Two of the early members of the Vindependents group have pulled out, giving different reasons for moving away from this model of sourcing wines. 

The Oxford Wine Company helped set up Vindependents eights years ago but it announced this week it has officially left the group, while Cheshire-based Corks Out, another founder member, has also left.

The Oxford Wine Company, which has three outlets across Oxford, was one of the founding members of Vindependents back in 2010. It was one of ten independent wine retailers who banded together to create an alliance, which was aimed at raising the profile of the independent off-trade sector and giving them access to better deals.

Speaking to DRN, Ted Sandbach, managing director of the Oxford Wine Company, said: “The group now comprises one or two bigger companies which have a turnover of around £6 million, and then you have a lot of very small one-man-bands, which might have a turnover of three or four hundred thousand, and a lot of the requirements are very different.

“The model does not work for us. We do a lot of wholesale and we can buy cheaper then they can in certain areas and we can source a lot ourselves. It costs us a fee each year to be part of Vindependents and some of the logistics didn’t work for us either, as there were some delays in deliveries.

“I think it could be useful for the smaller retailers as the group can bring in very small amounts of products that are exclusive. I do think in this way it is suited to the smaller stores.”

Ruth Yates, the founder of Corks Out, told DRN her reasons for leaving were different. “We didn’t have any problems with how Vindependents was run or the concept. It is still very young and there is a lot stll to do and some changes that would benefit them going forwards. 

“Our reasons for leaving is mainly due to overseas shipping. We have a tight stock control system and we took such a lot from Vindependents and probably had stock for far too long and then we were overstocked. We worked on eight to ten weeks for a turnaround of our stock and that was not happening, so this was putting pressure on our cash flow. 

“We had to make decisions, especially given there were now so many fluctuations in currency too. So we decided not to ship as much from overseas and instead put our faith in UK suppliers and we have a lot in the UK now. They offer the benefit of tastings, samples and other support, so they do a lot of other things not just selling the wine to you.

“We had a complete range review and we are delisting quite a few products, and putting more focus on retail. We also did some shipping form overseas outside of Vindependents and we will stop doing that as well. 

“I think it works for a lot of people and the concept is good. We gave it a try and at the moment as a model it is not working for us but had we been in a different position and maybe a business model with more wholesale or where we can keep more stock, it might have worked better. It’s not to say we would not rejoin in the future.”

Meanwhile, Dawn Mannis, director of The Sampler Wine Merchant, which was also one of the founder members of Vindependents, told DRN: “The Vindependents suits our business model. We import most of our wines ourselves, but use the Vindependents for a number of wines ranging from Prosecco to small parcels of wines from Burgundy. We also use UK suppliers for wines too, and find that there is often less channel conflict, and better margin with the Vindependents wines. We haven’t encountered any problems with the group, and the quality and service has always been reliable.”

Speaking to DRN, Vindependents’ managing director, Jessica Hutchinson, said: “We are delighted with the progress we have made over the past year. We have grown more than we had hoped and have brought on board a great many fantastic new members and agencies adding more value to the business.

“Oxford Wine need to source value-end wines for their trade customers and we wish them the best of luck with that.

“We specialise in high quality, interesting wines from independent producers which over-perform for their price point and we already have interest from several high quality, retail-focused merchants in the Oxford area who are keen to fill in the geographical gap now available.”

Hutchinson told DRN earlier this month that the group is on track to reach its goal of 50 members across the UK. Vindependents currently has more than 30 independent retailer members.

Meanwhile, Sandbach explained that the Oxford Wine Company is now working with other wine merchants on certain products and it is looking to put exclusive labels on these.

“What we are doing is slightly different from what we were originally trying to achieve with Vindependents. More recently we have got involved with other wine merchants that are a similar size as us to do some own-label projects. If we are all in different geographical regions and we know each other well then it works well for us, and we can develop this idea and never have a clash in terms of competition.

“If any of us run out of stock it will be much quicker to resolve this because by doing it this way we are controlling things and we know where the stock is. We can then sell it to local restaurants or through our shops. At the moment we are working with Hennings Wine in Sussex and Cambridge Wine Merchants in this way, and we are also looking at projects with others.”