Flight of the Phoenix

12 December, 2008

From the ashes of bankruptcy, Tim Errock's venture has risen to success. By Nigel Huddleston

When Tim Errock's employer went bankrupt, instead of looking for another one he decided to take over the business himself.

The Gloucester-based specialist spirits shop Potstill suitably became Phoenix Fine Drinks.

Errock - a former Oddbins worker and general manager of Milroys of S oho - has now been running the business under his own steam for two years, adhering to a policy of sourcing "weird and wacky" spirits from around the world, from aged malt whiskies to Jordanian arack, taking in super-premium vodka, upmarket gins and fine brandies along the way.

The spirits line-up is augmented by equally esoteric wines, regional beers and locally-made wines and mead.

The store is central, close to Gloucester cathedral, but just off the beaten track in the Westgate Quarter of like-minded independent niche retailers.


are you focusing on spirits?

Wine is a huge subject that you can only specialise in bits of really, and there is still an awful lot of pretentiousness and snobbery with wine

that you don't get so much with spirits.

I do sell some wine

such as Château Musar from the Lebanon, but it tends to be the more niche and weird stuff. I am looking at extending wine, but it would inevitably mean you're competing more head-on with the supermarkets. When they do their three-for-a-tenner you can't compete and I don't really want to. I'll stick to the stuff I know a bit more about and can call myself an expert in, like whisky, rum, tequila and cachaça.

By offering high-value items, have you been hit by the credit crunch?

There are problems but we don't need to be told it day in,

day out. People are going on with their lives and carrying on enjoying themselves occasionally. This isn't a store for day-to-day drinks anyway; if you want a case of beer you go and get it from a supermarket. Here, it's more about presents, something for a special occasion or specialist cocktail ingredients. We've got Italian artichoke bitters and Pineau des Charentes. You won't find either of them in Tesco.

Apart from range, what do you have to offer that other stores don't?

It's personal service. People who ring often comment

the phone goes to

the recorded message all the time, but if the phone rings I'd rather talk to the customer in the shop than answer the phone.

What changes have you made since buying the business?

It was much more whisky-oriented, especially Irish whiskey, but there's not the level of interest to sustain just Irish, which is why I've decided to have a much broader range. Sometimes things don't rush off the shelves

constantly, but we have them because enough people do want to buy them over a period of time.

How do you go about generating interest in the range?

Experimenting is the key. I had someone earlier who was adamant that all vodka was the same, but it was fun persuading her otherwise. If you want a bottle of vodka to drink on a Saturday night with tonic and ice you're probably going to get it from the supermarket.

If it's something different like Zubrowka or 42 Below from New Zealand you won't be able to. Particularly with whisky, the great thing about this industry is that you can play around and people are willing to experiment more when they come here.

I go out and do tastings. I did a liqueur tasting in a local pub and advertised it and I sold quite a lot of liqueurs on the night. It's good fun and gets the shop known as well as bringing people into the pub - so they're happy and I'm happy. It makes us part of the local community. I normally do about six or eight whisky tastings a year, where people pay about £15-20 for six whiskies, a bit of food and a chat, and a good night is had by all. It's getting people trying whiskies and it's a form of advertising.

What do you get out of being in your community of shops?

The area is really for all the smaller independent shops, which are more niche - the rest of Gloucester city centre is more or less a cloned city, as anywhere else. In Westgate, there's an independent retailers' association

which has a website providing links to all the individual businesses. The organisation was set up two to three years ago to promote the independents and boutiques in the quarter. It's the area people go to when they're coming on a visit to Gloucester.

The rent's reasonable for where it is. If you put on electricity, water and business rates it does start getting expensive.

You have a lot of local beers and even Three Choirs English wine from Gloucestershire. Are you championing local products?

I wouldn't say championing, but if you can get it locally why pay someone to haul it halfway round the world. You'll find it hard to buy Three Choirs wine, even locally, so it's all part of being different.

Do you anticipate great changes ahead?

Overall, no. I just want to keep getting more weird and wacky drinks. It's the fun of doing it and it's a great industry. I

love coming across new drinks that I've never heard of. It's the sort of job you can't get bored of doing. If you get bored of whisky, rum or Armagnac you've got problems.

Phoenix Fine Drinks in figures

Staff: Nil

Rent: £8,500pa

Turnover: undisclosed

Average customer spend: £28

Sales split by category: 60% spirits, 10% wine, 30% beer and wine

Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10am to 6pm

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