Cup bubbling over with a little help from the net
HAWKE'S BAY REPORTER
It started with a fax machine and a bottle of affordable methode.
There he was, John Macpherson and a group of winemaker friends, in the corrugated iron shed that went for a wine shop beside a motorbike retailer in Hastings.
It was 1999. His shop, Advintage, had been open for about a year supplying wines to restaurants and bars and anyone they could attract from the street. Business was good but not booming.
Then came the bottle of chilled French sparkling wine. It was a one-off in the shop fridge and Macpherson ("Mac") wasn't expecting much of it. But it floored the gathering with its excellence.
So the former owner and developer of software companies went to the latest gadget in communications of the day, the facsimile machine, and rifled off a few dozen missives to friends and contacts he thought would be interested in the wine.
"Within the space of a week we'd sold about 100 cases of this stuff just by faxing. That completely changed our model. We dropped the restaurants like a stone," he recalls.
Then along came something called the internet and the facsimile was dropped as fast as the restaurants.
Within about 18 months Advintage was one of the top wine retailers in the country.
"I used to get dragged out to all the marketing conferences around the country as the model they wheeled out and said 'look at this guy, he runs a wine business in Hastings, he uses the internet and he's making money'," he says.
In 2004 the shop moved to its current premises in Havelock North. Where once a big purchase was 15 to 20 cases, today it's 2000 to 3000 cases. They make their way from all corners of the globe to the shop, where they are often just as quickly dispatched to buyers throughout the country, or put on display in what Mac terms "the Mega Mitre 10 of the wine world".
"We buy more. You pay less. That is exactly what we are about, only we are very choosy about what we stock," he says.
Mac and his staff of seven have regular tastings and not a single of their 700-plus range of wines has not been tried.
A mailing list of many thousand - the number is commercially sensitive - gets Mac's bulletins twice weekly listing the new arrivals and best deals, with a few paragraphs of dry banter. A recent one referred to "some halfwit" who reneged on their order of Te Mara Pinot Noir.
"We got the call. And we pounced like a drug hound let loose in a Belarussian training camp . . ." it reads.
If it sounds a bit irreverent it's supposed to. From the start Mac's goal was to take the "wankiness" out of wine sales.
"It used to be that you'd walk into a wine shop and you'd come across a guy who was just desperate to let you know he knew more about wine than you did. As a customer it wasn't a great experience. I'd want advice but found myself getting lectured to all the time. I stopped buying from those sort of places."
He says customers arrive at the shop and marvel at the selection "in little old Havelock North, population 10,000".
Eighty-five per cent of business is in internet sales so the staff have never met most of their customers, but from his office near the counter Mac frequently spots those arriving and looking for a face they've seen on the website.
A while back he met a guy in a pub up north. The man said his name (Ian McKenzie) and told Mac he was an online customer. Mac instantly recited his suburb, street and house number.
"Internet sales are about instant purchases. It's such a different world to a winery. Here we know the instant a bottle is sold and how it's selling. When we've bought in a large lot of stock, the whole staff is pacing the shop just waiting to find out how it sells," he says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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