Paramount Wines Ltd is a Hertfordshire based wine merchant supplying wines and beers to hotels, pubs, restaurants, and clubs. The company also operates an online wine store with home delivery services. With its storage facilities in Watford and a base in St Albans, Paramount Wines supplies products within a 10 to 15 mile radius free of charge. For bulk purchases outside this area a delivery charge will apply. Gordon Clunie, the founder of Paramount Wines Ltd, spoke to Herts Review about his business journey, aspirations and how he survived the lockdown this year.
Gordon has always had an interest in wine. In the early 2000s he was running a transport business with his business partner when he spotted an opportunity. “The idea to start a wine business had been on my mind for a while. I like wine and felt I could establish a successful business as a wine merchant. Around 2004, we were working for a customer who was in the wine trade (buying and selling wine). We started a friendship and he told us all about the wine business. In January 2005, we started a wine supply business with all three of us as partners”.
“Sadly, 18 months after, our new business partner passed away. So, my business partner and I carried on with the wine business while running the transport business as well. 8 years later we mutually agreed that I will buy him out of the wine business and leave the transport business. Since then I have been focused only on Paramount Wines and have completely left the transport business”.
In the first 3 to 4 years, the business had been growing gradually and it took a while to establish a solid customer base to be profitable. “Usually most hotels or pubs already have wine suppliers. It is not easy for them to give up their current supplier to try someone new. So, it takes time to establish these relationships. Fortunately, we got a breakthrough supplying wines to Hilton Hotel. This gave us a foot in the door and credibility with other customers. Other clients followed including Fulham Football Club and Charlton Athletic Football Club. With time, we had grown our customer base to 40 to 50 businesses we supplied regularly.
The business initially operated from Harrow in North London but as it grew additional storage facilities were needed. “I have lived in St Albans since 1984 so know the area really well. As the business got bigger, we needed more storage space and so finding the storage facility we now have in Watford has helped our growth. Operating from St Albans also means we serve more of the Hertfordshire market as well as London”.
Earlier this year with the news covid-19 was spreading and the government decision to announce the lockdown in March, it was obvious the business will be going through tough times. “The bulk of our supplies are to hotels, pubs, restaurants and clubs. If they are shut with no customers that will impact our supplies. I asked my son to put out a post that we can deliver wines to homes. At the time, the supermarket shelves were empty from the bulk buying scramble following the lockdown announcement. That post took off really well and sales went through the roof”.
“In the first week of lockdown, we had over 1000 deliveries. We picked up 530 customers in 2 weeks and we have retained 250 of those customers till date. The pubs and restaurants opened on July 4, but our orders have not slowed down. With less people going out, our home delivery business has grown as our customers see our prices as competitive. They can buy a bottle of wine that may cost £45 in a restaurant for £15 so they see a lot of value. It is also an opportunity to sell premium wine products to a wider market which helps with profits. We supply beers and spirits as well to complement our wine delivery service”.
“This success has given us an opportunity to invest more resources into marketing as well as increase our digital footprint to drive more sales. We upgraded our website making it more user friendly and appealing. We are involved in more Facebook groups and other social media platforms. My colleague Kate focuses on telesales and the corporate supply market”.
“We have also launched winesocial.co.uk in partnership with Karen Snook, the founder of Online Social and the facilitator of St Albans Mums Facebook group to tap into markets I do not have access to. The home delivery service has grown to 20% of our overall sales in the last 9 months and we want to keep it going. I hope winesocial becomes the bigger part of our business in the next 24 months”.
Gordon is also exploring other opportunities for more growth. “We are pairing our wine delivery service with local restaurants doing food deliveries. We have relationships with two restaurants and would like to increase our footprint. An online wine tasting program via zoom is in our plans. We will deliver wines to participants few days before the meeting and then arrange a day to do wine tasting. We will make it fun, educational and add a few nibbles as well. There is also the on-going wine maker dinners where we invite someone for example from South Africa where some of our wines are made to a 5-course meal to discuss wines”.
Slowing down is not an option for Gordon. “I really love what I do. Since I started this business 15 years ago, we have had to innovate and adapt to changes. We have had to embrace technology, the internet, and social media. I meet regularly with my customers, so I have a personal relationship with them. We talk about anything and even the stories behind some of our wines. The loyalty of our customers is refreshing. I am just excited about the next opportunity. We did not increase our prices arbitrarily over the lockdown which would have been unethical. I just want our business to be known as a trusted and fair business with exceptional customer service”.
If you are in or around St Albans and need quality and great tasting wine delivered to your home then contact Paramount Wines here or Winesocial here.