Loki Wine Merchant is set to open its third store in the Birmingham area.

The third store will be in Knowle, and it will join the existing stores in Birmingham City Centre and Edgbaston. It is due to open by the end of the month.

Phil Innes, founder and managing director, told Drinks Retailing: “It was meant to open in April this year but we took a break from the original plans. I then revisited the landlord more recently and the unit was still available so I thought I should go ahead with it, in light of how well the whole retail side of things has gone since lockdown began.”

Loki’s city centre store has recorded a decline in footfall since lockdown, predominantly because the city has had less office workers passing by the store since Covid-19 began. But the Edgbaston store, which is more residential, is up by 40% in sales, and this is the model that the new Knowle store is more likely to resemble.

Innes said: “Fortunately we have a loyal following and people still make that trip [to the city centre store] but with that unit we are really relying on that goodwill shopper instead of the steady office worker trade we used to get.

“So we thought opening in Knowle made sense because people are staying more local and there isn’t a huge amount of competition there. And the high street there is really changing a lot now. All of the banks used to be represented on Knowle high street but now all apart from one have closed and instead lots of upmarket venues have taken their place; it has created a nice cluster there.”

Meanwhile Innes said ecommerce has been “huge” for the business this year and this has really helped the cashflow.

“Turnover [for online sales] is the same as the city centre store would have been but with no overheads so in some ways we already added the equivalent of another store during lockdown, turnover-wise.”
Loki was quick to respond to the changes in consumer behaviour when lockdown started in March and the business launched online tasting events one week later. It has been running these weekly ever since, with some attracting 320 people from countries across Europe, as well as from the local area.

“The great thing is the online tasting side is really stable for us. We can have 250+ people, and probably double that if you think that most people will have someone joining them in their house, and there is no way we could do a live tasting of that size. We have a really good base for it anyway because we are known for doing a lot of events, probably three or four a week, and so people know us for wine events. We charge £65 per ticket and we send three bottles of wine and three matching cheeses. Some tastings [by other operators] I have attended are very serious but for our events we want to talk about wine, but we also want people to have fun.”

Although ecommerce and virtual events have been successful, this has not stopped Innes’ dream of opening more stores.

“I went into this business because I like the immersive experience of a wine shop and the fact that we hand-sell everything, and it is very hard to replicate that online.  There is also a tiny bit of sentimentality about opening in Knowle in that it was once a Wine Rack unit that I trained in when I was 19. I did all my WSET training there and I learned how to sell wine there. It just feels like going back to the start except that I own it now.”

The new store will be situated on the high street near to a French delicatessen, a British delicatessen and a new Michelin-starred restaurant, as well as other independent businesses.