Sunshine after the rain

29 October, 2010

Atholl MacMillanThen: manager, Victoria Wine, Callander, Stirling?Now: owner, MacMillan Wines, Callander, Stirling?“The stock had been running down for a while so we knew something was going on, but it was still a shock to see a company of that size go down. We got an email the same day as it came out on the news. The stock was run down further over the next few weeks and a chap came in from a company employed by KPMG to mark all the prices down. Eventually everything was at half price.

“The last day of trading was Saturday December 12 and there wasn’t really much left by then. We even had other retailers coming round to buy up stock.

“I own the freehold of the shop because it was my father’s business before I leased it to Victoria Wine, so when it closed I lost my wage and my rent – it was a double whammy.

“It was difficult to get the keys back because it was under the court. You couldn’t get KPMG on the phone and it didn’t really let you know what was going on. It handed the licence back to the council and I had to spend another couple of months getting that back.

“Eventually I got the keys and the licence and I reopened under my own steam as MacMillan Wine in the same premises in June. I wasn’t put off because I knew the figures and knew that all the First Quench shops in this area were doing well.

“I had to get a new computer stock system, so at first I was only dealing with one or two suppliers, but now that’s up and running we’re taking products from local distilleries and breweries. I can now stock what the customer wants, not just what First Quench wanted me to have.

“It was good getting my wages and a rent before, but it’s worked out well for me. I’m a lot happier now.”?Andrew LundyThen: manager, Wine Rack, Edinburgh?Now: co-owner, Vino, Edinburgh?“I’d been through my district manager training which couldn’t have happened at a worse time, going into the credit crunch. I was never going to uproot to Sussex but if a job had come up here I’d have taken it. It didn’t, so I stayed in my store.

“It was obvious that something was happening. You would have to have been very blinkered not to see that there was something going on, with the stock replenishment issues and little jobs that needed doing in the store that were left undone.

“When the collapse came it was very much all done through the media. It wasn’t communicated to us very well and some suppliers knew before we did. At each stage in the process we found out in a different way – sometimes by conference call, or email, or by a district manager – and it was all very unsettling.

“I’d already been thinking for some time that the independent route would be one I’d end up going down. There were many different scenarios that could have played out [with the administration], but when it became clear there was no one buyer for everything or for Wine Rack, it changed everything.

“Within a week of closing I’d put in a bid for some stores of my own, with two business partners. We bid for five initially and ended up with three. It wasn’t the easiest of processes. It was difficult for Christie & Co with 1,200 stores to sell but it wasn’t dealt with in the best way.

“My daughter was born in November, which put things into perspective. For the first months of her life I was setting up a new business but it meant I was able to spend more time with her and my wife than if I’d still been working for First Quench. I had Christmas at home for the first time in seven years.

“Eventually, we opened the first two stores in June and the third in September. They didn’t include the shop I had managed because I let the head rule the heart. There were more profitable stores on lower rents to go for.

“We got the pick of the best people from First Quench in the Edinburgh area; there was real depth of talent in the company that wasn’t there in other places.

“There’s a tradition of people buying from independent wine merchants in Edinburgh and those are the people we’re aiming for. We don’t have three-for-£10 or anything under £5 because we wouldn’t be happy for customers to drink them having bought them from us.

“We’ve had people coming in who I haven’t seen for four or five years because they didn’t like the idea of being forced to buy three-for-two when all they wanted was one good bottle.

“Looking back, you have to ask: would Threshers still be in existence today if it hadn’t sold 450 freehold stores under previous owners? That sort of asset-stripping left it with just a till system to borrow against and that was never going to happen.

“Personally, I’m happier though I’m working harder than I’d ever have thought it possible to work.

“It’s great to see

former First Quench people getting back to real retailing and showing some flair.”Trina Osborne?Trina OsborneThen: manager, Wine Rack, Putney, west London Now: owner, Trina’s Wines, Putney, west London?“I found out on Sky News and the following day it all kicked off. Gordon Brothers came in to conduct a closing down sale and we shut on December 17. The freehold was owned by one of the other shopkeepers along here and when he said we could take it on I went ahead. We sorted out the lease the day after we officially closed and reopened on December 21 as an independent. The first thing we did was take the old sign down.

“There was nothing left in the shop apart from the equipment and two staff who worked with me for two days getting in loads of cash and carry stock, which was all we had for the first few days. Now we’ve got nine suppliers and only use the cash and carry for beer and soft drinks.

“It’s much better now. We can give customers what they want and don’t just get sent pallets of stuff no one wants to buy. We’ve got a much better range than in the last five years of the old Wine Rack.”

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