. Orders won't come to you, you have to find them so anyone who wants a 9-5 job, sales reps in the wine trade wont fit. It requires real tenacity and organisation skills. In interviews recently the best reps were the ones who had researched the business and done their research.

Tips in designing your portfolio, any metrics you try and meet? For example, some brands you keep for growth, some for mark ups etc?

Any new producer needs to meet 2 key criteria. 1. Deliver a min turnover and margin by year 3 and/or 2. Be iconic in nature that the reputation impact on my business supersedes the need for a three year return. Listing producers is easy, delivering on their expectations much harder. Our portfolio centres around our DNA of Italy, and then iconic and top producers from around the world.

What do you look for when a new winery is pitching to you? What do you want them to cover in their pitch for you to make a decision? And which brands get a yes from you and which get a NO from you?

Very few new producers who approach us have done their homework on Armit Wines. They have no idea we have 5 main routes to market, and do not look at our current portfolio or customer base. Their desire to get into the UK market supersedes their understanding of how best to get this.

What added value in listing their wines do we enjoy? Of course there is risk to both parties in taking on a new supplier. However we have to pay for new stock, educate our staff and customers, administer another range of wines, appoint a brand manager to ensure their supply has focus etc etc.

Outside of simple margin returns, what is the value to us? As a producer myself for many years I learned from my distributors around the world that I needed to add real value to my distributor, to be relevant to them to then gain a foothold in their mindset. I always felt I needed to find a way to get the sales team of all my distributors around the world to wake up on a Monday morning focused on my supply. This is lacking in most of not all new suppliers knocking on Armit’s door. Lastly, I have a duty to all my current suppliers and this must never change. Any new supplier must complement my portfolio and service customer needs ahead of anything else in the initial stages.

What are the challenges you face in your business: opening new stores, collecting money? How do you handle these?

Staffing is a key area, finding good people and keeping them is a real challenge. Brexit is now having a bigger impact than Covid. The UK Government is totally lacking in understanding the challenges of our industry and hides behind sound bites and rhetoric. Thankfully Miles Beal at Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has done a sterling job showing the government what needs to be done, however the massive staff shortages due to Brexit and EU migration now no longer able to support the industry, is being played out in all sorts of ways from HGV drivers to hospitality staff shortages estimated to be over 200,000.

This is nearly all down to Brexit and the current government's desire to do what is popular not what is right. Not only have we not taken back control, but our current government has lost control and do not seem to know how to fix it without recognising the Brexit disaster that is happening. We have gone from max 4 weeks to ship from Italy to up to 3 months. Quite how this helps UK PLC I don’t know as my costs have now gone through the roof fuelling inflation…..

How do you stay competitive and cater to your customers’ (restaurants and retail) needs?

Service is key, but this is being compromised by lack of staff at all levels. Icon producers that have high demand, quality staff who can support building strong business plans with customers, back vintage offerings, tastings with suppliers, partnerships built on true relationships.

How do you plan to grow from here, in 2022?

We have budgeted to deliver significant growth over the next 3 years. As the market challenges manifest themselves, we feel able to respond quickly given the turnaround at Armit Wines. Much of the trade still views our business as where we used to be in the past, when the opposite is now true. We managed our Covid issues well and indeed grew during this period. We did not furlough any staff and are now employing very good people to help deliver this growth.

We are often in the blind spot of many competitors, and this enables us to go slightly unnoticed, resulting in opportunity. This won’t last as our results get posted and people soon see the ongoing success of Armit, but for now it is certainly true. Added to this is success builds on itself and we are seeing more and more customers come to Armit as a potential supplier as their own supply options are compromised. The key is to ensure when this opportunity does present itself we can deliver on it.

What sort of support and marketing do you find gives you the best return of investment in driving depletions from your customers?

Relationships are key. Open dialogue and working together to formulate plans is the central point of delivery. Sales driven but marketing supported. They go hand in hand.

What’s been your biggest back-office challenge and how did you solve it?

Staffing. A constant challenge. Currently you would have to put supply chain pressure in this as well.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the London competitions / Beverage Trade Network or its members. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Beverage Trade Network concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.