Make a date with a database

Q I have been collecting business cards and "harvesting" e-mail ­addresses to create a customer database. I want to send people regular updates about special offers and events

we run. Is this against data protection law?

A Consumers are increasingly promiscuous and the best retailers recognise that it's their job to put their promotional messages right under the noses of their customers. Gone are the days when customers could be expected to trudge around the streets in search of interesting deals.

Your idea could reap rewards but it's important for anyone holding a database for marketing purposes to be registered under the Data Protection Act. You must not put anyone into a database without their permission and you must also have their consent to send them messages. It is good practice to include, on every e-mail or flyer, an easy way to opt out of future mailings .

Make sure the e-mails you send are genuinely worth receiving and are well targeted. Otherwise you will end up annoying potential customers by clogging up their inboxes with information they have no interest in reading.

Richard Hammond, author of the excellent Smart Retail books (Pearson Books), advises that you come straight to the point in the subject line - for example, "30 per cent off all Rioja until March 20". The time limit is an important detail, encouraging recipients to act swiftly.

Hammond advises that the body text of the message is kept very direct and that you sign off with your own name to create a personal touch. "Remember the rules," Hammond says. "Tell me what it is, tell me why I might want one, tell me how to get it."

For more information about registering

and a complete outline of the law's demands and a good practice guide, log on to the Information Commissioner's Office website at

Q We're often told that beers, wines and spirits are useful "footfall drivers" for multiple grocers and they can afford to loss-lead. But how big is


in ­comparison

with other product areas?

A It's worth £7,925 million, according to Nielsen Scantrack figures, making it the third biggest earner for supermarkets behind dairy and deli (£10,015 million) and groceries (£9,486 million).

It would be wrong to assume that the multiple grocers can afford to take losses on all major brands, but with the intense competition in the market and the

massive economies of scale available to them, grocers can work on margins far smaller than their specialist rivals and loss-leading is always an option.

Q One of my customers is a fan of German wines and tells me there is such a wine as a "black Riesling". Has he had one too many Dornfelders or is he right?

AHe's referring to Schwarzriesling, which is not actually anything to do with actual Riesling, but an earlier-ripening mutation of Spätburgunder.

Spätburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir

- which is Germany's most important black grape variety.

You'll probably know Schwarzriesling best by its French name, for this is none other than Pinot Meunier, the least celebrated of the Champagne grapes.

In Germany, Schwarzriesling is often known by another synonym - Müllerrebe. Its wines are deep in colour but they do lack the complexity of Spätburgunder.

Supplying gifts and cards for passing party goers

Q So many of my customers these

days seem to call into my shop

on their way to dinner parties and ­celebrations that I've decided to cater more for the gift market. Can you recommend a supplier of display ­equipment for fresh flowers and greetings cards?

A Shop-Equip (01623 741500) has an excellent selection of flower stands, ranging from £79 for a two-bucket

model to £219 for a nine-bucket stand. The company also provides a selection of card display units, including a 1 m self-assembly model for £189, which

comes with free greetings cards

that boast a sales value worth as much as the unit itself.

Display Stands UK (023 9263 2633) also provides a good selection of greetings cards display units, including a basic revolving model for £23.99.