Inspiring Indies: Corks Out

Ruth Yates founded Corks Out in Chester in 2003 and has grown the business to a chain of five shops – in Alderley Edge, Stockton Heath, Timperley and Heswall – as well as an e-commerce website.

The chain has a comprehensive wine range that is constantly being updated and a portfolio of premium spirits, as well as a range of beers from local microbreweries.

Tasting is encouraged as a way to demystify wine for consumers, with tasting machines dubbed “the wine juke box”, and regular tasting events and gourmet dinners on the calendar made deliberately informal and approachable.

The Alderley Edge shop has a wine bar serving cocktails, Champagne and wine by the glass, while Stockton Heath has a Secret Wine Garden with outdoor and covered seating.

Yates’s approach, which is both innovative and entrepreneurial, has netted her a number of awards in the past 11 years, including several of OLN’s Drinks Retailing Awards, and she has featured on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me, selecting wines for a special dinner party.

Sum up your shop in one sentence. Unique, as it’s more than just buying wine – we are a destination that’s trendy and approachable, offering a new adventure in wine and spirits.

What sets you apart from other drinks retailers? Focus, innovation, constantly wanting to be ahead of the game and never lowering the guard.

Who is your fiercest competitor? In terms of shops I don’t consider we are in competition with anyone. I prefer to let others compete among themselves. I don’t see the big guys as competitors as it’s just a price war out there, and in terms of the indies I think we should stick together and not try to compete. Online is another matter.

And how do you maintain an edge over them? In terms of shops, we try to keep things interesting for the customer with tastings, regular product changes to keep things refreshing and interesting, on-trade menu changes and good social media activity. In terms of the website, there is a lot of competition out there and we try to offer specialist products. Our website is very informative and easy to navigate, and we offer a personal service that the big guys can’t manage. 

How do you keep customers coming back? We are honest about our pricing and our regular customers are rewarded for their loyalty. We reward recommended friends and run weekly newsletters with member offers and information about events and tastings. Most of all we offer fantastic customer service. You can have the best product in the world at the best price but service has to be top to keep them coming back.

What area of the business is performing best at the moment? The website and the on-trade part of our stores. The trendy bar scene has certainly helped get more customers through the door and improved our retail side too. It’s an expensive outlay to begin with though for both web and bar.

What’s your biggest challenge as a retailer? Cashflow and staff. We are lucky that we have managed our stocks very well and this has helped cashflow. We never order anything we can’t afford to pay for. In terms of staff, we are lucky to have some long-term employees but it’s still a bit of a headache from time to time – although I think everyone can relate to that.

Give us your top retailing tip. Plan and keep focused and in touch with every aspect of your business. Never expect anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.

What has been your biggest business mistake? I have lots, but I think the worst was not delegating enough and thinking I could do everything. This affected my cashflow a couple of years ago. It taught me a very important lesson and made me a better businessperson.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? That banks only lend you an umbrella when the sun is shining. They very quickly want it back when it starts to get even a little bit showery.

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