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Independents join forces and debate key issues at Harpers business conference

Published:  04 March, 2015

Independent wine merchants gathered in London yesterday at a conference organised by Harpers Wine & Spirit which put the spotlight firmly on the big issues facing the sector.

March for the independentsMarch for the independents

Independent wine merchants gathered in London yesterday at a conference organised by Harpers Wine & Spirit which put the spotlight firmly on the big issues facing the sector.

The March for the Independents conference gave merchants, suppliers and expert panellists the opportunity to share business insights, and debate the opportunities and challenges they face.

Topics covered included the latest off-trade trends, online selling, an update on the latest business and wine regulations, buying groups and bond payments, crowdfunding and finance. There was also the chance to glean tips on buying and negotiating skills from retail experts and former retail buyers, and find out what how other independents are successfully diversifying through new business ventures café's and wine bars.

Harpers' editor Richard Siddle said there was a real disparity within the independent sector, as highlighted by Harpers Independent Merchants Report, which gave a snapshot of the independent market today. However its strength lay in its diversity, he said.

Tim Wilson of Wilsons Drinks Report agreed there was a "huge opportunity" for the sector as he highlighted the key trends in the off-trade, particularly as supermarkets start to cut the number of lines. "The potential opportunity next year will be exciting and more suppliers will come to the independents," he said.

Entrepreneur investor Mike Greene said the key strenght of independents lay in local independent retailing, explaning that "Local isn't geography, it's a behaviour & mindset."

Other speakers included Andrew Park of wine law firm APP who outlined recent changes in legislation that independents need to take on board.

Seedrs campaign director, Frank Webster, talked to independents about the options they may have to raise money by offering customers and investors an equity share in the business. An option an increasing number of drinks and independents companies are taking up with the success of Chapel Down and the independent merchant, Humble Grape, raising money through Seedrs.

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association's  David Richardson spoke in depth about the importance for independents to ensure they are aware of the changes to the alcohol wholesaler registration scheme which means the vast majority will probably now have to be registered.

Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants also outlined the benefits of buying In Bond Deliveries (IBD) to boost margins and why having a duty deferement scheme in place can add real value to any independents that are importing or sourcing wine direct.

March for the independentsMarch for the independents

Working with suppliers was a key focus of the day and David Sables of Sentinel Management Consultants, who helps train major suppliers in how they negotiate with major supermarkets offered practical solutions on how independents can improve their own buying and selling skills.

He was joined by wine consultant Angela Mount, and former head wine buyer at Somerfield, who gave tips and advice on what makes a better buyer with particular emphasis on the importance of doing your homework so that you are always one step ahead of your supplier in any negotiation. It is up to you to set the agenda and make sure suppliers are following your business plan, rather than the other way round.

Being passionate about wine is not enough anymore, she warned, it was key to meet your customers needs, deliver sales and profit targets of the business, provide styles the customer wants and ensure availability.

March for the independentsMarch for the independents

Suppliers Les Grands Chais de France and Castel were also on hand to show how major wine producers are now taking real steps to adapt their portfolios to work directly with independent merchants.

Independents who took part in the conference included Planet of the Grapes, Hennings Wine, Borough Wines, Hangingditch, New Street Wine Bar, Vagabond Wines, Cambridge Wine, Oxford Wine Company, The Sampler, and Corks Out.

The day was sponsored by partners Treasury Wine Estates, Castel, Les Grands Chais de France, Ehrmanns, Codorniu, Amazon and Alpine Wines.

The event was a culmination of a four week campaign to raise awareness of key issues facing the sector. More details of this can be found here at in the Campaigns and March for the Independents section.

A full report from the conference will be in the March issue of Harpers and online at on March 6.