Majestic tops up range with exclusive parcels offering

Majestic Wine will begin selling exclusive parcels of wine in its stores and online from September, in what it says is a nod to its history as a purveyor of unique products and as part of a new test and learn approach being embedded across the business.

Each Majestic store will have a "When It's Gone It's Gone" section which will hold one-off parcels from suppliers and give customers a rapidly changing range of wines that are not available anywhere else on the high street. The retailer wants to give customers exclusive products at competitive prices, as well as support suppliers looking to shift wine quickly.

When Majestic arrived on the retail scene in 1980 it gained a reputation for unique parcels of wine that could not be found anywhere else. In the 1990s and 2000s the company enhanced this reputation by selling wine sourced from Scandinavian state monopolies, private cellars and direct from producers.

In recent years, as the business's focus has been on growing its store network, these parcels have become less of a feature, but a new approach to merchandising – underpinned by new systems developed over the last 12 months – has paved the way for their return.

Richard Weaver, who last year made the switch from eCommerce director to buying & merchandising director at Majestic, says the new system means the retailer will be able to work in a more agile manner in the future.

"About this time last year I kicked off the process of building a new merchandising function, which we hadn't had before," he explained to Essential Retail.

"[We wanted] to create a discipline in our ranging and a much more scientific approach to how we range each individual store. That process has now concluded and we've actually launched a new ranging system which means in our 210 stores there are actually 194 unique ranges."

He added that the project was rolled out to ensure Majestic was set up for "very agile, reactive trading", giving more flexibility to the buying team.

"We've done that by creating space in our merchandising planning for an ongoing programme of constantly having parcels to offer customers," Weaver noted.

"It was largely built in house, which is something we're increasingly doing at Majestic. We built it on top of our existing systems. It's as much about process and about intricacy of thought rather than a new software system per se. A lot of it has been about how we get our buying, our supply chain, our marketing and our retail ops better joined up so we have a more consistent view of what products should and shouldn't be in our stores."

As part of the new initiative Majestic is revamping its exclusive 'Parcel Series' range of wines with a new look bottle and packaging. This offering comprises wines in small quantities that producers need to sell, quickly and discreetly, rather than under their own label.

Wines from what Weaver describes as "top producers" are therefore offered at a fraction of their usual price, boosting Majestic's own label range while also giving a route to market to suppliers that have had a good vintage or want to move product through anonymously.

Weaver said the new ranges offer consumers extra choice and newness, while also giving the company a point of difference and a style of trading "the grocers are not equipped to do". The new model is also viewed as a way of innovating with individual products.

The mentality to trial new methods of selling wine is reminiscent of the test and learn approach often attached to the eCommerce sector, and Weaver says the company already has a successful record of selling parcels online.

"We ran a programme of web exclusives – parcels we bought that were too small to offer in our stores," he explained.

"That's been running well online because we can sell small volumes that start with a personalised email."

He added: "It's about test and learn. This comes naturally having worked in eCommerce and we're now trying to build that across the business."

Majestic is undergoing some significant infrastructure changes following last year's acquisition of Naked Wines, including a revamp of the management team which now comprises four managing directors from the different parts of the business who each report into group CEO, Rowan Gormley.

While the approach under previous CEO, Steve Lewis, who departed at the start of 2015, was on opening new stores and growing the network, attention has now turned to customer acquisition and retention. Teaming up with suppliers who have parcels of wine to sell is just one of the new developments at the organisation, but it seems plenty more is in the pipeline for the coming months.

"I am actively encouraging the buying and merchandising team to think slightly outside the box," said Weaver.

"What can we experiment with? What can we test? What can we learn? We are now doing some work around our online ranging and work around our new product development. I think you will see Majestic's product range become more experimental and more interesting for engaged consumers over the next 12 months."

Essential Retail is pleased to announce Majestic Wine's head of HR, Louise Ellis, will be participating in a webinar on Retail and the National Living Wage on Thursday 15 September. Ellis will be part of a panel consisting of Essential Retail editor Ben Sillitoe, JDA Software VP for retail strategy Jason Shorrock and British Retail Consortium's head of business & regulation Tom Ironside. Sign up to listen to the webinar.