Slurp’s Wine Online

There is a British revolution taking place on the internet as Slurp’s Jeremy Howard takes wine retailing to the web.

Jeremy-HowardIN A MONTH when the global wine trade turns a little more attention to the UK than normal – you can blame the London International Wine Fair – it seemed important to pick out a British- based drinks retailer that’s bullish about its own market. And having considered a range of operations, it quickly became apparent that one business stood out for its upbeat outlook. This was confirmed by an interview with its CEO, who said that his office was a sea of smiles and, referring to the overriding sentiment about British retail, stated, “It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom”.

The person commenting was Jeremy Howard, and the business is Slurp, an online retailer founded in 2004 which specialises in wine, but now has a beer and spirits offering too. It’s a venture thatdisplays a ceaseless urge for expansion and only last month added a further site for a new country, complementing its current portals for the UK and Asia.

Interestingly, this extension is not for an emerging market such as Brazil or fast- growing wine consumer like the US, but France, although we’ll consider the thinking behind this later. For now, let’s turn to the bedrock of the operation: slurp.co.uk. The British business was actually founded by Paul Mitchell and Nico Sunnucks eight years ago, although the Slurp of today really began in 2006 with an investment from Aspiration Capital Management.

Jeremy was CEO at this company, and its injection of cash catapulted him onto Slurp’s board, while the money was instrumental in building “the most sophisticated e-commerce platform for wine in the UK”.

Two years later this was complete, at which point, as 2009 began, Jeremy joined Slurp full time as CEO. Why did he leave behind his former career in finance? “It became obvious that Slurp was a huge opportunity,” he states.

Today, despite trading throughout the recession, and witnessing the contraction in high street drinks retailing in the UK, he’s still “extremely positive.” While speaking of the total market he admits, “the overall pie is not really increasing”, he stresses that, “online wine sales are growing between 25 to 30%”.

Such expansion he ascribes to a “generational shift” as the young wine consumer ventures online. As a result, the UK is experiencing a move away from thehigh street, and also, Jeremy says, a stalling in the momentum of the multiple grocers.

“Tesco and Sainsbury’s are not growing at the rate we are,” he says, pointing out, “The consumer online wants a focused experience, not a supermarket experience.” He then adds, “We don’t fear the supermarkets.”

So what does Slurp offer that neither the supermarket nor high street wine merchant can provide? There is the convenience of ordering from your desk and having a heavy, fragile product delivered straight to your door. Also, dedicated wine websites such as Slurp allow shoppers to find out more about the diverse world of wine than you might discover in a supermarket, but without having to enter the “intimidating” environment of a specialist store.

“For the vast majority, going into wine shops does not appeal: they might not always know how to pronounce wines and they don’t want to feel inferior,” records Jeremy.

Continuing, he says, “The UK wine trade mistakenly believe you need a physical person to explain everything, but the current generation doesn’t think like that, they want to go online to get the information themselves.”

But Jeremy is adamant the retailer should not act as a wine commentator. “We are wine retailers, we’re not trying to be critics… if a retailer sends you something with their own comments they are scarcely disinterested. And a lot of merchants have an exaggerated view of their own importance,” he explains.

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