Curious Wines

Wine merchant Curious Wines will open a new warehouse, its second, within the coming months as it moves to create a national brand.

Established in 2008, the company sells 300 wine brands from a warehouse in Bandon, Co. Cork, and nationwide online store,

The brainchild of brothers Michael and Matt Kane, it picked up awards at last year's Digital Media and Irish Web Awards.

According to Michael Kane, both accolades helped to position the company, a relative newcomer, as a serious player in online retail.

Interacting With Customers

The site has a retail area, personalised customer zone and a wine blog, which is updated daily. Kane said that interaction with customers was important.

"The website has an ongoing strategy. We created it on a budget but worked very close with a development partner. We continue to work closely with our developer. What matters to the customers is keeping it fresh, keeping it updated and keeping it new. You have to keep innovating and pushing barriers," he said.

Having decided to establish the new venture in early 2008, the Kane brothers spent eight months carrying out market research and formulating a business plan. They saw a distinct gap in the Irish wine market for a new kind of service.

Wine Online

"The online market was lagging behind other countries in terms of global best-in-class retailing. Even countries like New Zealand, with the same population as Ireland, are absolutely streets ahead in terms of online competition and online wine. Our aim was to raise the bar in online wine and lead the sector in Ireland," Kane said.

When Curious Wines began to trade in November 2008, the country was spiralling into its first major downturn in decades.

"It was a fantastic time to start a business because you start your business the leanest it could be. You're a lot more aware of costs and overheads, from buying materials to hiring staff. That makes you competitive and flexible," said Kane.

Web Development Grant

Funding for Curious Wines has so far comprised a bank loan, savings and a web development grant from West Cork Enterprise Board.

The firm has taken the inspiration for its business model from British firm, Majestic Wine, which operates over 150 wine warehouses in Britain and recorded sales of stgĀ£106 million in 2009.

"They went for old dilapidated premises, like old car showrooms, old cinemas -- non-traditional premises -- and put in low-cost, low overhead, wine warehouses, which gave a huge competitive advantage," said Kane.

In a recession, he added, low overheads impact positively on pricing.

"We are aggressive in price. We want to offer an alternative to the supermarkets where you can get better, more distinctive, wine for in and around the same price. We can do that because we've a low-cost operating model," said Kane.

The company has a tight budget and does not try to match the sales and marketing spend of its more established competitors. Instead, its approach to raising its profile has been to host public tastings in the Munster region and, more recently, in Dublin.

"That was a huge success purely from a web-marketing point of view," said Kane.

Future Prospects

Kane is optimistic about the company's future prospects, given the buoyancy of the wine market where some 8.4 million cases were sold in Ireland in 2008.

"Just by stripping out the frills, by avoiding high rental locations and high kitted out locations, Majestic Wine made quite a handsome business in the UK. It adapted to the changing economy very quickly because it had low overheads. That's the future of a lot of businesses, and it is the way we intend to go," he said.


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