Majestic has come a long way in the last year. So far, in fact, it is actually going back in time to what made it such a breakthrough drinks retailer when it was launched. Head of buying, Richard Weaver, explains why its new parcels of wine initiative is just another step in its customer first strategy that it hopes will attract new shoppers as well as re-engage with existing ones.
Majestic Wine hopes the trade will see its new parcels initiative as a way of getting good, un-sold wine to customers fast.
There is a natural double take in the drinks industry when national operators, be they retailers, restaurant chains, pub groups or distributors, claim to have some sort of craft, artisan or specialist roots.
For some it’s a bit like Gallo claiming they are a boutique winemaker, or Smirnoff a batch spirits producer.
But businesses like Majestic sit in a difficult middle ground. Big enough to be considered a national player, with a listing on the stock exchange no less, but not small enough to justifiably call itself an independent drinks retailer.
Which is why it clings very much to the specialist tag. A position it has been increasingly hard for it to justify in recent years when its stores became seemingly obsessed with multi-price deals and promotions.
But things are a changing and Majestic is winning back those specialist credentials both with its high street and online offer, and, in particular, the big steps it has taken to greatly improve its on-trade and private client business. Which Majestic strangely classifies as its commercial division.
Last week it announced it is looking to go back even further to its specialist roots by introducing one off exclusive parcels of wine, the sort of initiative it made its name with when it first started out in the early 1980s.
The so called, When It’s Gone It’s Gone (WIGIG) initiative, is very much part of the new look Majestic being driven by its exciting management team of chief executive Rowan Gormley, head of retail, John Colley and its commercial chief, Ben Nicholl.
Consumer first strategy
This is thankfully (for Majestic’s sake) very much a consumer first strategy. An approach it hopes will not only get existing customers coming back to its stores, but vitally recruit and maintain a whole generation of Majestic shoppers that simply have not found it relevant to them before.
The fundamental difference Gormley and his team have made to Majestic is to stop running it in a way that made it highly efficient and effective for itself to run, but with a wines by the case only sales policy that meant anyone without a car, myself included, rarely visited any of their stores. Even when it switched to six bottle rather than 12 bottle cases.
The move to allowing single bottle sales should have been made years ago, but has already helped transform the way it is now running its business and importantly buying wine.
As Richard Weaver, head of buying and merchandising, conceded to The Buyer, its new WIGIG parcel initiative would not have been possible even a year ago under its previous merchandising and promotional strategies.
It seems the mud or glue that was holding the company back is slowly being removed. But sourcing exciting, exclusive parcels of wine is what Majestic should be about.
It was certainly a key part of its history, stresses Weaver, who looks back to the days in the early 1980s when it would negotiate deals with Scandinavian monopolies to bring in exclusive wines to the UK. He is keen to point out that the company “never stopped buying parcels of wine” but it did become less of a priority.
“As we got bigger and bigger it became more difficult to handle and we lost our ability to be able to do it as much as we had before,” he says.
Not any more. The businesses’ new approach to merchandising and buying has allowed the Majestic teams, covering both on and off-trades, to build in a lot “more flexibility” in the way it is now organised. “We have much more targeted ranging and merchandising now,” adds Weaver.
Space has been created as part of the new look Majestic stores to always have one off, exclusive wines available for customers to discover, usually as soon as they walk in to the shop.
It is now essential that Majestic buyers find parcels and sources of wines to keep those fixtures fresh and interesting. That’s a big difference to their role and importance to the overall success of the company.
“We wanted to create an area of the store that customers know they can go to find something new,” explains Weaver.
Re-engaging with the trade
But this is very much about re-engaging with the wine trade as much as it is its own customer base. Majestic, says Weaver, is keen to stress to producers, to importers, distributors, major on-trade players, that “it is open for business if you have wines you want to sell quickly”.
He appreciates most on-trade customers are looking for a “more consistent” supply source than being tempted with one-off deals, but it is at least open to having those kind of conversations where necessary. Major on-trade suppliers, for example, might have wine they would look to shift under the radar through Majestic.
Or it might be a wine producer that has excess stock it needs to move ahead of the next vintage or importers looking to find a home for wine that it can repackage and label and sell exclusively to Majestic.
Brands can protect their image and credentials by doing the same and selling under the Majestic Parcel Series range.
Weaver says Majestic has plans for six specific wines under the Parcel Series name before Christmas. Each having its own dedicated number. The first out of the blocks is a is a parcel of 8,008 bottles of Tempranilllo Reserva 2008 from the Spanish region of Uclés.
What constitutes a parcel of wine might raise eyebrows amongst some in the trade, but as Weaver points out, there has to be enough to go round all its stores, not just a select few.
So when Majestic talks parcels it is talking about a minimum 4,000 bottles, which might like an awfully big parcel to some.
But marketing always comes down to semantics, and if it works for Majestic in turning heads both in the trade and with its customers, then it is doing the right thing for its business.
Raft of changes
The parcels of wine are part of a whole raft of changes at Majestic as part of what it refers to its “Retail Basics” initiative. Short hand for sorting itself out. Its 100% focus on what customers might want is reflected in the fact 194 of its 210 shops now have a dedicated range that matches the consumer profile of where that store is. All of which has been implemented within a year. But, again, begs the question why was it not done before.
“We are now a lot more disciplined in how we plan our ranges,” says Weaver. “It is about building the right range architecture.”
There is also far more emphasis on ensuring its stores are doing what they are supposed to. Namely trading and selling wine.
As well as the space given over to parcel specific wines is a new two pallet zone dedicated to pushing wines that the buyers believe deserve an extra bit of care and attention.
“We are creating room in the stores to be more agile and flexible in what we offer,” says Weaver.
The parcels of wine are clearly ideal content to be pushed through its various social media channels and through direct mailings with customers.
Lasting effect with shoppers
For ultimately that is the bottom line for Majestic, its staff and its shareholders. Putting in place the structural changes that have a real and lasting effect on the shop floor or in the ranges being offered to the on-trade through its commercial division.
It seems the building blocks are more than just in place but starting to have to have a real effect. The next year will be crucial in how successful Majestic can be in attracting the thousands of new customers it needs to really have an impact on the business and its influence on both the UK on and off-trades.