Gwin Llyn Wines, Pwllheli, Wales

Thirteen years ago Dean and Margaret Pritchard switched from customers to owners when they decided to buy their local wine shop, and the store recently secured the award for Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year at the Drinks Retailing Awards 2019. The pair had run businesses before but didn’t come from the wine industry so it was a steep learning curve, as Dean Pritchard tells DRN.

What was it like for you in those early days?

When we started we had the support of some really great suppliers, so although we had a lot to learn there was some help. I had run businesses before so I needed to learn about wine, which seemed more sensible than knowing a lot about wine but nothing about how to run a business.

It had been a very successful business before we bought it, although it needed a bit of love. We shut the shop for just one week, and during that time we rebranded the business and set up a website. We couldn’t spare any longer than that because it was November and we had to be set up for the run-up to Christmas.

We also increased the amount of wine in the store so now we have nearly 500 lines in wine as well as a lot of spirits, fortified wines and craft beers.

What sort of competition do you have locally?

We are based in a small market town with about 3,500 people but it is the main shopping town for our local peninsula.

We have a Spar 100 yards away and it’s not like a normal Spar as it has wines form Laithwaites and a lot of local brands.

We have a small Asda nearby too, but I would say the Tesco and Waitrose home delivery services are our main competition.

What do you do to keep your customers coming back?

We do tasting events and Margaret does a lot with social media. She looks after our Instagram and Facebook pages and what we have found is that we have a high proportion of female customers who feel comfortable coming in to the shop to buy their gin or wine. When Margaret puts a picture of a new gin on Instagram it gets a lot of likes and people then come in and ask about it.

We have an annual tasting event, which is a sort of thank you to our customers for their support. It is ticketed but only so we can gauge the numbers as it is a free event. We have other small, informal tasting events.

We also work with the local community, so we do tastings for sports clubs, schools and charities for fundraising activities.

What sets you apart from other retailers?

We sell a product that no one actually needs, but our job is to make customers want to shop with us. We want people to enjoy the shopping experience.

Every bottle has its own label with a description of the wine, and suggestions for what food it might go with.

It is how you engage with people. We have regular customers so we know their likes and dislikes and can recommend things to them.

We are very much a holiday destination here in north Wales so in the summer months our population can quadruple. We have great local customers but we also have a second customer base during the holiday season.

It is nice for us as we can now see people coming here for their regular annual visits to the area and they buy their wine from us to take back home again, rather than bringing wine with them for their holidays.

What has been selling well in the past year or so?

Gin sales are amazing. We now have a standalone gin display around the centre of the shop. We must have 100 gins and we support our local distilleries, so we have an extensive selection of Welsh gin.

People like to know the stories, so they like knowing that one producer is a Morris dancer in his spare time and that Jessica Eade from Dinorwig Distillery has a natural spring from a well in her garden that started the creation of her Blue Slate gin.

In red wine it is Malbec and in white we are seeing a big uplift in Italian white wines, which are all selling really well.

Provence rosé has gone from being just a summer drink to selling well all year round.

We have three main rosé wines and I think we are the only place in north Wales that sells Whispering Angel rosé.

We have increased the amount of Malbec but that’s about it as we are at the stage where it’s one in, one out with our wines, and although we want to keep it fresh we have to look at what’s not selling well when we want to add something new in.

What are your plans for the future?

It’s hard to know what the future holds at the moment but we have some good relationships with suppliers and we will continue to develop these.

We are currently working with Penderyn and we also have a good relationship with Chase Distillery over the border. We are hoping to work with them on a window display in the future.

We have some great local vineyards and craft beer producers near here too so we will continue to work with them. Visitors to the area are really interested in local products so we ensure we always have a good selection.

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