Interview: Lay & Wheeler to “bring company back into the spotlight”

Fine wine merchant Lay & Wheeler’s managing director, Katy Keating, wants to “bring the company back into the spotlight”.

The company, which announced yesterday it is returning to private hands after fifteen years, having been sold by Naked Wines (formerly Majestic Wine Plc) for £11.3 million,  is planning to expand its range outside its Bordeaux and Burgundy heartland and bolster its growing e-commerce site following its recent acquisition, Keating has told db.

Currently, little is known about buyer Coterie Limited, except that it is a private held family office who wishes to remain anonymous. It is believed to be based outside the UK, although this has not been confirmed. However Keating (née Andersen), who was brought on board in January 2016 to turn around the fortunes of the fine wine business following the acquisition of parent company Majestic by Naked Wine’s in 2015, told db the new owner was “100% supportive of what we’ve been doing and excited to let us continue”.

“I think a lot of people recognised the turnaround Lay & Wheeler had been through and there was a lot of interest in what we’ve been doing and a lot of support,” she added.

The company has been through a major overhaul in recent years amid concerns that it was too heavily dependent on the uncertain en primeur market and the majority of its profit was derived from cellarage, resulting in “years of languishing in the doldrums”. Keating said the balance between en primeur and the company’s other activities had since been redressed, with an increase in sales of more accessible, ready-to-drink parcels of wines.

We still hold en primeur campaigns, but we’re seeing some younger customers who don’t have their own cellar, but who want to buy some parcels that are closer to drinking earlier and a bit more approachable,” she explained.

“Historically we’ve been known for Bordeaux and Burgundy and will continue to steward our range for there, but we’ve also increased the number of producers who’ve worked with us from South Africa and strengthened our range of the Rhone and Loire Valley,” she said, adding that the team had been “blown away” with the calibre of South African wines, which had given the team an appetite to bring other exciting new regions to the market.

Investment

The company has also invested heavily in its website in recent years to concentrate on providing its customers with “one of the best online experience”. This has involved bringing together all the relevant information to enable customers to make decisions on their wines, such as what duties they might owe or what the market value of their wines is, view all wines they’ve bought, put wines up for sale and broker them, or withdraw them to enjoy. It had also upped the benefit attached to its Cellar Circle loyalty programme which had seen notable uptick, she said.

“We think what the most important is to optimise the online experience for our customers, which frees up our people to do what they do best – speak to the customers and advise them to on what wines to buy and how to thing about their cellar,” she said.

Despite the sale, Lay & Wheeler is intending to continue to offer customers free click and collect to Majestic’s retail stores, which are now owned by US firm Fortress.

“We have this unique blend of being a heritage business and having a best in class online business, so our objective is to bring the Lay & Wheeler brand back into the spotlight and at the same time continue to keep up with the 21st century,” she told db.

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