Friarwood plans second shop and ramps up digital focus
Peter Bowen started the business in 1967, when he began importing top Bordeaux direct from the châteaux and supplying the UK on-trade.
He opened a store in west London in 2000 and retail now represents 30% of the firm’s turnover, with the rest coming from a wholesale business supplying Michelin-starred restaurants, high-end hotels and other on-trade accounts.
It has branched out of Bordeaux and, while the majority of its portfolio is still French, it offers a range of superb wines from around the world, including Canada’s highest-rated sparkling wines, super-Tuscans, offerings from boutique producers from Bulgaria and South Africa and many more.
Bowen passed away in 2014 and the business was passed down to Ben Carfagnini, a Canadian native who trained as an architect before deciding the wine trade would offer a more interesting career.
He completed an MBA in Bordeaux and moved to Friarwood for an internship, before being promoted to head of sales. He worked under Bowen for a year and the company’s founder took him under his wing and taught Carfagnini as much as he could.
“From the minute he passed away it was kind of handed down to me, as a gesture. He saw his youth from when he started the business in his 20s in me. He saw the drive I had, and here we are today,” said Carfagnini as Friarwood held a portfolio tasting showcasing several of the producers that contribute to its 1,000-strong wine list.
“A large percentage of our wines are exclusive to Friarwood. For on-trade, we do same-day delivery, mixed cases, no minimum order.
“We love retail. When I took over Friarwood I made it my number one focus. The store was opened in 2000, but it wasn’t Peter’s focus. However it is mine. We are a fine wine merchant offering quality wines with provenance. We buy direct from producers.”
There are plans to open a second store and it has teamed up with Deliveroo as it bids to crack the digital sphere.
“We have one retail space that allows us to meet the consumers and speak with them on what they like,” said Carfagnini, who is now managing director and heads a team of 10. “When I bought the business it was not up to date on the technology side due to Peter’s sickness. My job was to start afresh and get everything up to date. We got a website. We’re on Deliveroo now.
“We are taking a technology road to success. The wine trade is behind other industries. Everyone says it’s behind, I know it is. There is so much to do and so much to put forward on the technology side, but we can’t forget where we’ve come from – the dedication and passion of the producers, the skilled hand that it takes to make the wine. We don’t want to lose that side, but at the same time there are a lot more opportunities going forward for technology, opening new doors and channels to sell wine through.
“The wine trade is lagging behind but we were one of the first retail companies to jump on the delivery system and it has done wonderfully for us. Sales are going through the roof and we see it increasing every month. We’ll open every door and see if it works.
“We have a system that updates stocks and delivery timings up to the second.”