Simon Thorpe MW launches wine consultancy business

Simon Thorpe MW has launched a consultancy service for the wine industry. 

Thorpe, who secured his Master of Wine (MW) qualification in 1997, has 30 years' worth of experience in senior level roles in the wine industry. Most recently he was the commercial director for Fells but he stepped down from this role in December last year. 

His new website (www.simonthorpemw.com), offers a range of services for wineries, winemakers, and others in the trade.

DRN caught up with Thorpe to find out more about his new venture:

What services are you offering the wine industry and why did you decide to set up a consultancy business?

“Over the years the UK wine market has evolved structurally, with consolidation in retail groups, distribution and supply. The consumer has partially benefited from this because, duty increases aside, there has been very little inflation in wine prices, whilst the wines that are offered are without doubt better quality and better value than 15 or so years ago. So, value for the consumer has improved, but there is probably less choice, and certainly fewer routes to market for producers. 

“Therefore, the decisions a producer makes about how to approach this market are increasingly important and increasingly difficult. There’s a lot of time and money which can be wasted by not having a fully formed or appropriate strategy whether that be pricing, range, brand, channel or distribution. This is where I’d look to add value to producers, whether they be new to market or already established; helping them to stress test strategy or develop it from scratch. 

Can you comment on the strengths the UK wine industry has had (to date)?

“One of the fundamental strengths of the wine industry here is its willingness to try new things and to engage with new propositions.  So, the UK has always been a great testing ground; it is challenging and rewarding, but the proposition has to be compelling and increasingly grounded in solid brand credentials. Authenticity, an engaging story and great quality are key to success more than ever. The consumer is increasingly savvy and looking for truth in their purchase choices. 

“It would seem to me that one thing the coronavirus crisis has highlighted is that we have made our lives and our business environment overly complex. 

“When you boil everything down, just what things are important in our lives? Of course, in the near-term it feels more like survival mode, but once we emerge, I sense that caring relationships - both in business and personal lives - will come to the fore. Perhaps that is being too optimistic, but I do think that businesses who share values and truly connect with their customers and suppliers will flourish.

There is now a lot of uncertainty for the global wine trade as a result of coronavirus. It's hard to know what challenges each company might be facing (or may face in the future). Do you feel that with your new consultancy service you might be able to offer some advice to help navigate these new and unpredictable challenges? 

“Right at the moment and for the coming weeks businesses will be focusing on survival - there are so many examples whereby new and inventive ways of connecting to consumers are being developed; it is great for the off-trade to have an opportunity in that sense - possibly a chance to create and cement strong relationships with customers. Businesses certainly have an opportunity to build and support their communities at this time and can, as a result, build their positive reputation also. 

“I’m sure that each and every wine retailer is facing a different set of challenges, but times of great upheaval do classically bring great opportunity if financial circumstances allow. Of course, I’d be happy to have any businesses contact me to discuss their individual circumstance and to help refine strategy.

In the UK we are currently able to visit wine shops, and many of these retailers are also offering home delivery services. Supermarkets and convenience stores are also seeing increased sales of alcohol. Can you offer one piece of advice to off-trade retailers for the weeks ahead? 

“The focus should be absolutely on customers, making them feel special and cherished. People have more time on their hands, so filling that time with virtual tastings, quizzes, reasons to buy wine from you…engaging with them is vital.  Then be sure to capture (of course within GDPR guidelines) their details so when things return to normal the relationships you have with them can be built upon.

“It’s hard to picture exactly what the off-trade will look like when things have settled down. However, there are predictions that consumer behaviours will have shifted permanently. Again, this will impact individual businesses differently, but this is an ideal time to reflect on - and perhaps fast-track - those business development projects or people changes which were previously just ideas but which now make more sense. It’s a time for bold and decisive decision making.  

“It’s also a time for looking after your staff, so many people will be unsettled by the current circumstance - it has blasted our previously-held view on what constitutes “change” right out of the water.  

“If any business would like to contact me through the website: www.simonthorpemw.com I would be pleased to hear from them and to see if I can be of any assistance.”

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