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Vagabond eyes up European expansion

London merchant and wine bar Vagabond Wines is eyeing up international expansion as it opens its fifth site in London next week.

Founder Stephen Finch said one of the effects of last year’s Brexit vote has been to accelerate the independent merchant’s international expansion sooner than originally intended, rather than putting its planned expansion plans on hold.

“It has made us consider international expansion sooner than we thought – when Brexit does occur, we might even have a few European Vagabond already,” he told db.

“We will start looking outside the UK in 2018 and open internationally probably May 2018 or early 2019.”

“I like Germany and Holland, and more specifically Berlin and Amsterdam, which are dynamic and vibrant and not too wedded to their own country’s wines which means they are worldly in the drinks. And they’d like what we have to offer,” he explained.

Finch was speaking to db ahead of the opening of Vagabond’s new Victoria site in central London next week.

The new store – the merchant and wine bar’s largest – comprises 2,900 sq. ft. on the ground floor of the new Nova Victoria development adjacent to Victoria Station. The development also includes the new National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, that was officially opened by the Queen in February, which Finch said had done “wonders to regenerate an area that had been quite ropey.”

Because it is a much larger space, Finch is expanding the selection of wines available at Vagabond Victoria, with around 140 wines to sample – a 40% increase from its other sites, which are chosen in rotation from the 250-300 wines the company imports.

“It is crazy – and kinda irresponsible – but we wanted to do it,” Finch said.

Vagabond Victoria will also have a sampling machine dedicated to sakes, which has been a growing trend in the UK.

Beyond that, Finch is planning to open around three sites a year, although he is keen that Vagabond avoids becoming “too chainy”, by picking the right site and developing a character for each site.

Next up is the Battersea Power Station complex, which Finch said he was “very excited about”. As revealed by db, the team are planning to incorporate an urban winery in its fifth Vagabond site, which Finch described as being like a Brewpub.

“All the equipment will be on full display, with tables in between for customers,” he said.

Finch argued that while the impending business rate rises in London was “unwelcome”, it might provide a silver lining by potentially bringing more premises across the city to the market, as some business are forced to sell up.

“While it is unfortunate for them, it will generate opportunities,” he noted.

“Some of our sites have been hit [by increased business rates], others aren’t so bad, but we are in the position to absorb what’s been handed out,” he added, adding that the rates rise would undoubtedly have ultimately raise costs for customers as retailers passed on their own rising costs.

Finch is still keen to pursue the chance to import wine in 24kL flexi-tanks which can be bottled in the UK using a third-party bottler, which would help to keep costs down, while benefitting smaller groups of independents working together, but said this had been on hold as he hadn’t yet found a supplier that offered a consistent product.

The retailer’s first store in Fulham Broadway, which was founded in 2010 was a pioneer of a ‘new style of retailing’ that allowed consumers to sample wines using an Enomatic machine before buying it.

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