As we continue our new ways of working in lockdown The Buyer has decided to get as face to face as we can in the coming weeks with a series of interviews with key figures across the drinks, hospitality and retail sectors. First up Richard Siddle has a chat with Jason Haynes, co-founder of wine importer Flint Wines that has been able to keep its sales strong over the last three months, thanks to its multi-channel strategy. Here’s the full video of what he had to say.
Flint Wines has even be able to do some business during lockdown with the acquisition of fellow Burgundy imposter, Domaine Direct. Jason Haynes explains how that came about as well as the other steps it has taken to continue to do good business during this time.
Flint Wines’ Jason Haynes has a nice way of comparing the ramifications of lockdown for a business owner, as being like a conductor of an orchestra (42.30 minutes) where you have to “trust” your people right through the company to play their violins and crash their cymbals all at the right time. Which thankfully for Flint they have.
And as the conductor of the orchestra it is up to him, and his fellow directors to ensure everyone is concentrating their efforts in the right areas. Which has actually been the hardest challenge.
For whilst you want to be pushing sales wherever you possibly can, it is also important to keep an eye on what happens when the on-trade does come back – particularly now that there is news that could be sooner than many had originally thought.
So for Flint that has meant ensuring its wine list is all ready to go with a range that will match the needs, price points and cash margins of its customers when they can re-open.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE
Multi channel has been key
Flint, says Haynes, has been a better position to go into lockdown than some of its peers, as it has a multi-channel approach, with a third of its business supplying wine to restaurants, a third to specialist and independent merchants, and a third to its strong private customer base (3.50 minutes).
“It has helped, but then it has helped for a while,” he stresses.
Frustratingly, considering the boom there has been in online wine sales since mid March, Flint’s new e-commerce website, Stannary St Wine Co, which was being developed to “differentiate” its consumer offer from its trade one, had not been finished in time to make the most of the situation, he adds.
But its strong connections with the retail, independent sector and private customer have “been crucial since lockdown”. “In theory we have just lost a third of the business, but the other two sides have stepped up.”
He has been particularly pleased not only for its own sales but the future of wine retailing that sales through independent wine merchants have been so strong – and that delivery and online has now really cut through with all shoppers.
It means that year-on-year to the end of its financial year it will “remarkably” be ahead of where it was in June 2019 (6 minutes) by up to 15%. Which might knock him off the Christmas card lists of many of its fellow wine suppliers in the trade.
It’s not surprising then that Haynes looks back on the months prior to Covid-19, and after the December General Election, as a time when he felt there was some “positivity” coming back into the trade.
Strengthening its Burgundy credentials
Haynes is rightly proud of Flint’s credentials as one of the UK’s, if not the world’s, leading Burgundy importers, but he is also keen to stress that its growth over the last three years has also been on the back of being able to introduce a number of prestigious producers from California, Italy and other parts of the world 7.15 minutes).
He also talks about the opportunity that came during lockdown to purchase Burgundy importer, Domaine Direct, but clearly wishes it could have come about in happier circumstances following the death of its founder Hilary Gibb (19 minutes).
“They are a very respected company with some great customers,” he explains. “In many ways there are many similarities and we have a similar client base, and are both Burgundy orientated.”
But whilst it is stronger in Côte de Nuits, Domaine Direct now gives it an edge in Côte de Beaune as well as well as more access to top white wines too
Haynes also echoes the tributes that many in the trade have made to the efforts of London City Bond right through the Covid-19 crisis and its ability to essentially keep the whole wine trade supply chain moving through this time (17.25 minutes). “They have been terrific. Their service has been excellent we had been able to get deliveries to people who’ve needed them….so hat’s off to the team there and we’re very grateful.”
The time, though, has come to really step up its own efforts in how it can best help its on-trade customers come back when they finally get the green light. The issue, says Haynes, is just not knowing what sort of recovering and re-launch they can make and how many consumers, after the initial hype will actually want to go back in great numbers to restaurants in the first few weeks and months (29.45 minutes).
Whilst there will be those who will be happy to return – and eat out regularly – it is those who only eat once a fortnight who may decide to give it a miss for a lot longer.
He believes neighbourhood restaurants are particularly well placed (31 minutes) to shine, which leaves a question mark over more city centre outlets.
Which is of particular concern to Haynes and Flint as it is one of the backers and investors in the Cabotte restaurant in the heart of the City. He is hopeful, however, it can find its place as and when office life starts to recover, and how it can use its large private dining rooms to help with safe distancing (32 minutes).
One of the concerns for drinks suppliers is how big will restaurants and bars want their drinks lists to be post-lockdown, particularly as recent restaurants survey data from CGA, suggest they will be looking to cut down both on food and drinks menus.
Haynes sees the issue being more around cash flow and the steps that on-trade operators need to put in place to drive cash flow through the business (33.32 minutes). Particularly in the short to medium term. So it could be a time when wines by the glass really step up to the mark and selling wine more on cash margin finally breaks through.
There will also be a big opportunity for restaurants to take their in-dining experience and try and allow people to enjoy it at home. He shares an idea Flint is working on with 67 Pall Mall to try and re-create a wine dinner with a winemaker on Zoom (36 minutes). Whereby the producer will be at their winery in Italy, and the guests will have their food and wine delivered for them to serve at the appropriate time of the evening. Allowing guests to chat amongst themselves in groups of two and four on their own before coming back together as one group online.
- You can listen to the full interview with Jason Haynes on The Buyer’s YouTube channel here and below.