Hard News by Russell Brown


The Social Retail

Slightly Awkward Encounters at the Supermarket, #352: you're scooting around getting dinner and cat food, and you think you'll grab a bottle of the Church Road chardonnay, because $13.99, whilst being more than $9.99, is still a pretty sharp price for that wine (you're also wondering how bad the Cockle Bay sauvignon blanc could actually be for $6.99). So you head down that aisle.

And you run right into the top bloke from your local specialist wine store, who you know is feeling the pinch from the predatory pricing of the local supermarket, which is where you both are. You feel obliged not to approach the chiller. You have a pleasant conversation. And then you nip back later and grab the chardonnay on the way to the checkout.

That was me, and that was Jayson Bryant from The Wine Vault in Grey Lynn (accompanied by his daughter, from whose mouth I was clearly snatching sustenance by buying my supermarket wine).

It would be fair to say that my concerns about the supermarket wine trade are slightly different to those of Lianne Daziel. Whilst I know that easier access to alcohol has its social costs, and that no measure of drinking can be said to be truly safe, I also know that the supermarkets are screwing down the producers, and undercutting good local retailers like The Wine Vault.

So I feel I owe him. And happily, I can report that The Wine Vault is looking like a case study in supporting niche retail with social media.

Jayson is @TheWineVault. And the author of the actually-worth-reading thewinevaultnz.blogspot.com. And the star of Wine Vault TV. And keeper of the Wine Vault website, which takes online orders. And one third of tweetbunchnz, which has brought the simultaneous Twitter tasting concept to New Zealand, along with Fiasco Wines. There's also a Facebook page and an old-fashioned mailing list. He couldn't be accused of not putting in the effort.

And guess what? It's working. They're engaging people. And Twitter is working better than Facebook, which cheers me greatly.

I should note here, lest Drinnan be on the case, that no money has passed between Jayson and myself, other than as part of conventional retail transactions.

I just like being able to stroll in to the Wine Vault on a Friday and buy something (often at a good price) from a winery I've never heard of, one that's not just a brand front for a multinational liquor company; something that falls outside the boundaries of supermarket wine; something unexpected.

I also like having a conversation about the wine or about some other bollocks. Indeed, I have been doing so since before it was even The Wine Vault, when Greg Grieve opened Weta Wines in the same location, and I'd yarn there to Mike Wagg, before he went off to be a literary editor. As a social experience, it certainly beats waiting at the checkout for a manager to come and confirm the bleeding obvious fact that I am over 18 years of age.

I'm sure there are many other small wine retailers in supermarket zones who are feeing the pinch like Jayson. I doubt there are many responding as well as he is.

(But you should feel free to big up your local guy in the comments.)

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