Number of employees: 125
Growth year-on-year: 21%
Type of operation: Fine wine merchant
If The Grocer Top 50 retailers were all members of a single family, Berry Bros & Rudd would be an aristocratic great grandfather.
Sitting comfortably in the top 5% of the fine wine market and at number 21 on our Top 50 list, it sells wines for anything from £4.95 to more than £5,000. Its flagship shop at number three St James's Street has existed as part of a family business for more than 300 years.
Current MD Hugh Sturges is from outside the family. He's a qualified chartered accountant who trained with KPMG before holding financial roles with Bacardi and International Vintners and Distillers. After a stint with paper company Forest Products and a sojourn in an IT-related role, he joined Berry Bros & Rudd as finance director-elect in 2001, assuming his current post in April.
Although he's neither a Berry nor a Rudd, Sturges is as committed as anyone to building the business. “We aim to become the fine wine merchant of choice internationally,” he says. “My job is to create a model to achieve that.”
He believes that the main opportunities lie at the top and bottom ends of the wine market and says he feels sorry for the high street off-licence chains in the middle.
Berry Bros & Rudd clearly operates at the top end, and for now, Sturges is happy to maintain its current number of outlets.
In April, the company opened a factory outlet in Basingstoke, attached to its UK warehouse, selling New and Old World wines, fine wines and champagnes. Business is booming there, he says.
Berry Bros & Rudd is in its closed period for the current year, but, while representing only a modest 5-6% of group sales, UK retail sales grew by 21% in 2004-2005, from £38m to £46m. However, Sturges admits that not every UK retail venture has gone smoothly. Berry Bros & Rudd's four The Wine Collection outlets in terminals 1-4 at Heathrow Airport were a case in point. The company is in the process of closing its last outlets there, leaving it with four shops in Basingstoke, London, Dublin and Hong Kong. “We've just taken the decision to cease trading in Heathrow,” says Sturges.
He says the space in the shops was too limited and the expense of maintaining them outweighed the financial benefits of keeping them open. But on the positive side, he adds: “They raised our profile with customers outside the UK.”
Its remaining stores are faring better. The St James's Street store was tripled in size three years ago when a more accessible wine offering price-wise and hospitality space were added to its consulting area and extensive cellars.
The store is redolent of the company's long history, but that doesn't mean that Berry Bros & Rudd hasn't moved with the times. One of its most dynamic areas of growth is its online sales department.
Sturges says the website is a less expensive retail channel than physical shops, which bear the brunt of high rents, staffing costs and low margins: “It has been the fastest growing area of our business since we went into it nine years ago. Internet sales are now almost 15% of group turnover.”
The plan is to restructure the website to make it more accessible to international customers. This ties in neatly with the company's second major focus: expanding overseas. “We aim to increase our retail hub in Hong Kong and open similar hubs elsewhere,” says Sturges. “At the moment we're restricted by international duties on wine. But we believe they will come down, so we're getting the Berry Bros brand in place by establishing wine schools and going from there.”
China, Russia and Scandinavia are the key targets for development.
Apart from the internet activity and its stores, Berry Bros & Rudd's activities stretch from catering and corporate hospitality to cellar planning services for highbrow clients. It operates a wine club and a wine school, with international branches.
Its substantial international wholesale division, Fields, Morris & Verdin, represents almost a quarter of its total sales. And it owns and distributes Cutty Sark Scots Whisky internationally. So there's plenty of room for future growth over the next 300 years.