Robert Edwards left a heady career in the world of finance to follow his passion for wine. Here he speaks to GrowthBusiness on how he has grown his wine experience business, The Vino Beano, since its launch in July 2016.
What does your business do?
We are a fine wine merchants and wine experience business in a nutshell. Aside from core wine sales of artisan made wines, we also offer tours, events and a fine wine exchange.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Wine was a passion for a long time, probably over the last 10 years. During that time, wine started as a hobby, then become a real passion, and is now an obsession. After 15 years in finance, I saw a gap in the market, and noticed a trend in consumer behaviour and decided to try to take advantage of that by sourcing artisan made wines from across the world. I do not miss the audit lifestyle one bit!
How did you know there was a market for it?
Because I am my perfect demographic! I buy wine to drink, store, and collect. I was not getting products that were of interest to me, and that I had not seen before, or cannot buy from 10 other merchants, so I wanted to bring those lesser known or unknown wines to the UK. The response to our products, and the information and stories behind them has been significantly better than I expected, and it has given me confidence to continue to expand our portfolio on the same basis, and bring more amazing artisan made wines from all over the world.
How did you raise funding, and why?
We raised investment via a crowdfund. As I started the business on my own, I had limitations as to how quickly I can grow the business using my own financial resources. We expanded our portfolio very quickly, and sales came in from day one, so the crowdfund enabled us to ‘ride the tide’ and take advantage of the initial progress to expand our portfolio further, increase our infrastructure, and our market awareness. The last thing I wanted to do was lose any momentum, so the cushion we got from external finance was fantastic, and allowed us to pick up on new opportunities as soon as they came along. We are now ahead of where I expected in terms of portfolio, sales and general public awareness. There is such a long way to go, but we are certainly off on the right foot.
Describe your business model in brief
Our buyer, Robin Kick, is very well respected in the industry due to her experience, and being one of only 360+ Master of Wine’s in the world. Through her network, and contacts, we can source beautifully made wines from all over the world. Assuming they meet our criteria of having the quality, value, story and brand, we import exclusively to the UK for sale via our e-commerce website, or direct outgoing methods. This exclusivity means we are not price competitive with other merchants, we offer something unique to the market, and gives us the opportunity to build a real loyal client base who will buy vintage after vintage. Aside from core wine sales, we offer a real experience factor, by creating a direct engagement between client and producer (and vice versa). We often have events in London in which the producers are present to take part, and meet the clients, and as of the end of 2017, we will be taking clients on all-inclusive trips to meet our producers, and understand the wine, food and culture of each region. This all starts with Burgundy in 2017. We want to find some of the best artisan made wines in the world, strategically bring them to market, and create a journey than everybody can be a part of.
Your lowest point was…
So far things have been very promising. However, when you put so much time, cost and energy in to trying to work with producers you absolutely love, and then not being given the opportunity to, it is very frustrating. Obviously as a new business, we do not always have the history or the credibility of others, so it is inevitable that we will not always get what we want. However, it makes us want to strive to ensure our reputation continues to grow.
Your highest point was…
Successfully raising investment to be able to accelerate the growth of the business. Obviously, I am extremely passionate about my business, and confident of its success. However, there is nothing more satisfying than having others think the same, and investing their money in to your project. I will forever be grateful to them, and do my upmost to give them generous returns for a long time to come!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
In an industry you love it isn’t always easy to remain objective, but it is a necessary trait in business. There are times I have made decisions or wanted to make decisions based on my heart, without either engaging the brain, or showing willingness to listen to it! However, I have good people around me in the business, with a wealth of experience to make sure that every decision is made with the business’ interests at heart.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want my business to be one of the most respected wine organisations in the UK. I want to be the go-to merchants for those who want something different, with a story, and with incredible value. I think we have every opportunity for that to be the case, and we will work towards that every day.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
Certainly not an auditor again! It is a career that held me in good stated going forwards, and gave me many key skills in business. However, wine is for me now, so if I didn’t have a business in this industry, I would want to be involved in it somehow. Whether it be in a sales or operation role, or a teaching capacity, I would love to be part of the wine industry for the rest of my life.
If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
I would have probably followed my dream a long time ago. Although I still have an element of age on my side, I am desperate to make this business grow, and if I started two years ago, who knows where it could have been now.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
Revel in the good times, and learn from the bad times.