When Majestic was launched back in 1980, customers loved the unique parcels of wine that you couldn’t find anywhere else. In the 1990s and 2000s the retailer became famous for major purchases from sources including Scandinavian state monopolies, private cellars and direct from producers.
While these parcels have become less of a feature in recent years as the store network had become too large, a new approach to merchandising - lead by the retailer's head of merchandising Richard Weaver - means parcels are back at the forefront of Majestic’s strategy.
From this month, each Majestic Store will have a new When It’s Gone It’s Gone section which will hold one-off parcels from suppliers and give customers a constantly-changing range of wines that you can’t obtain anywhere else. We caught up with Weaver to find out more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Majestic Wine.
I joined Majestic as a graduate trainee manager in 1998 and have been here ever since. Its unusual to say you've worked at one company your whole career but I have had many different roles and challenges in that time.
After two years working in stores I moved to head office in early 2000 to set up and run Majestic's first website. It was a crazy few months but a huge success, winning lots of awards when it went live. I then looked after Majestic's online operation for 15 years, running numerous big projects including several redevelopments, the launch of our Gift Solutions service, and being the first retailer to offer free delivery of six bottles.
Last year, I moved over to set up Majestic's first merchandising function, and in November I took over buying and now sit on the retail board.
What got you into the retail sector in the first place and why do you enjoy it?
When I left university with a politics degree I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I converted my summer job filling the freezers in Asda into a full time job and quickly realised I really loved retail.
I'm a bit of a geek so I like to think about the science of what makes customers buy, but I also love the buzz of retail - every day's different and you have to juggle managing the next few days' trading with planning for the medium and long term at the same time. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I also love the buzz of Christmas.
How did you get to your current as role as Majestic Wine's Head of Buying and Merchandising?
We're a business in transformation, and since the acquisition of Naked Wines last year the whole business has changed rapidly and I'm no different.
I've always loved wine, so when I sat down with Rowan Gormley (the new group chief executive) and John Colley (the new retail managing director) to discuss what I wanted to do in the new structure I was really clear that I wanted to work as closely as possible with our product. So, my role is perfect.
I'm responsible for everything to with our product proposition - ranging, product selection, supplier relations, pricing and promotions.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
I think working online has given me an eye for test-and-learn - it's so easy to try things quickly and cheaply online and see how they perform, and I'm determined to bring that approach to my new role. Obviously some of the lead times in new product development and shipping are longer, but I still want to be as experimental as I can.
Can you explain the recent relaunch of exclusive parcels?
When I joined in 1998 Majestic was already famous for its big one-off buys, including millions of pounds of Bordeaux bought from the Swedish state alcohol monopoly that we could sell ridiculously cheaply.
Over the years we've done many such deals, big and small, but they'd become hard to make work in a retailer with 212 stores. When I was planning a new architecture for our range I wanted to introduce more discipline to our core range, but also to specifically create room in our stores for opportunistic buying which is exciting and unique. We're positioning them as "When It's Gone It's Gone", and that's exactly what they are.
Can you talk about any upcoming projects you’re working on at the moment?
Christmas is huge for Majestic, and we're racing to get a number of exciting new products ready and shipped for the Christmas dinner table.
The Parcel Series range which we've just relaunched has five new SKUs coming in and I'm really excited about all of them. This is just part of a real focus on building exclusivity into our range - there are a lot more things going on right now as part of our transformation plan but I'm keeping those up my sleeve for now.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking in retail?
Understand customers as humans. Customer engagement isn't just a price quality equation but you have to speak to the things that really matter to them. At any level in retail, from shopfloor to the boardroom, we report everything as numbers. But the numbers are simply a way of reporting on people's personal shopping decisions. The best consultants and accountants in the world struggle to explain why customers love a product, service or experience - retailers have to understand that. And I say that as a bit of a nerd myself.
What would you say is the biggest risk for your sector, given the current climate?
The vast majority of wine is imported and clearly the trend in currency rates is not to the advantage of the wine consumer, but managing these sorts of movements is what we do, so I'm confident that we're on top of that.
Longer term, there could be further implications for how the whole UK import's wine beyond currency fluctuations post Brexit, but as I have written to all our EU suppliers to tell them, fundamentally it will be the consumer who will drive trends in wine drinking, and our customers for European wines will still want to buy the wines they love, Brexit or not.