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Photo for: Vintner founders Julia Beran and Hamish Kirwan on how to succeed in online retailing

Interviews

Vintner founders Julia Beran and Hamish Kirwan on how to succeed in online retailing

23/05/2022

Vintner founders on how to succeed in online retailing

Julia Beran and Hamish Kirwan have taken the bold step of transforming what was an established wine supplier to restaurant and retailers - The Vintner - and turned into a new e-commerce wine model with a clear strategy on how to build up a loyal community of wine lovers online.

What is your background and how did you get into the drinks industry?

Hamish Kirwan: My first proper job was in the wine trade working for Laithwaites in Sydney, Australia. I then moved to the wine eCommerce space at Vinomofo in Melbourne and after a three year stint moved to London and began working with The Vintner.

Julia Beran: A summer stint as stagiaire for Moet & Chandon during university working as a tour guide for Mercier had me hooked. I started my career working in B2B sales for Jascots, before moving onto The Vintner for 10 years as general manager and managing director, and now most recently co-founder of Vintner.

Why did you want to work in the wine sector and wine retailing in particular?

HK: Wine, simply, is a pleasure for a lot of people. It can elevate experiences and make them more special and I've always wanted to be a part of that. In the Australian wine trade, we've got a fairly relaxed and casual way of communicating. I've always thought this not only allows innovation in the sector, but encourages a really engaged and diverse audience.

JB: I really enjoyed learning about Champagne, and wanted to expand that to all parts of wine. It’s a great product to work with, but I have always enjoyed the business side even more. However, I didn’t myself in the people buying wine from me in the past, and it didn’t reflect where we thought wine could and should be, hence why Hamish and I set up Vintner.

What do you see as your point of difference at Vintner?

HK: We focus on the drinker, not the maker. We look for when and why people are consuming, and we try to cater more to their experiences than anything else. Recommending wines for events as significant as weddings or celebrations all the way down to what people should serve when they're inviting friends over to binge watch TV.

JB: There are over 10,000 types of grape, and for many it matters which side of a river they were grown on. But to the next generation of wine drinker, it doesn't. The millennial drinker spends more on wine on average than any other group (they make up 44% of the UK wine spend annually), but they do it to enjoy a bottle with friends, not to start a cellar.

When Hamish and I created Vintner, we wanted to make wine uncomplicated so that every glass feels like a treat. From the start, we’ve worked with small producers to find great wine, and have removed the bulls*** so that people who like life with a wine on the side can find it and love it.

You started out with a DTC and a B2B model running side by side - has that ever caused any problems with you with trade customers?

HK: Not particularly. Our B2B model was always a secondary part of our business, but we've always had very loyal and engaged customers.

JB: We are always careful about transparency with our B2B clients.

How have you gone about building up your range and deciding on what regions and countries to concentrate on?

HK: We first and foremost look for wines that we as a team want to drink and enjoy. We are consumers ourselves and there's a varying level of wine experience within our team, so it's great to have mixed perspectives. Currently we focus on classic regions in Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal & Germany) and we're also always looking for New World wines that showcase great value.

What are the key factors you look for in a new wine or producer before taking them on?

HK: In a new wine, it's drinkability. Each wine on our list must be of the calibre whereby you have a glass and you would go back for a second. As for producers, we want to work with likeminded people who want to engage a larger group of people and make wine more accessible.

What are the things a producer can do to make your life easier?

HK: It's a very dull answer, but work with us to help make the very difficult logistical situation as smooth as possible. 

JB: To understand what Vintner stands for, and what our community is looking for in their wine, the whole experience that comes with the wine.

What are the things that producers get wrong that frustrate you and make you less likely to want to work with them?

HK: I think producers need to be openminded (and most are) to new ways of marketing and selling wines. There's a lot of opportunity for wine brands to make a bigger impact using Influencer marketing and these opportunities shouldn't be avoided.

What trends are you seeing post lockdown in terms of wines being bought, styles and price points?

HK: People are dining/drinking out more - which is great. The hospitality industry has had such a beating over the past while so we're happy people are getting back to old habits. We are seeing the cooler weather bring in more of an appetite for warmer reds, but there are also die hard white drinkers who move over to richer styles. We're focussing a lot on textural Rhône blends from South Africa and also trialling some new fizz in the lead up to Christmas.

JB: People are happy to spend a bit more on their wine at home following on from changed habits during lockdown. Those who changed to buy wine online during the pandemic are continuing to do so.

What changes did you have to make during the pandemic?

HK: We pivoted to an entirely B2C business. We've moved warehouses, couriers, re-platformed our website and underwent a full rebrand.

What are your plans for the next steps for the business to help you grow?

HK: We're looking at launching our version of a subscription model early next year with it being catered to a more youthful wine consumer and their lifestyle.

JB: We are collaborating with larger brands (outside of wine), in particular brands that appeal to our target market. We are also working on our own label wine range. Looking ahead to 2022, having our own wine range will allow us to have more control over our sustainability and impact, as wine still remains behind the curb on this, in particular the supply chain.

What do you think are the key skills needed to be a good wine retailer?

HK: You need to have an approachable, fun, and friendly brand, have authority over your product but always talk to your customer like a friend, and you need to be agile - change when your customer changes.

What are key skills to be a good wine buyer?

HK: Very similar to the above plus but you need to understand your market and what drives their purchasing behaviour as well. Also, test everything - don't assume.

JB: Have your consumer’s hat on when deciding what to buy – know your audience, whilst balancing commercial viability.

The 2022 London Wine Competition results are now live. View results here.