7 years ago

Hobnobbing with James Dawson from Humble Grape

So, what do Humble Grape do?

We do wine. But in a different way. We directly import over 400 wines from 11 different countries. Customers can drink these by the glass, carafe or bottle in our bars/shops, or take them home at retail price. Our wines are handcrafted and either organic, biodynamic or sustainably produced. We know each of our winemakers personally and share their stories with our customers. Our aim to is to bring the wine drinker closer to the winemaker.

What’s behind the business idea?

We wanted to make quality handcrafted wines from small-lot vineyards accessible in the UK. We also like to demystify wine, and break down the barriers of elitism and snobbery that can prevent people from discovering new wines they might love.

Was it hard becoming a business owner?

It was relatively easy to become a business owner. The challenge lies in building a sustainable (and profitable) brand that customers connect with.

How did you recruit your employees?

We work with one recruitment agency and also use online job boards, but most of our staff come from word of mouth from other staff members.  We offer daily wine training to all staff and regular Skype training sessions with the winemakers plus staff trips to the vineyards. We value our team deeply and want them to love coming to work everyday. Quite a few actually approached us directly, came into our bars, told us they wanted to work for our brand and badgered us until we gave them a job, which is great. We love a self-starter!

Was there a breakthrough moment?

It was in year three of the business, when Humble Grape was just a modest import business, running private and corporate tastings. At a tasting I was running, one of my clients said to me, ‘Why don’t you open a wine bar?’ Then he smiled and said, ‘I’ll invest.’ That gave me the idea. A few months later I’d raised over £500k via crowdfunding to take the offering to the high street. Most of the investors were Humble Grape clients. It’s been the same with the latest raise. Over 80% of the money raised has been from customers of our wine bar. I love that they get to share in our growth and success. Success is all about collaboration, and who better to collaborate with than your customers?

How is the company doing?

Great. Much better than I could have hope for in fact. Two new sites opening this year and then we plan two-four each year thereafter. We’re growing very quickly, and sometimes I look around me and try to make sense of the chaos. But I have a great team and they all muck in when and where required. I’m aware though, that as we grow we will need more structure and we have a plan in place to make that happen. I’ll miss these chaotic early days though I’m sure.

Do you have any regrets?

Working for a large corporation for so long and not taking the leap sooner.

If so how did you over come them? 

I have lots of lost time to make up for so I couldn’t me more fired up to make this happen.

What makes you stand out from your competitors?

Authenticity. Consumers can sniff out a fraud a mile off. There are many buzz words being banded around at the moment: ‘artisan,’ ‘craft’, ‘sustainable,’ and it seems every brand is claiming that status. We are determined to remain honest and humble and I think that helps us stand out.

Also we have a fresh and unique approach to serving and describing our wines, which our customers tell us they love. We like to share the human interest stories behind the wines rather than the clonal varieties and soil type.

What is your definition of a positive customer experience?

An experience that makes the customer so happy and engaged that they don’t even take time to consider whether their having a good time or not.

You’re currently reaching out for investors, what do you plan to do when you have raised this funding?

Sleep? No, seriously once we’ve hit £1Million, I plan to crack open a magnum of our Soutiran grower champagne (or two) to share with the team. Then after that, I’ll be straight on with site three and four. We’re just about to get the keys to our new North London site and we’re very excited. We love all our sites, but each one is a special in its own way.

If you could help a business now with a single piece of advice, what would it be?

Never compromise on your core values. And don’t listen to the doubters.

Finally, James what is your favourite biscuit?!

On occasion, you might find an empty packet of chocolate digestives next to my laptop.