Surely they sold the Majestic brand equity? Yes, I know it was theirs, but they seemed to be doing their best to dilute it.
They did, but then they seemed to change gear (preumably to maintain value in the Majestic component).
I was a subscriber to Naked Wines from 2012 to earlier this year. As a former employee of Majestic, I was dismayed by what Mr Gormley had decided to do with them and cancelled my subscription immediately.
When I started I was genuinely interested in the Naked ethos - supporting small, independent winemakers to make wines that are unavailable in supermarkets or other high street outlets. As time went by, however, the wines seemed to get less interesting and more generic. The number of winemakers increased but I was simply not bothered by the majority of available wine.
The ethos didn’t necessarily ring true either - wines on offer from producers found all over the market, which wasn’t what I’d signed up for. By the time I finished with Naked, my average bottle price was comfortably above £15, not always offering good value (though I am very curious to see how a savennieres from my last order pans out when I finally get around to opening it).
Looking back, I guess the Majestic sale was probably the trigger that brought these other dissatisfactions into focus (as well as my recent engagement with TWS).
Despite all that, I think there is a market for what Naked want to do - people who care about what wine they drink (and want to know a bit more about who made it, where (and sometimes why - fluff)), but don’t know a great deal about wine. I think there are lots of people like that, who enjoy the accessibility of the experience, learning a little, including their own tastes and the reasonable quality - I can’t say I ever had a ‘bad’ bottle.
Whether this can be rolled out globally is not something I can answer, but I fear for Majestic as a brand. Though I hope I’m wrong, I think face-to-face retail has a limited future, as evidenced by books, cds, electronic products
I think this is quite correct and of course is why so many town and city councils are in despair at all the empty premises in the high street.
The subscription model deployed by naked wines is a real trend in other sectors - Harry’s razors, speciality coffee beans, craft beer, etc and we all have signed up to stuff and keep paying the monthly direct debit due to inertia. But i can’t see Naked being sustainable in the longer term when pitted against the power of the big supermarkets and the emerging discounters such as Aldi and Lidl. And as Majestic showed in high street wine retail it is hard to have an interesting offer at scale, because the small, independent growers cannot supply the necessary volume.
Majestic’s earlier expansion is often cited as the point at which they started losing the interest of many wine aficionados, for this very reason.
But people pressing the Society for ever greater growth should also bear this in mind.
I just had a look at Naked wine’s ‘about us’ page in terms of their ethos, looks like they have 6 things on their list which I guess they think makes them unique. Just trying to understand where they are coming from so I thought I would comment on each of them from what I know about The Wine Society (these are just my own personal comments):
Better grapes – The Wine Society are able to obtain the best grapes every year owing to our long standing relationships with the growers, some relationships lasting well over 100 years.
Real people – Out buyers go out and meet all of the growers, wine makers and their dogs to get the unique stories behind the label for each wine and to truly understand the region.
More interesting wines – One of our founding principles back in 1874 was to find ‘hitherto unknown’ wines, our buyers are free to explore oddities and bring them back to our members. Not to mention the fact that one of our buyer’s started the sherry ‘En Rama’ idea which is now a yearly thing for Tio Pepe.
Better winemaking – Our buyers have long term relationships with all of our producers and work with them to create our own unique blends for our members.
Going big – We had to move out of London after the London Palladium was built over the top of one of our cellars, the invention of the motor car helped to get our wines to our members and after moving to Stevenage in the 1960s, we currently have 4 warehouses on site, one being the tallest and flattest in Europe - below is the expansion we have had so far as an example (I am currently writing this from the original 1965 block):
No Middlemen – We are a co-operative and put our members first, all money made is put directly back into the business to improve offerings to our members and to keep the prices at the lowest price possible – no discounting needed!
I think that gimmicky heavily merchandised merchants like Naked have a very limited appeal. I think there are a lot of better ways of buying online, the W/S being the best source of the vast range of wine available. Beyond this the UK has great specialist merchants for the enthusiast.
Yes, completely agree with everything you say. TWS knocks the hell out of Naked in every respect. I only wish I’d started buying wine from TWS back in 2012 but thinking back, I either had no awareness of its existence or if I did, I held unreal preconceptions (fusty, snobby, claret & white burgundy club etc etc). I guess I’ve only got my own laziness to blame for not looking into it more thoroughly to finding out the reverse is true of all of those preconceptions.
