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Roberson adopts wholesale price tags

Roberson injected a competitive edge to its fine wine sales yesterday as the London-based merchant made all wines above £100 available at wholesale rather than retail prices.

The move has seen a bottle of 1989 Pétrus drop by over £1,000, while a bottle of 1996 Lafite is now £500 cheaper than before. In contrast with most of its wholesale competitors, Roberson’s online and retail outlets allow customers to buy single bottles and with no minimum spend.

Explaining the decision, Mark Andrew, buyer at Roberson, remarked: “The market has got to a level of such transparency with companies like Liv-ex that it’s enabled regular punters on the street to be aware of the market prices they should be paying. It’s getting more difficult to justify keeping those retail margins at the higher end.”

With Roberson now putting itself into more direct competition with fine wine wholesale merchants, Andrew believes the shop will provide a useful edge. “The guy who buys from Farr or Bordeaux Index will be able to come in and not see a price disparity,” he promised, but added: “The difference here is in the environment, the shop experience, the books and media, our team”.

The confidence behind this aggressive pricing move is explained by owner Cliff Roberson’s report that “we’ve tripled our turnover in the last couple of years”. The same period has seen the company develop its online business from a standstill just over two years ago to doubling in size over the past year so that it now represents around a quarter of total retail turnover.

Roberson recently added a trade version of its website, allowing customers from all over the world to buy in bond. Indeed, the company has invested considerable time and money building customer bases in several countries including Hong Kong, Russia, Brazil and mainland China.

Asked whether this signalled the possibility of a retail outlet in China, Roberson replied: “We would if someone asked us and there was a chance to make some money”.

Andrew also attributed the feasibility of this fine wine initiative to the Roberson policy of sourcing more and more of its own wine, rather than relying solely on importers. The merchant’s agency list now counts around 60 producers, with Andrew adding: “We’re always looking for new, interesting producers to add”.

In short, Roberson sums up, “We’re trying to do whatever we do better than we’ve done before. We’ve got the energy and the interest and we want to communicate that as best we can”.

Gabriel Savage, 12.05.2011

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