Laughing in the face of doom-mongers
Published:  18 May, 2007

The average price achieved for a bottle of wine in an independent wine merchant is 7.24 - far beyond the British average of 4.10.

Even Majestic, arguably one of the most successful and admired wine retailers in the UK, if not the world, only reports an average price of 5.59. More than a third of our group of 512 independents on our database have an average bottle price between 7 and 7.99, and almost 95 per cent report a figure in excess of 5 - regarded by so many multiples as a psychological barrier for consumers.

The average price ranges from 3.75, in one of our selected shops, to an impressive 50, sold in one of the high-end merchants.

If it sometimes seems there are more independent wine merchants than there were a decade or so ago, that's because there are. More than a third of them have appeared since 2000, and in 2005 alone almost 10 per cent of the shops we see today opened their doors for the first time that year.

The statistics confound doom-mongers who claimed there was no future for independents in the face of such overwhelming opposition from the multiples. In fact, it's possible to establish viable and profitable niches in many locations - and take advantage of rising disposable income and a widening appreciation of wine.

Wine merchants are often regarded as stuffy and old-fashioned - but the clear majority have only been around since the 1980s. There are, however, a few dating back to the 19th and even 18th century, emphasising the heritage and tradition of the sector.

According to our research, 57 per cent of independent wine merchants are now equipped to sell wine online, with 43 per cent yet to take the plunge. We expect to see this situation change as more and more merchants see the merit of selling wine beyond the limits of their immediate catchment area.

Excluding some of the larger businesses with substantial wholesaling or agency operations, the stores report an average staff quota of 5.62 people. This includes part-time staff.

The sector is typically characterised by small employee numbers. Our survey found that 15 per cent of stores have three staff, 14.6 per cent have two staff and 23 per cent have just one person running the store.

Date of store opening

Since 2000: 35 per cent

1990s: 29.1 per cent

1980s: 16.5 per cent

1970s: 6.3 per cent

1960s: 1.8 per cent

1950s: 1.9 per cent

1900-1949: 0.5 per cent

Pre 1900: 6.5 per cent

Try before you buy

Eighty-six per cent of independent wine retailers offer regular tastings. Only 2 per cent are prepared to do this daily, but 22.3 per cent put on an in-store tasting at least once a week. We found that 32.8 per cent conducted tastings once or twice a month, and 27.9 per cent did so less frequently.

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