The big interview: Dan Jago

Shop talk: Berry Bros & Rudd’s new flagship store in St James’s

COMING TOGETHER

“The first thing I had to do was to bring the business together, both culturally and physically, so we ended up closing a couple of offices and bringing people together. We then said very clearly this is BBR – our on- and off-trade business happens to be called FMV but you all work for Berry Bros & Rudd.

“And you have three routes to market: the private-client business, the on- and off-trade business, which is wholesale, and the international business, which includes spirits and spirits distribution.”

Having streamlined BBR, the next task was to expand its scope. Notable under Dan’s tenure has been the increase in the number of tastings and dinners it hosts. According to Dan, the company did more paid events in the last year alone than all the previous years since it started private events in 2000.

Then there’s the use of the BBR brand in product development. “In spirits I am incredibly ambitious about what we can do as a brand developer as well as a brand owner. We do very well with Berry’s own-brand spirits, and you will see a pipeline of new product development – which will be compatible with us a brand; we can do lots more things.”

In wine too, Dan has made his mark, and BBR has now launched The Merchant’s Range, “in effect, an extension of the Berry’s Own Selection range – it is similar sorts of products but with greater volume capacity.”

One of his biggest changes has only just been completed – a physical shop. “I love bricks and mortar,” Dan says. BBR, which once had stores in Dublin, Heathrow and Hong Kong, today has just two outlets: a small shop window for its wines at No.3 St James’s and a bigger store in Basingstoke, where it has its bonded warehouse.

The other outlets were shut before Dan joined. “Being a retailer for the sake of it is a bad idea; being one as a profitable and brand-enhancing route to market is a very good idea.” He reveals the merchant is opening a new flagship London shop in St James’s, complete with Enomatic sampling machines and shelving for more than 1,000 wines and spirits. Describing the shop as “a wonderful space that completely reflects the Berry’s brand”. When asked, he says, this “is one foot in the past and one foot in the future”.

The store can be found in existing BBR office space at 63 Pall Mall, which is almost directly opposite the private members’ wine club, 67 Pall Mall. Meanwhile, the existing London store, No.3, “is going back to what it was – a place for welcoming customers. Our new shop will be larger and much more finely attuned to modern retail,” Dan explains.

Significantly, BBR owns the building where the new shop is situated. Dan says BBR had bought the property using the proceeds from the sale of its Scotch brand Cutty Sark, which was bought by The Edrington Group in 2010. “One of great things that the family did over the years is use the proceeds of Cutty Sark to buy property that is part of this island site so we go up the first bit of St James’s and down on Pall Mall, and it lets us do things like the new shop because it’s all ours; we don’t pay rent, which is very nice.”

In recent history, however, Berry’s has been more famous for e-commerce. This too, will receive a fillip under Dan’s management. “BBR was the first online retailer of wine in the world, in 1994,” he says. “It is an important part of what we do.

Online is about 10% of turnover – which is in keeping with a lot of business; at Tesco, about 7% of wine turnover was online. But it is bloody difficult, because the technology and customer expectations move forward as fast as you can get the technology behind it.”

As a result, he says: “The next big piece of work over the next 18 months will be creating a proper integrated digital platform, where customers can not only buy wine but also research it, they can see the wine they have in storage with us, they can understand the market pricing and opinions on those wines, so it becomes joined up from end to end in terms of buying and selling.” What about beer and BBR? “Well, we own 40% of a brewery,” he says, referring to its purchase of shares in North America’s Anchor Brewery in 2010.

“The reason we are a partner with Anchor is more to do with spirits and spirits distribution than anything else.” When asked whether the tie-up with the Californian brewer and distributor for the sake of building Berry’s spirits’ sales in the US has been successful, Dan, unusually, pauses, then says: “We haven’t lost money from doing it but I don’t think we have ever maximised the opportunity for the US for our business and our brand. The opportunity to work much more closely with Anchor is shouting from the rooftops.”

Where BBR has undoubtedly suffered financially has been in Hong Kong, where a long-running legal dispute with the merchant’s joint-venture partner there has been expensive, both because of the fees of fighting the case, but also because BBR has, in effect, had to start again on its own. Dan, however, is optimistic about the rebirth of the business in Hong Kong. “All the issues causing instability with Hong Kong when I arrived are definitely sorted out.

So Hong Kong is now rebuilding itself from where it was because it had taken quite a knockback. But there is a terrific team there, and we are still quite a big player in Hong Kong, with a very good split between private clients and wholesale.” Nevertheless, he admits that BBR doesn’t sell much in mainland China, while he believes that the merchant is unlikely to ever be as big as it was in Hong Kong and China.

“We are a long way off getting back to where we were because the peak of Hong Kong was the ‘09 and 10 en primeur when the business there was huge; I don’t think it will ever get back to where it was.” Dan may be the CEO, but he is answerable to a board made up of family members. Is that limiting? “The family are incredibly empowering,” he states.

“They give me a broad remit of what they want the business to be, so you know the basic principles. Number one is that we won’t sell it; we want to remain principally a wine and spirit merchant that has other strings to its bow, and we want to be an international business as well as a domestic one.”

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