Online wine store pulls in £1 million backing

29-year-old entrepreneur is aiming to build the world’s biggest ecommerce store for wine after raising £1 million in a crowdfunding drive.

Ben Revell was surprised to see the domain name https://winebuyers.com/ available, so he snapped it up and spent £380,000 developing the site. 

The aim is to connect wine merchants and producers around the world with the consumer, so it is essentially a marketing company. 

However, unlike most sites of its type, it does not charge a mark-up or any commission. Instead it charges a monthly fee of up to £100 and acts as a middleman. It has already signed up a number of producers. 

“Vineyards have the inclination to sell online, but they don’t have the time or resources,” Revell told DRN. “The cost of building their own websites is high, and promoting them is very expensive. I can’t believe someone hadn’t done it already.

“This is where the industry is going, where ecommerce is going. It just seems like a natural progression and we want to get there first.

“It’s an extra route to market for suppliers, and we are able to offer people products they can’t find elsewhere.”

There are 178 merchants and producers already registered, leaving the site with 27,000 SKUs containing wines from 40 countries, including all the major regions and more obscure nations such as Mexico, Madagascar, Japan, Andorra, Luxembourg and Thailand. Wines start at £5 and go up to £50,000.

But there is a backlog of more than 3,000 wine shops and vineyard owners that want to join, so Revell is on the expansion trail and increasing his team. 

He launched an equity crowdfunding drive in a bid to raise £525,000, but ended up raising more than £1 million. The plan is now to grow the team from five staff to 20 in the office off Oxford Street in London, and set about increasing the scale of the business to meet demand, and add the lengthening waiting list of producers to the site.

“We have a backlog of people that own wine shops and don’t sell online at all,” said Revell. “We are also mobile first. People have desktop sites, but not mobile, and that’s a whole new channel for them.”

The site - https://winebuyers.com/ - uses an advanced application programme interface that screen scrapes producers’ and merchants’ websites on a rolling basis and pulls the information on to the winebuyers.com site, while other details are added manually. 

The number of wines looks set to go well past the 27,000 already listed, which could be difficult to navigate. To make it easier for shoppers to find the right wine, the site has advanced filtering by country, by grape, by price or by reviews, and it even has a food pairing filter. You can put in filters such as “soft cheese”, “game”, “sushi”, “lamb” or “cream-based” and it leaves you with wines that will pair well with your meal.

The firm is also working with a number of wine writers to review the wines on the site and maintain a regularly updated blog section. “We haven’t spent a penny on marketing,” said Revell. “People find it on Google, because of the domain name and the sheer volume of products, and word of mouth. 

“Technology is at the heart of the business. We spent £380,000 just to build the website. It has semi-AI technology. The more you use it, the more intelligent it gets.

“It’s an ecommerce platform first and foremost. 

“We have some suppliers that make great wine, but dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century is the issue. 

“Our biggest problem is that people think it’s too good to be true. We weren’t expecting a massive response straight away, and now we’re struggling to keep up with demand.”

The site sells all over the world, but the UK is the main focus. “That’s our expertise, but we will look to expand into European countries,” said Revell. “We have a dotcom address, so anybody from any country can use it. We have lots of Americans on the site.

“For the foreseeable, it will be wine. Wine and spirits go together, so that is a possibility. The next logical step would be craft beer, but wine is our target. Wine interests me on so many levels. That’s why I am in it.”

Revell had a part-time job selling watches and diamonds while at Royal Holloway University and he was at an auction purchasing jewellery aged 18. 

A case of wine was being auctioned and, after an online search, he realised it was a bargain, so he used his own money to buy it, and fell into the wine trade.

“Four months later, I had 500 bottles and thought I’d better start selling it,” he said. “I started with £5,000 of my own money and quickly grew it to £50,000. The first expensive wine I got was a case of 1959 Margaux selling for £7,000. I put in a cheeky bid for £3,000 and I won it.

“I spent hours trawling through auction sites. At one point I had £5.8 million in bids. If everyone had said yes, I’d have been in trouble. I couldn’t find a viable option to sell it. I thought there must be a better way.

“I realised that to make it viable as a business you would need capital and holding stock. I thought, why not just connect the producer with the consumer? It seemed a logical progression.”

It took a number of years to turn his dream into a reality, and he dabbled in other business areas in the ensuing years, but the technology has now caught up with his vision and he is confident in the site’s ability to thrive. “Connecting vineyards to the consumer is great,” he said. “We are growing very quickly and we want to be a one-stop shop for consumers to buy wine.”

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