However, it does raise the point that despite having worked in the industry and been interested in wine from the age of age of 21, TWS was not in the public eye sufficiently to grab my attention for all its qualities. I’ve seen evidence that this is changing and I think it’s happening in the right way (certainly not gimmicky, despite some comments here in the community), but still needs to intensify somewhat to ensure you capture the attention and wine spend of all those twenty and thirty-somethings who want quality, interest and true value for money in their wine.
Similar experience here, minus the preconceptions.
I wish I knew about TWS when I started getting more seriously into wine a few years ago, though Majestic was my first step into it, I guess. I decided to join after seeing TWS wines appearing regularly in Decanter, and being impressed with the breadth of the choice. I didn’t have preconceptions about fustiness, though - more a worry that once you join, you have an obligation to buy a certain amount, or in a certain format (cases, for example- something I virtually never do). Once I actually researched the website, I realised that not only this wasn’t the case (no pun intended!) - but the joining fee was extremely reasonable.
Haven’t looked back since - in fact, become a bit evangelical about it, singing its praises to any wine lover I come across.
I think what makes Naked attractive is the community experience.
That is an area where TWS can and should compete directly.
I think though that the perception of fustiness/wine snobbery is the key differential between them.
Anyway I get the impression Naked is eyeing the US market; I reckon the UK market is about to get very brutal and unforgiving so not a bad strategy
Am always suspicious of winemakers who don’t own dogs
Yes, it’s an awful lot easier to review and mark ‘Would buy again’ for a Facebook/Amazon-style experience.
If I’m having a bad day I just look at our Wine Dogs IG Story Highlight - it’s full of happy looking vineyard doggos (and a donkey!)
We used to have the slogan of ‘best kept wine secret’ which we were, but, as I am sure everyone on here knows, once you explain what we are all about then its a no brainer to join up.
We are trying to be more proud and vocal about who we are and get out to a wider audience of those people who don’t know of us. It can be a bit frustrating sometimes when you get questions like:
“Oh so its £40 a year yeah?” - nope £40 one off for a share AND you get a £20 credit
“Oh so you have to buy loads of wine?” - nope, buy as much or as little as you want and enjoy exploring
“Oh, I bet all the wine is really expensive then!” - Nope, we have wines under £6 and wines over £600 - something for everyone
“Oh I bet you do all those false discounting just to get you in yeah?” - Nope, we don’t do discounting, sometimes we are able to offer a discount that is supplier supported for even better value but our prices are the best value we can go all the time.
“Oh, so there must be a catch somewhere then!” - Nope, no catches, just great value wine chosen by our experienced buyers who scour the globe for wines they truly believe in.
Once you chat through some of the misconceptions it becomes a point where its just silly not to join, wines for every occasion that are great value and always delicious.
There was some interesting discussion a few years back over on another forum about Naked (before all the shenanigans with Majestic) and their ‘Angels’ model from the perspective of a grower in Southern France - who didn’t describe the experience from a producer point of view as being very favourable.
I admit to a degree of prejudice around Rowan Gormley as I met him after he departed Virgin Wines and when he was in the embryonic stages of settling up Naked and I found his personality deeply unappealing. Nothing I have seen subsequently has altered my initial impression.
“But people pressing the Society for ever greater growth should also bear this in mind.”
I too fear the results of this. I do wonder, in fact, if we are already starting to see them a bit. I hope not, because small producers make up pretty much everything I’m interested in.
Not always, but then there is the Promise…
But why do you phrase the £40, but £20 back so confusingly? Just charge £20 to join: people understand that (and your own staff would also understand that: when I joined, they tried to add £20 to my first order instead of subtracting it). Don’t make it sound so complicated.
I suspect it’s to encourage that first order. There’s no point people joining (or being gifted membership) but then never ordering, which I’m sure happens even now. A £20 credit shouldn’t be too complicated to understand (though your case sounds bizarre).
It certainly enticed me in. That £20 ‘free money’ of mine purchased a bottle of the fondly remembered 2007 vintage of this: