Dan Farrell-Wright launched online wine and spirits merchant Wickhams in November 2020 – the depth of the pandemic. The business has grown and will this year evolve to include in-person tastings with wine presenter Tom Surgey. Farrell-Wright tells Drinks Retailing how he got here.
I started my own wine cellar many years ago with Berry Bros & Rudd. I’ve always had a passion for wine and when I was in the army, I’d continually put wine away and keep abreast of the en primeur campaigns, what’s happening in Bordeaux and Burgundy. I was very much an Old World snob if you like. My wife introduced me to the New World and broadened my passions.
I have two software businesses that I’ve built up over the past 10 years, so I’ve got quite a strong background in internet and ecommerce. I had an opportunity to partner with someone I bought wine from in the first lockdown. They were in the position where they, as a wine merchant, needed to change their business overnight and go online.
We had slightly different ideas about the direction. The most clear example is that I really believe English wines are finding their feet – not only the world-class sparkling options but still wines as well. But he had a different view. So, we went our separate ways. I took the online brand forward and I think English wines make up about a quarter of our list at the moment.
In December 2020, our busiest day was about £5,000. In December 2021, our busiest day was £38,000. My way of doing business is simple: you do what you say, and you say what you do. I don’t think you have to be the cheapest wine merchant in the world; I don’t think you need to have one-hour delivery. What you need to do is have a fair price for the wines that you sell and make sure the wines are good. And if you tell a customer that you’re going to deliver in one, two or even three days, that’s what you do.
The intention has always been to be national. If you look at the spread of customers, the largest percentage comes from around London and the second biggest is the south west and then around Oxford. We’re pushing into Scotland as well.
We do have wines we bring in exclusively. We also buy lots of wines from big suppliers – Boutinot, Alliance, Ellis. All the English producers we work with directly. We bring in exclusive wines from Italy and we’re in talks with a South African producer to represent it in the UK.
Getting critics to feature your wine is really simple: you just have to talk to them. I think a lot of wine merchants sit and wonder why their wine never gets featured in the national press, but they never pick up the phone.
We look at conversion rates and break that down into demographics and categories. Almost 50% of our sales in December came from abroad – people in Australia, New Zealand or the US buying gifts for people in the UK. Probably, as a symptom of Brexit, they may have sent wines from their local merchants in California 12 months ago and now it’s quite possible that they can’t do that as easily. So they’re looking for wine merchants in the UK that can fulfil that need.
We are holding a lot of stock at the moment. The reason for that being supply chain issues, but also pricing. For example, with our everyday case at £42 – which is one of our most popular cases – it will become difficult to keep putting the variety in if there are significant pressures on prices. So, we are currently sitting on a lot of stock that can go into that case of wines so we can continue to sell that case. But in six months’ time when we’ve worked through that stock, how likely are we to be able to hold on price at £42? Right. We’ve got questions over that.
There’s the quality point as well. Looking at how people are going to be spending money, I think there’s real quality to be found if you go slightly off the beaten path.