Douglas Wood set up the first Woodwinters store in Bridge of Allen, near Stirling, 14 years ago. The company now has additional stores in Edinburgh and Inverness and it opened a London office two years ago to expand its wholesale operation. Gordon Forrest works in the Edinburgh store and is also the company’s head of design. He talks to DRN:
How did the business start and how has it evolved?
It started with wine mainly, but founder Douglas Wood has a good whisky palate and is often on tasting panels for whisky and, being a Scottish business, it made sense to extend into whisky.
Some years ago he invested in whisky by buying up various barrels and now we are able to release some of those as the company’s own- brand bottles.
I would say we are predominantly an Italian wine importer because one of the senior members of the team lived in Italy for many years and made connections there. In many ways we filled a gap in the market early on and it is a niche area that not many people are doing around here.
We import a lot of wine directly and the team also has connections in South Africa, California and Austria, so we have a pretty good range of wines from these countries. South African wine is good value in the UK at the moment, so we have been lucky there.
We also have a decent eastern European range, including wines from Slovenia and Hungary.
After a few years we moved into wholesale and now that represents a big part of the business. One reason it does well is because we came from a retail background, and now we have account managers across Scotland and work with restaurants all over the place. We also act as fine wine brokers.
Who do you see as your main competition in Edinburgh?
From a retail point of view Oddbins looks set to go bust and Majestic is going in an odd direction, so we don’t worry about those as competitors.
The business is multifaceted so there are lots of competitors. We have two other wine merchants nearby but between us we all seem to tap into different niches. The one that is the most similar is on the other side of town. Supermarkets are probably the least of our crossover because our customers come in for a story and that is lacking in supermarkets.
How do you keep customers coming back?
We do tastings quite often and we charge people for these. We have tutored tastings twice a month, and then at the end of the month we do a free tasting on a Friday, which is a social event. It’s really our way of giving something back to our customers.
We are a bit far out of town so we have to make sure this is more of a destination shop for people and luckily tastings work really well in our Edinburgh store.
What else do you do to differentiate yourself from the competition?
Our wine is displayed by grape variety, which is a bit unusual, but we have found it works well. It’s also a way of mixing things up and helping people to try new things. We like to think the people who come in here are a bit more educated and open-minded.
We also do wine lists for our wholesale customers if they want, and this is how I can use my design skills.
There are very few companies that have their own designer on their books, and it works well for me as I have a background in design as well as wine, having worked for FMV and Berry Bros & Rudd in the past.
What has been selling well recently?
We have a good range of “beyond organic” low-intervention wines so we were ready for that trend before it arrived. We have wines that are vegan, low in sulphur, orange. These are purer but more interesting wines, and people are really interested in these at the moment. A lot of stores are bringing in their first natural wines but we already have lots of these.
Our best-selling price point is between £8 and £16 and “slightly adventurous” is the best way of describing our customers.
An Agathe Bursin wine from Alsace recently sold really well when we introduced it to people at our Friday tasting event, and it is £17 a bottle.
We have 130 gins and 80% of them are Scottish.
Scotch whisky does well but when we tried to do a push on bourbon our customers were having none of it. Irish and Japanese whiskies didn’t work either. They just want a good range of Scotch whiskies.