Cambridge Wine Merchants
International Wine Challenge, Wine Merchant of the Year 2012 : WINNERS!
also: Large Independent Merchant of the year UK, East of England Merchant of the year, Fortified Specialist Merchants of the Year UK
Cambridge Wine Merchants are independent wine merchants with shops at Mill Road, Bridge Street and King's Parade, and Cherry Hinton Rd Cambridge, as well as franchises in Salisbury, Royston (Herts) and Ampthill (Beds), plus successful mail order and wholesale operations. We have won many awards including International Wine Challenge (the world’s biggest wine competition) top prize: “Merchant of the Year”, and we’ve twice been voted the UK’s No. 1 Independent Drinks Retailer.
THE FULL STORY
Cambridge Wine Merchants was established in 1993 by two friends, Hal Wilson and Brett Turner, who met at Peterhouse May Ball in 1990. Sharing a love of wine, they wanted to work in the wine trade but didn't fancy working for somebody else, and so CWM was born.
We started with one shop in Mill Rd, Cambridge, and have never looked back. Still owned by Hal and Brett, we’re now one of the biggest independent wine merchants in the country and we are continuing to expand, constantly looking for new shops both for CWM and franchisees, and forging ahead with our successful wholesale arm.
To be the best independent wine merchant in the country, and to have fun doing it. Click on 'Mission Statement' for more info.
A varied and hugely talented team covering many nationalities, ages and backgrounds. Many are ex-Oddbins, Thresher or Majestic, all are passionate about what we do, and pretty amazing at what they do. We have around 45 staff and excellent retention rates.
There are three directors: Hal, Brett, Lyndsey. We have 7 branches (4 are in Cambridge, the other 3 are franchises elsewhere) and a large wholesale operation run from our HQ on a gorgeous farm just outside Cambridge. We call it “The Farm”. Each of our (non franchise) branches is run like a separate business – after making a contribution to central company costs all profit is divided 50/50 between the branch team and CWM.
Hal and Brett own the company. They’ve been friends for over 20 years, are in their 40s and both live in Cambridge. They each have two sons, who occasionally work in the company but there are no plans for a generational takeover.
Growth and Investment
Everything we make, we plough back into the company – more stock, bigger range, more shops, staff training. We’ve grown 110% over the last 5 years without taking on any debt. We have a multi-million pound turnover and, by industry standards, a healthy stockholding. By sticking to only high quality wholesale accounts we have barely any exposure to bad debt.
Our shops have often been described as the best drinks shops in the country. Based shamelessly on the good old Oddbins model, they’re fun places to shop, full of interesting stuff and interested staff. We have a dedicated retail director (Lyndsey) to make sure we’re the best. Several of our shops now have on-licences so we now offer wines by the glass, paid sampling and simple food.
Most of our wholesale is to Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, plus a few high quality restaurants and pubs. We’re hard to beat on value, range and service (we offer staff training through our wine school). Our wholesale managers Stewart and Alex form a large part of the buying team and also work at a strategic company-wide level. We don’t have any “sales reps”. We also work with major national companies sending out wine packs as gifts to their new customers.
Oxford and Cambridge College wine supply
This is such a highly competitive market, with merchants from all over the UK trying to get their wines into colleges, we have to work extremely hard to succeed, which we do. Oxbridge college buyers are cautious, careful with money and most of all highly expert – they seriously keep us on our toes. When they choose our wines we know we’ve got it right.
Distribution and Logistics
Managed in-house, we have our own big warehouse and fleet of vehicles – a little shabby, but cost-effective. The warehouse supplies our branches and wholesale customers and is set up to distribute thousands of cases a week to big national customers as corporate gifts.
We only want the best, at the best price, and we put a LOT of effort into finding it. We like real stuff made by real people, preferably on their own land. Buying research is split between six of us with different specialities - hard work but very exciting. Buying strategy and choices are democratic and all staff are invited to offer their opinions. We never buy just to fill a gap in the range - if we can’t find a good example of a particular wine, we simply won’t offer one.
In order to retain total independence of what we do and what we buy, we deliberately don’t seek agency or sole distribution agreements, we’re not part of any buying group, and we don’t have any external investors.
As far as we’re aware we are the only serious wine specialists to operate franchises. Our Royston, Ampthill and Salisbury branches are franchises - although very much part of the CWM group, each is privately owned. Franchisees benefit from our huge central stockholding and receive full marketing, retail, training and systems support from CWM.
Range and Value
Our range is absolutely vast – 300 malt whiskies, 800 wines, plus loads of crazy stuff from local Ales to cocktail ingredients. We’re excellent value because we import directly or deal directly with large suppliers. Being based in a student city means we’re pretty good at the 3 for £12 “get you onto/chucked out of parties” range.
Fine Wine and En Primeur
We are very lucky to have some of the largest and most experienced institutional wine buyers in the country on our doorstep – the wine stewards of Cambridge and Oxford University colleges. We understand their buying needs (optimal value and quality rather than cachet) and, through a number of portfolio and en primeur tastings, select the best quality wines that still offer affordable drinking. Our en-primeur purchases also supply our retail estate. Our approach here is to find and offer wines that our customers will actually consume.
Balls and Parties
As a major supplier to Oxford and Cambridge Balls and large event/wedding venues, we get cracking deals for party drinks. We offer sale or return, have 20,000 glasses for free loan, and with years of experience and hundreds of events organised, we’re pretty good at party planning (a free service) - several Oxbridge Balls (1000-2000 guests) use us to organise and plan all their drinks requirements.
Tastings and events
We host hundreds of fun, informal and informative tasting events, dinners, etc. in our shops, at restaurants, even in other countries. Usually several per week, sometimes several per day!
We’re a leading Wine and Spirit Education Trust School. The WSET is the world’s leading wine trainer. Everyone at CWM is highly trained – even our van drivers and admin staff have WSET certificates. We also train members of the public at our in-house schoolroom, and run regular WSET courses at an Oxford University College.
Both individually and as a company we have a strong commitment to giving something back to our community and supporting charity. We do good works each year by staging our own charity fundraising events, and we also engage with our local community via tasting events for schools, clubs, community groups etc. to raise money to raise money for them at no profit for CWM. Chairman Brett Turner has established his own charity, The David Hardie Project, which organises extravagant days out for disadvantaged and disabled children – a great success.
CWM is totally committed to being a responsible licensee. We like to think we are one of the very best in the UK. We don’t stock anything of interest to “troublesome” drinkers, and avoid stocking anything of interest to under-age customers. Though we do stock cigarettes in some branches, they are always hidden from view. We stopped selling 10-packs over a decade ago as they encouraged under-age purchase attempts. Consequently, though we hold 7 off licences, in 19 years of trading we've had as good as zero trouble – only a handful of random events out of over 6m customers served.
We are open to further retail expansion via franchises and a maybe a few more CWM-owned shops, and in wholesale by moving up to bigger customers but sticking to our policy of only selling to high quality, stable customers. Merger or takeover are also possibilities.