In current times when more and more niche retailers are losing business to supermarkets some may think it would be crazy to buy a wine shop, and some may be right. At the same time, I think there are crazier things to do… bungee jumping without a rope springs to mind… to be honest, that would just be plain stupid.
But you may ask the question “Why on earth would you buy a wine shop in this current climate? especially in rural South Yorkshire?” To be honest, if you are asking that question then you have every right to. Wentworth Village, where Lightfoot Wines is situated is the type of village that you walk your dog to, sit outside the local pub with your muddy pupper and have a pint of local cask ale, and to be fair I have done that on many occasions.
But the thing is, there is a wine shop in Wentworth Village that turns 30 years old this year. Lightfoot Wines (formerly known as Lightfoot’s Wine Line) opened in 1989 and has kept going throughout multiple recessions, high street crises and several rises on alcohol duty. It’s outlasted Odd Bins, Le Petit Ballon and Bargain Booze! All this is even more astonishing and impressive because you ask the people from the surrounding areas and half of them will say that they didn’t even realise that there was a wine shop in Wentworth.
So, what keeps an independent wine shop going? What is it that keeps people going out of their way to visit a small shop in the middle of nowhere with inconvenient opening times, rather than heading to a supermarket situated close by and is open until 11pm if not 24 hours?
It’s hard to say. It really is to be honest, because supermarkets do offer half decent bottles of wine these days and they are convenient.
Having said all of this, I know why people come to our wine shop and other wine shops like ours over supermarkets, I’m just being facetious. People come to specialist wine shops for the same reason why they go to somewhere like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols or Harrods… for the experience.
I’m not for one-minute saying Lightfoot Wines is just like Selfridges, but we offer customers more than an average supermarket, off license or clothes shop. When a person comes into our shop, they can be safe in the knowledge that we can assist them in such a manner that they get what they’re looking for but also are trying new things at the same time. We have a great understanding of wine & spirits and have trained in this field in order to be able to give customers the best experience possible. If you ask someone in a supermarket to recommend you a good wine, based on XYZ factors then I’m pretty sure you’ll be hard pressed to get a good answer from that individual. I’m not being rude about supermarket staff here by the way, it’s just not their job to know about wine or spirits. They have dozens of different aisles and item categories that it would just be impossible to know everything about all the products they stock.
There’s a certain magic about visiting an independent wine shop because you know the people working there truly care and have made wine their life. It takes a lot of work (and drinking) to become confident in recommending wine to a customer, based on their preferences but we endeavour! (it’s such a tough life).
People want to come to a wine shop because they understand this, they know that we know what we are talking about and they know that we stock high quality products. This is one of the reasons why such a high proportion of our sales are gifts for people. People buy wine, whisky, brandy and gin as gifts for their loved ones from shops like us because they want to be able to say, “I wanted to get you a nice wine, and I know you like full bodied reds so I went to the wine shop in Wentworth and the person in there recommended this”. It makes it seem just that little bit more special than if someone were to open their present to find a bottle of Bell’s whisky and their partner/friend says, “Well I know you like whisky and Asda had this on offer”.
These are just my opinions; however, I like to believe there’s truth in it. There’s a reason why we do triple the amount of sales in December than we do in a regular month (I should point out to any potential burglars that the bulk of these transactions are on card and no money is left in the shop overnight. I don’t want this article to come back and haunt me).
One thing I love about independent wine shops is the fact that our stock rotates a lot. We don’t have the contracts with the larger wineries that bigger retailers do so you get more hidden gems in them. We consult with a small number of local restaurants on their wine lists and the beauty of our consultations is that we change the lists every couple of months because our stocks change. We have very few items that continuously feature on a menu. That’s the same for the shop. This may come with a few pitfalls, especially if a customer really liked a bottle that they bought from us but then couldn’t buy it again a week later, but at the same time, we are skilled and possess enough knowledge (and stock lines) to recommend something similar for them that will please their appetite just as much.
This kind of approach helps keep life just a little less monotonous in my opinion. There’s nothing worse than falling into a rut and becoming too predictable. It’s great to have preferences but I think we can fall into the trap of dullness and repetition very easily, so at least with a small wine retailer like us, you won’t fall into the same old routine of buying the same wine that you would if you were just pushing the trolley through Tesco on your weekly shop and got the same bottle of Pinot Grigio that you always get.
Of course, this is all just opinion. I am aware that I’ve not been the kindest about bigger wine retailers and kind of said that the only way in which you should buy wine is from an independent shop, Lightfoot Wines in particular. I’m not saying that, well I guess I am in to an extent. The main point of this article was to muse the question and try to find a reason why someone would buy a wine shop in rural South Yorkshire during one of the biggest retail crises’ this country has ever seen… like we did two years ago.
The answers listed above kind of describe why people may still want to buy from a shop like this, but don’t convey the reasons for buying a shop like this. I can’t tell you the reason why, as I didn’t buy the shop, but I can tell you the reasons why I chose to work for a shop like this. People who buy or choose to work at these outfits, whether it is a vintage shop, a craft beer store, a wine shop or a vinyl retailer have passion. They completely give themselves to their interest, knowing that it is going to be difficult and the odds are stacked against them, but with a little bit of business knowledge, a fair price point that makes you at least a little bit competitive with bigger retailers and good customer service skills then you can be just as successful and fulfilled as possible.
I didn’t choose to work in the wine industry because I thought it would make me millions of pounds (although that would be nice). I chose to work in the wine industry because I love wine. I love trying wine, writing about it and recommending it for people. Wine is interesting, wine is delicious, and I take personal pride in recommending bottles to people and seeing them return to the shop to tell me that they loved it. It creates a little bit of happiness for them, and for me too.
That’s not to say that it’s not difficult. Increasingly you have to adapt to changing markets and consumer habits. You have to make it easy for people to buy your products and social media is a big factor in sustaining a customer base. How many times have you looked at the Facebook page of restaurant/shop/service company, seen that they haven’t posted for a number of months and had second thoughts about going there or using their services? I know I have. You’ll see from our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts that we post regularly. We try to engage people with fun polls, facts and information on our products because for us, this is our life. This isn’t a ‘job’, it’s all encompassing. To be honest, it’s also fun. We love what we do and we want to show people!
So, I guess what I’m saying is… support your local wine shop! Or any independent retailer for that matter. Take the time out of your day to come to our shop and let us guide you through our world of wine, whisky, rum and gin. We’re here to enhance your experience by finding drinks that you love that you may never have thought about trying before.
If life gets in the way too much, then Lightfoot Wines does have a nifty website and we deliver too! Check out the best buy section. It’s created specially to let you know what we’re drinking at the moment and what we think you should be drinking too!
- J A M E S