Award-winning Salut Wines has been breaking down barriers to wine engagement for the past four and a half years in Manchester, England. Owners Jon and Sara Saunby were studying for their WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) levels 2 and 3 with the guidance of wine educator Stephen Rosser, when they saw a need for a place like Salut Wines in Manchester. “Somewhere where there was a great wine selection, with a good by-the-glass selection, in a relaxed environment with excellent service,” is how Sara described what they were looking for to imbibe in June 2014.
Sara Saunby shared a bit about what it takes to be a successful innovator in the wine merchant scene.
Q: How scary was it to make the jump from being part of the cabin crew for British Airways to opening up Salut?
A: Not too scary, I did it in steps. I reduced to a 75% contract at BA and then a 33% contract whilst working towards making Salut a viable prospect and I left BA a year before Salut opened. My husband kept his job, so we always had that as a fallback. Saying that, if I’d have known then all the things that I didn’t know, I don’t know if I’d have been brave (or stupid!) enough to make the leap!
Q: Why do you feel it’s important to break down barriers to wine engagement?
A: Wine is good stuff but it’s a luxury item, and traditional wine merchants are a pretty intimidating environment. The average spend on a bottle at Salut is £20, so if you earn UK £300.00 a week then you’re parting with 6.6% of your weekly income – you’ll want to know that you’ll enjoy what you’re buying.
At Salut we try to remember what we didn’t know about wine when we first started, and that’s how we communicate with our customers, on a level they will understand. You may not have trained your palate, but you do know what tastes good – what foods you like, what wines or other drinks you like – and those conversations help us to find you a wine you will like.
Q: Do you have a favorite wine, or is that like asking a mom to choose her favorite child?
A: For me that has everything to do with who I’m sharing it with, what I’m eating, my mood, the weather – you get the gist.
Q: When you decided to open up Salut, what were your first steps in taking it from an idea to what it is now?
A: This is my first business, so they were pretty random steps! It started as, “why are there no continental style wine bars in the UK” and turned into, “well, why don’t we do that…”.
Whilst I was on a reduced contract at BA I got a job in a wine merchants to see if I would still think it was a good idea after working in that environment, that also helped when it came to practical stuff like suppliers, stock rotation etc. even though Salut was planned to be a different business model.
I asked everyone I knew or met if they could point me in the right direction, and I asked every question I could think of, without caring if it sounded dumb.
Q: Why do you use enomatic machines in your store?
A: The machines preserve the wines and allow us to ensure that they are kept in a pristine state. Because we have 4 machines we can open 32 wines on top of our 15 – 20 house wines and be confident that they will not deteriorate. Also, because there are 3 measures to choose from in the machines, our smallest being 50ml (1.69 oz), it means that we eradicate the fear factor of spending a lot of money on a wine that you’d like to try but have no idea if you’ll like because it comes from, say the Czech Republic, which is not a well known wine region.
Q: When you took the class from Stephen Rosser, was it because you were just curious about wine, or were you thinking of pursuing something in the wine industry?
A: I liked wine and wanted to learn how to read a wine list. I wanted to know if the wines at the more expensive end of the list were worth the money. Turned out yes, they are, but I had absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for!
Q: It looks as though there’s a lot to oversee in your store since you have retail and restaurant elements, as well as classes and events. What does your typical work day look like?
A: I don’t really have one, which is the nice thing about my role. We have a team of 12 and I do the administration side of it all. I’ve had to learn how to keep my accounts in order, about HR and a whole bunch of other non-wine related stuff regarding the day to day running of the business.
I work closely with the team, and am heavily involved with the sourcing and buying of the wines, but I don’t tend to do much chatting to customers and selling wine, the rest of the gang have that covered.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges as a store owner?
A: Having to make decisions which I don’t really want to make. I’m a people pleaser at heart, but I have to put Salut first, its survival is what pays all of our wages, so sometimes I have to say no when I’d like to say yes.
Q: How is PayGo helping you run your business?
A: Apart from the back end of PayGo making the administration much simpler, it is transforming how we do business, Salut changed the way that wine merchants do business in the UK, with most merchants copying our model. Because of the way we have been able to work with the team at PayGo to tailor the system to how we do business we have a fantastic new idea which we’ll be putting into action early this year, which will do the same again!
Q: What have been the most helpful parts of PayGo’s solution for Salut?
A: Because I have been able to work with your team I have an EPOS system which feels completely bespoke to our business model, which is just amazing. There is so much about it which saves time and just works for us.
Q: What are you looking forward to as a retailer in 2019?
A: Well, we are living through challenging times with Brexit hanging over our heads, but we’ve had pretty challenging stuff thrown at us before and so we’ve learnt to constantly assess how we do business and how to innovate and improve. So I’m looking forward to seeing our new ideas come to fruition this year.
Q: How do you see the wine industry evolving?
A: From a wine merchant’s point of view, I think that customer service is key, so business models like Salut, where the customer is very engaged will become the norm over traditional wine merchants.
From a global wine distribution point of view, who knows? It would help to have some decent, intelligent and honest politicians running the planet!
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