Wine experts are unanimous about the challenges facing Mr Booth: “It’s a precariously difficult business,” says Simon Farr, deputy chairman at Bibendum, the independent merchant, adding that it took his company 25 years to develop, writes Jenny Wiggins.
Experts say that while it is relatively easy to buy wine, it is much harder to sell it on because trade buyers have a big range of wines to choose from.
The emergence of the internet means that people can search online to find wines at the lowest price and suppliers need to be service-orientated to make sure that their clients’ demands are met on time and at the right price.
Meanwhile, customers tend to be promiscuous, always looking for something new.
Experts say that Mr Booth’s success or failure will depend on his ability to make good contacts and find a niche for himself.
“If you can secure a gatekeeper position, you can make value,” Mr Farr says.
Still, Mr Farr believes Mr Booth is off to a good start for two reasons: firstly, he has aggregated a number of small businesses, which allows him to be adaptable.
“He is creating a wonderful network – it’s very consumer-centric and very much inclusive and trying to make everything as accessible as possible.”
Secondly, the Virtual Wine website allows Mr Booth to develop a word-of-mouth approach to wine that may find favour with people who find regular tastings intimidating.
Mr Farr suggests that Mr Booth try to become the “iTunes” of wine, developing a brand that may one day become appealing to a bigger organisation, such as Tesco’s wine club.
Graham Donald, marketing director at Matthew Clark, the wine distributor, says Mr Booth’s biggest challenge will be differentiating himself from the hundreds of other wine distributors in the UK.
“Can he convince people that his wines have a particular unique selling point?”
Nevertheless, Mr Donald says wine distribution is “a great trade” to be in and estimates that the UK wholesale market is worth £1bn in terms of sales to “on trade” clients such as restaurants and bars.
Noel Young, an independent wine merchant, says it is important for budding wine merchants to recognise the difference between their palate and the “commercial” palate. “If you have a certain palate, you have to hope other people go with you.”
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