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Working for an Independent Wine Merchant

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Written by:
05 Jan 2017
Working for an Independent Wine Merchant
Want to try your hand working for us
With close to 1,000 independent wine shops in the UK, the high street is carving out its own niche in the national drinks market. When compared against the Supermarket, your local independent wine merchant is increasingly punching above its weight when compared on price, range and service.

Aren’t independents expensive?

Successful independents will stock a range of wines from £5.99, a price where both the producer and retailer can obtain a margin, and arguably the wine in the bottle will be better sourced and better value.


Yes but the range in the supermarket is vast, surely my local independent can’t compete?

The range is more often than not better than all leading supermarkets, with a recent study from Harpers Wine and Spirit concluding that over 95% of all individual wine labels sold in the UK are represented by local indies.


The continued expansion of supermarket own brands bolted on to a few international brands no longer gives the impression of choice in the crowded aisles of the supermarket. The shift away from heavy discounting in preparation for possible ‘minimum price per unit’ legislation is seeing consumers trade across from the multiple to the independent.


The continued interest in authentic products and consumers support of ‘shop local’ is all contributing to a thriving independent drinks sector.


Isn't it just easier to throw a couple of bottles in my trolley on my weekly shop?

Perhaps, but have you ever tried or do you even bother returning a faulty bottle, I'm sure the supermarket offers a no quibble approach to returns – just like we do, but what if you just don’t like it?
Do they build a profile of the wines you like, make seasonal recommendations, invite you to tastings or trips to vineyards. Will they hunt down that special ‘anniversary’ vintage. Do they deliver single bottles world wide, hand write gift cards, buy wine back from you. Do they work closely with other local producers and venues, offering advise and sale or return for weddings, birthdays and parties?

The answer is a definitive no.


Ever wondered what it’s like to work for leading independent wine merchant?

HarperWells is small independent based in Norwich, a team of just five but as with the Q&A above it punches well above its weight.

Recently ranked twelfth in the UK’s top 50 Indies by Harpers, it has a dynamic range of over 600 wines on the shelves of its two stores - but as the case study indicates it can source pretty much 100% of wines available in the UK and further a field if necessary, giving their private clients unrivaled access to the worlds wines.


We asked Sam Howard who heads up the Private Client desk to elaborate on his day.

Before our first shop in Eaton opened four years ago, HarperWells ran a successful mailing list built up over years of selling through mixed pallets of wines shipped direct from the vineyards throughout Europe. Today it has evolved into a combination of mail order/e-commerce and traditional Private Client Sales.


Our Private Clients often work in London and are looking for us to keep them up to date on current vintages and new releases. They are generally more interested in following the people behind the wine than the label, so it’s critical for me to know who’s making the wine, where. They also pay close attention to the vintage and look for recommendations especially in tricky vintages for better alternatives – so it’s important for me to keep up to date on emerging regions and up and coming wine makers.

Ten years ago, when HarperWells started, this was a phone based business, today almost all business is conducted over email, so the vast majority of my time is spent responding to client requests and writing up tasting notes, pen portraits for the various parcels of wines we offer to our clients.


Another significant difference between our private clients and e-commerce or mail order customers is the collectable nature of wine, We offer both In Bond and Duty Paid storage for clients, this enables them to purchases cases of their favourite wines, build vertical collections but take delivery from time to time as mixed-cases for delivery or as gifts.


Many of our new customers come to us via the web, so keeping the website up to date, with price and vintage is a time consuming aspect, but critical as no one likes to have that conversation with a new customer that the wine they ordered is out of stock, the wrong vintage or incorrectly priced. When this inevitably happens from time to time, good customer relationship management is paramount because retaining an e-commerce customer is not easy in this ultra visible highly competitive internet age.


If you’d like to have a go at working for HarperWells…

Drop us an email, have a look through our website, assume I’ve ordered and paid for 6 reds and 6 whites online, but unfortunately the vintage listed for the red is now sold out. The new vintage won’t be ready to ship for another two months.

Then send it to

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