Before Online There Was Bricks and Mortar

Running an online retail business is not what it used to be when I started out. Back then, selling grog online was cutting edge and it was a massive shift in thinking for both the retailer and the customer. Today, if you’re not selling online, you’re probably about 3 days from closing up shop. It’s the norm. It’s expected. And it’s cut-throat.

Having our roots firmly planted in traditional, bricks and mortar retail certainly sets us apart from the rest though. In many ways, I like to think we run our online store with the same wine shop mentality that I ran Wine Rack Cellars... back ‘in the day’. Our wines are real wines, with labels from wineries that exist. If we decide to stock a cleanskin, we’ll sell it as a cleanskin... and price it as such too. No made-up wine labels here. We know each of our wines and our tastings are just like they were in the shop -  diverse, interesting, complex and robust - and that's just the Tasting Panel (a bunch of mates I've picked up along the way that have earned their stripes both in publication and on judging panels) - the wines that make it through are pretty good too. Making the change from a traditional store to online wasn’t the easiest transition, I admit. My philosophy has always been to offer genuine personalised service and it’s hard to nail that through email and on the phone. But I reckon we’ve managed. We still personally respond to all correspondence and when you call you’ll get one of the tasting panel, ie, my mates that know stuff. We haven’t outsourced anything except freight but even using Australia Post feels like we’re keeping things real. Our warehouse is onsite so we all get to pack orders when it’s crazy busy… and if one of our regulars drops by we may just pick a bottle or two off a pallet and have an impromptu tasting – just like when I had the shop. Over the years we have found that many of our customers use us as their ‘wine go-to guys’ - it's important to us that we maintain that reputation - with collectively over 100 years of wine trade experience, we like to think we can... I guess one of the big differences about being an online trader compared to trading from a shop is communication. When you’re the ‘wine go-to guy’ in a shop, people come to you. They will seek you out, sometimes from the other side of town, and ask you questions. They’ll walk in one Sunday afternoon and tell you about the bottle they opened last night with a label that was white with red writing and a name they’ve forgotten but they HAVE to find because it was SENSATIONAL - and you’ll be able to walk along the racks and find the bottle that fits the description and, most often, become the 'wine guy'. But now, in the ‘information era’ people seem to not need a ‘wine go-to guy’ so much. People tend to wait and watch… as their newsfeed fills up with articles and offers and links relevant to their profile… and then, when something SENSATIONAL that we've created catches their eye, they seek us out again. Which means it falls on us to create as many sensational offerings as possible, and I’m happy to wear that. Confession: I don’t do Facebook. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘What?! How can the CEO of an online retail business NOT do social media??’ You know how I know what you’re thinking? Because my wife tells me what you’re thinking. She does social media and can’t believe that I don’t. So, with her nagging help, I’m learning… Now I “like” statuses and follow pages and even upload the occasional photo of one of my sons doing something fun/stupid. I’ve mastered the art of checking in and tagging. And every now and then I’ll share one of our better wine offers with my friends… then they’ll ask me about the wine and what they should match it with and whether I reckon it’s better than the last bottle I sold them. It’s just like back being in the shop. And I’m the wine guy all over again.