Post Majestic Sale Q&A With John Colley
What on earth is going on at Majestic? Your questions answered by our new boss, John Colley.
It has been a choppy 2019 at Majestic Wine.
At one stage, it looked like the business would be merged with Naked Wines, then that stores were to be closed – and instead today a takeover has been signed and sealed.
That means the company will continue to operate under new, private ownership – after the completion of a sale to funds managed by Fortress Investment Group (“Fortress”). Included in the £95m acquisition is Majestic’s network of over 190 nationwide stores, Commercial and French divisions.
If you’re unsure of what exactly the picture now is at the UK’s number one drinks specialist, we don’t blame you. But it is all good news!
So to iron out any lingering questions you may have after all that, we caught up with John, the man now holding the Majestic reins, and asked him about what’s gone on, what the plan is for the future and what our customers can expect from Majestic’s next chapter as he and the team look to focus, fix and grow the business.
So are Majestic and Naked the same company now?
After 5 years in the same group, Majestic and Naked have today gone their separate ways. Majestic is now owned by Fortress. We’re going to focus on getting Majestic back to what it does best, that means a network of brilliant stores, staffed by brilliant people and stocking brilliant wines – under new independent, private ownership.
And are you closing all your stores?
There were plans to close stores, but our new owners Fortress have changed direction. They really believe in our people on the ground, and that the only way to really find the wines you love is to taste them first. We need [our] stores for that.
We still obviously have to manage the store estate carefully and sometimes, whether because a landlord wants to redevelop a site or a lease cannot be renewed, make closures. That happens in all businesses. But we want as many branches of Majestic opening their doors as possible – from Falmouth to Inverness. That means no wholesale closures of branches – and we have in fact just opened a new Majestic in Blackheath, London!
So you’re not just moving purely online?
Majestic needs to be operating where our customers want us most. So yes, we want to have physical stores that you can come in and taste, chat to experts and browse our ranges.
But we also have a fantastic website which is growing rapidly, with free or next day delivery and free click and collect through every branch – we’re increasing the range available on the site all the time. Our stores also take phone orders, or you can browse always on your tablet or smartphone.
Shopping with Majestic should be all of the above. Online, offline. Grab a bottle to take home that night, or order a full wedding online – not just one or the other. With a combination of stores, website, phone, mail order – and our brilliant Commercial teams supplying businesses wholesale – there’s no set way to shop Majestic.
What’s happening to the thing that matters most – the wines?
Our aim here is to get Majestic back to what it has always done best. Interesting bottles, at the best possible price, recommended by the experts.
So we’ve brought in a wealth of experience and know-how with a new Trading Director, Robert Cooke. He’s overseeing our Buying Team (who all began their careers on our shop floors, so should know what you like!) in their efforts to revitalise the range.
You’ll already start to see signs of the plan in your local Majestic, with some old favourites returning – like one of my personal picks the Matsu wines. We’re going to be focusing on getting back to what we do best. More interesting parcels. Better sourcing of vegan, organic. Championing unusual regions and grapes. Essentially wines with real provenance and integrity – which are great value.
We’re also getting serious about spirits and beers; with a brand new range of over 100 different lines.
And I want to hear what you’re missing in our stores; your local team have been asked to send all wine feedback directly to Rob and myself. So if there’s a wine you used to love which has since gone AWOL, or regions we should be stocking – tell your local store manager!
What happens to the other bits of the business – Majestic Commercial and Majestic France?
Majestic Commercial, our special on-trade division which supplies bars, pubs, restaurants, sports stadia etc, very much remains part of our business. We’re really excited about continuing those relationships with all of our on-trade accounts (and joining them for a pint to toast the news too…)
Remaining with us too are our two stores in France. So if you’re looking for wines at up to half the price of those here in the UK, it’s still very much worth making the trip over the channel this December.
So who are the new owners, ‘Fortress’?
Fortress is a leading global investment manager, with investments right across the planet. Importantly, they believe in Majestic, and love what we do.
And who is John Colley?
That would be me.
I previously ran Majestic as MD a couple of years ago, before moving on to positions in Kingfisher amongst others.
I love this business, and have always had it in my mind to come back – so jumped at the opportunity when the Fortress team came knocking! I’d describe myself as a ‘proper retailer’. I get excited by motivating our teams to do what they do best – talk to our customers with passion and confidence. And I’m motivated by making our stores the best possible place to shop for your wines, beers and spirits. And I have a fondness for a good glass of Gavi.
And what’s the plan for the Majestic of the future?
Focus, and fix, and grow. That’s the key!
Focus – we have to get our heads down and smash this Christmas. We need to fill our stores with the right wines, and the same brilliant people, and make sure all our customers go home with their perfect bottles this December.
And fix. We want to continue to invest in stores; with new fixtures, making them easier to shop and navigate. There’s some back office systems and bits and bobs which need sorting out too – which will enable our staff to get on with what they do best – selling fab wines.
A big part of ‘fix’ is listen. I’m going to be up and down the country listening to our customers and our staff – getting to the heart of the business. Only by listening can we put a plan together for the future. They are the most important voices, and only with the support and insight from the shop floor will we be able to move onto the next stage…
Which is to grow. There’ll be some new, exciting stuff in the pipeline – but those fundamentals won’t change. I believe Majestic has a very bright future, and that’s going to come by investing in our people, stores and business. Look out for a series of articles on the Majestic Blog about what comes next in the New Year!
Finally, what will you be opening on Christmas Day?
After this year, and everything this business has been through, to finally get to the stage where we can celebrate our next chapter… How it could it be anything other than bubbles?
I haven’t quite decided on whether it will be English or French yet though – I’m sure one of our store teams will make that decision for me when I’m out visiting them pre-25th!