Having read about the pending closure of a Dublin wine shop, an article on the demise of the independent bookshop by Peter Merholz, and the perennial problem of commoditisation, I began thinking about parallels with the wine world.

On the demise of the independent bookshop

From Peter Merholz over on the Adaptive Path blog and the demise of the independent bookstore (Cody’s in San Francisco).

They stuck with an outdated 20th (19th?) century notion of being a collection of shelves filled with books, and didn’t embrace the 21st century reality of providing a distinct experience that connects with their customers.

Blaming the customer

From an independent Irish wine retailer:

From a retail point of view, it has become more evident that alot of customers don’t appreciate the differences between a specialist wine shop and your run of the mill supermarket. While I very much hope to stay on working in the wine business, I have strong concerns that shops such as mine will struggle to survive as the large multiple retailers continue to use alcohol as a loss leader.

This seems to be a common enough scenario, with Peter Merholz’s article on bookstores also featuring the selfish customer,

the tenor of the discussion around these failing stores places blame on the customers who no longer shop there (or who never did).

While I sincerely sympathise with the situation above, I take issue with blaming the customer for the demise of the business and the inability to adapt to new challenges (doing the same thing as you’ve always done and expecting a different result).

Granted, there are huge challenges facing the small independent shop, whether it’s a small grocery or wine shop against the virulent sprawl of Londis, Spar and Centra convenience stores or the supermarkets.

Darwin: adaptation is the key to survival

How can a small retailer compete with large supermarkets (and uninformed customers)?

Cody’s never offered comfy chairs or coffee. It never tried to be a destination. It just did the same thing it always did.

If bookshops should be creating a “desirable literary experience”, surely wine shops can also dare to be different by creating a desirable destination.

It’s not easy creating new customers andn even better, creating loyal fans.

So, what can wine shops do about the challenges they face? To me, it’s a case of adopting small but evolutionary changes:

  • Take an interest in every customer that comes to your shop
  • Always have a few open bottles in your shop
  • Offer free wine lectures from your shop (so people can buy)
  • Offer wine cards to get people to try different grapes or wines from around the world
  • Start a local wine club
  • Write a book on wine (for non-wine people)
  • Sponsor the wine at a small non-wine event
  • Offer wine tastings in company’s offices
  • Get on YouTube, Facebook etc.

Case study: Enowine, Dublin

One small example is Enowine in Dublin’s IFSC. Everyday, Enowine, a shop I genuinely enjoy going to, has up to 40 wines available for tasting from their Enomatic system. This is not just a shop, but a destination with comfy sofas, books and magazines on wine.

Of course, some may say they are “preaching to the converted” i.e. wine people but they offer a different experience to any other wine shop I’ve been to in Dublin..

Case study: Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV

Gary Vaynerchuk is a great case study in how he has evolved his business using innovation, 21st century thinking and some plain common sense.

  • Not reading trends, but talking to every customer that came in the door.
  • Not playing in the playground that you’re supposed to – i.e. not swimming around in wine circles the whole time.

His interview on the “Big Idea”, (CNBC) is worth a look.

Huge opportunities

There are  huge opportunities to reach new customers in person and online yet most of the main players in Ireland have yet to catch on.

A wine shop owner recently asked why I was blogging. I gave a predictable answer,

You’ve asked the wrong question. It shouldn’t be why I’m blogging about wine, but why you aren’t“.

Of course, there are some already daring to be different.