We're all Traders Now

POSTED ON 01/12/2008

Some new wine ventures spring from a business perspective, others from a wine-orientated viewpoint. When the new business combines legal, commercial and marketing expertise with a shared love of a good bottle, then even in the current economic cold climate, you get the feeling that this one stands a good chance of making a go of it. Bidforwine.com is such a business, a new site aimed at allowing the man and woman in the street to exchange wine, eBay style, over the internet. It’s is the brainchild of three high-achieving parents, Spenser Hilliard, Lionel Nierop and Keith Prothero. Since each is an expert in his own field, the dovetailing of the three should make Bidforwine.com greater than the sum of its individual parts.

The barrister, Spenser Hilliard, a specialist in licensing and the mediation of commercial disputes, found that one of the ways to switch off from a demanding job to sit back and read wine books such as Hugh Johnson’s Wine Atlas. He started buying wines, got hooked and became a regular visitor to Tom Cannavan’s wine-pages.com website forum. The combination of his work and meeting like-minded wine enthusiasts over the net led to the idea of an internet wine exchange forum. Coincidentally, Lionel Nierop, a fresh-faced ex-management consultant and a member of the Cambridge University wine tasting team which beat Oxford in 2005, had similar ideas. When the two met through Tom Cannavan’s internet site, the marriage was made but the offspring not yet conceived until blessed by serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Keith Prothero, another visitor to Tom Cannavan’s dating agency.

Keith Prothero spent much of his working life in Hong Kong and the Far East making money in financial services but his passion was for fine wine. After returning to Europe in 1999, he still had far too much energy to put up his feet, so he found a house in the Cape to accommodate himself and his golf-mad wife and invested some of his cash in Mullineux Family Wines and The Canteen Restaurant. With his philanthropic hat on, he also adopted Pebbles, a charity aimed at supporting to children whose lives are affected by foetal alcohol syndrome. Proceeds from Bidforwine.com’s sale of a special bottle of 1995 Guigal Côte Rôtie Hommage è Etienne Guigal are destined for Pebbles.

One of the distinctive features of Bidforwine.com derives from Spenser’s licensing law experience and his recognition that in certain circumstances the flexibility of the licensing laws to allow the possibility of private transactions without the need for a licence. The objective of the Licensing Act he says is ‘to prevent crime and disorder, to promote public safety and to protect children. The rest is jumping through hoops’. So Bidforwine.com is open to anyone with wine to sell, though as the sale of alcohol is a licensable activity, some users may have to use the company’s consignment service. If neither buyer or seller is a trader, Bidforwine has an arrangement for the consignment of wines to a specific bond which is licensed. With no charge to the buyer, and a sale commission of 10 per cent on the first £200 tapering to 5.5 per cent after £2,500 (14 per cent for consignment options), they claim that their minimal overheads will make them cheaper to use than the auction houses and brokers.

Using the Bidforwine site, many potential sellers will be able to trade directly with one another. They include private individuals selling wine stored in bond if the wine is to be dispatched directly from the warehouse to the buyer, traders holding a personal or premises license and users selling to a trader for the purposes of their trade. Through its sales on the net, Bidforwine’s site allows users to sell their wine directly to others, claiming that users will be able to avoid the higher charges and consignment requirements of brokers and bricks and mortar auction houses.

Getting the initial stocks in will be a challenge, they admit, and they accept that people may have reservations before the site gains a critical mass of acceptance. They have been busy tapping friends for their source of wines and while stock will take time to build, a fair amount of wine has already been promised. Auctions will feature themes, and there will be help for potential investors with tools to handle tax, duty and in-bond lots. Initially they expect that up to 90 per cent of their trade will be in the UK and mostly private, but they hope to expand this later to the trade and a more global audience, taking advantage of the relaxed licensing laws for instance in Hong Kong and the Far East. Could they end up going belly up like the wine exchange Uvine? The problem with Uvine was hat it had huge overheads and lacked focus. In contrast, Bidforwine.com looks nimble and efficient. With its trio of wine-soaked brains, it’s a welcome addition to the wine exchange scene.

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