Wine Merchant

The Job and What's Involved

Wine merchants usually manage retail outlets such as off-licences, selling wine and other drinks, or may work in their own shop. Some wine merchants work as buyers for wine importers or supermarket chains. They are responsible for selecting wines, spirits and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for sale to customers.

Their duties include:

- Selecting brands to purchase
- Placing orders with suppliers
- Arranging product promotions and displays

Owners and managers of retail outlets look after the day-to-day running of the shop or store, staff management and profitability. Their work includes:

  • Making sure premises and displays are well maintained.
  • Organising stock checks and making sure the stock is stored in correct conditions.
  • Seeing that targets are met and all opportunities are taken to increase sales and profitability.
  • Recruiting and interviewing staff.
  • Managing staff activities and training.
  • Maintaining a good standard of customer care.
  • Giving advice on different types and origins of wine.
  • Keeping up to date with changing customer trends and expectations.
  • Making sure all security, health and safety and legal procedures are carried out.

Buyers may also be involved in producing sales and marketing materials, researching into new wines, checking standards and negotiating buying prices. They have to arrange for wine to be transported to the company's warehouse for distribution to its branches.

Some wine merchants work for wholesalers, and sell their wine to hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops, rather than direct to the general public.

Wine merchants usually work around 40 hours a week. Shop opening hours are usually 10am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday, and 12 noon to 10pm on Sundays. Supermarket opening hours are usually 8am to at least 8pm, Monday to Saturday, and 10am to at least 4pm on Sundays, although some trade 24 hours a day. The manager and staff work shifts to cover these hours. Job sharing and part-time work may be available.

The work is indoors and involves standing, and sometimes bending and stretching when displaying products or showing them to customers. Managers may have their own office or private area, but spend most of their time in the shop or store. Many companies provide uniforms.

Wine merchants in buying jobs may travel within the UK and sometimes overseas, to visit different branches or wine producers.

Starting salaries may be from around £12,000. More experienced wine merchants can earn around £18,000.

Experienced buyers and wine merchants for large companies may earn over £30,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There is a variety of jobs available for wine merchants throughout the UK. Supermarkets are now the largest wine retailers, and many off-licences belong to national companies. The largest national wine merchant chains each have about 1,500 branches. Other employers include smaller groups and independent owners. It may also be possible to be self-employed.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers or on web sites of national wine merchant chains. Most shops and stores handle their own recruitment, so it is worth contacting local outlets to find out about job vacancies.

The retail job websites www.inretail.co.uk and www.retailcareers.co.uk may sometimes advertise wine merchant jobs. For graduates, the websites www.hobsons.com and www.prospects.ac.uk may be useful.

Education and Training

There are no set academic requirements to be a wine merchant, although some employers prefer applicants to have five GCSE's (A*-C). Experience of working with customers, especially in a retail environment, is important.

People working in supermarkets usually gain general experience in retail and buying before specialising in wines.

Apprenticeships in general retail may be available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

There are some useful specific qualifications:

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 1 Foundation Certificate in Wines.

BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) and foundation degrees in hospitality management (licensed retail or licensed premises) - the usual entry requirements are at least one A level or equivalent and three GCSE's (A*-C).

Foundation degree in wine business - the usual entry requirements are at least one A level and three GCSE's (A*-C).

Degree in hospitality and licensed retail management - the minimum requirements are normally two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Larger retail businesses have their own training schemes, on the job or at their training centres. Smaller businesses usually train staff on the job.

HND and foundation degree courses usually last two years full time or three years part time. Course content includes practical work and assessment, and sometimes work placements. Contact course providers for full details.

WSET offers a range of qualifications aimed at those employed in the wine and spirit industry, who wish to develop their skills and knowledge:

- Level 2 Intermediate Certificate in Wines and Spirits
- Level 2 Professional Certificate in Spirits
- Level 3 International Higher Certificate in Wines and Spirits
- Level 3 Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits
- Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits
- Level 5 Honours Diploma

Contact WSET for course details, entry requirements and a list of approved course providers throughout the UK, including WSET's own school in London.

The British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) has a membership scheme open to people with day-to-day supervision of premises licensed for the retail sale of alcohol. Benefits include a members' magazine, BII BUSINESS, a helpline and access to educational events.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A wine merchant should:

  • Have a good knowledge of the products available.
  • Have a good sense of taste and smell.
  • Be committed to providing a high standard of customer service.
  • Be able to lead and motivate a team.
  • Have excellent spoken and written communication skills.
  • Be able to take responsibility and make decisions.
  • Be able to negotiate competitive prices.
  • Be organised.
  • Be able to deal effectively with queries and complaints.
  • Have good knowledge of legal and security issues.
  • Have relevant commercial skills for the business.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are sometimes opportunities for promotion in larger companies and national chains, for example to area manager or buyer. It may sometimes be necessary to move to a different location to gain promotion.

Wine merchants with the necessary expertise and business skills sometimes set up their own retail shop.

Customer care and retail experience gained as a wine merchant can be valuable in moving to another area of retail work.

Get Further Information

British Institute of Innkeeping (BII),
Wessex House, 80 Park Street,
Camberley, Surrey GU15 3PT
Tel: 01276 684449
Website: www.bii.org

British Shops and
Stores Association Limited (BSSA),
Middleton House, 2 Main Road,
Middleton Cheney, Banbury,
Oxfordshire OX17 2TN
Tel: 01295 712277
Website: www.british-shops.co.uk

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET),
International Wine and Spirit Centre,
39-45 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF
Tel: 020 7089 3800
Website: www.wset.co.uk

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