A good year

It’s now two years since I joined Lay & Wheeler and, since it coincides with the end of the financial year, a good time to look back at what we have achieved since then and forward to 2011.

The first 12 months were turbulent for all concerned. Having changed a lot over the previous few years, from a traditional wine merchant to a larger wholesaler and wine bar operator (and back again), the internal workings of the business had to be restructured, and the costs brought down to enable us to deliver a good and efficient service to our customers. This meant focusing on what we are good at – selling high quality wines for cellarage and followed by top-quality customer service for those who trusted us to look after their cellars.

By distilling the business down to its core strengths, and bolstering those areas, we came out of the restructure knowing what we were trying to achieve, and with the team to deliver it. I also stripped out unnecessary charges to customers that simply created a barrier, reducing storage across the board, in particular, to our most loyal customers.

At the start of the next year we hit the ground running. First up was the 2009 Bordeaux en primeur campaign, which created unprecedented demand and brought many new customers to the business, setting the tone for the whole year. It also helped to re-establish our bona fides among suppliers in France, and secure allocations of sought-after wines for the coming years. As well as the buyers, the whole sales team visited Bordeaux during the April tasting season, some for the first time, helping to build a real knowledge-base within the office.

Perhaps more important still, if not in volume terms, was the 2009 Burgundy offer in January this year. Again all the sales staff visited the region where, unlike some Bordeaux properties, they were able to build personal relationships with the top family-run domaines we specialise in. The result – another bumper campaign.

Of course we’ve been lucky to have two vintages of such high quality, but it’s been great to be able to put into practice the improvements we started, and to return the customer-service to its necessary high level. In the last couple of weeks we’ve made all customer reserves available online so you can see much more detail about your cellar at the click of a mouse. We are also strengthening our sales and buying teams, adding new staff who will be joining us from our parent company, Majestic Wine. The graduate training scheme there has an enviable reputation within the trade, and it’s actually quite thrilling to be able to promote such highly-qualified and high quality young people.

So, we have lots of new customers and lots to look forward to. Coming up soon is the 2010 Bordeaux campaign; having declared 2009 to be one of the top years ever (and it is!) the 2010 may even surpass it, albeit with wines of a different style. We’re off to Bordeaux next week and will let you know. Make sure you sign up for our regular updates on the blog and even Twitter.

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