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business Fine+Rare, focused solely on trading with other wholesalers for business. Then, in 1999, after noticing a swelling roster of private clients, particularly around the release of the new vintage in Bordeaux each year, Bedini saw the potential to grow his company out of the business-to-business sphere and into the consumer environment. He explains, ‘It wasn’t really until the turn of the millennium that we started to look at private buyers. ‘We had accumulated a number of private


I


clients over the years and recognised that it was time that we thought of them as an asset, not just as an irritant. We began to look at dividing the sales team between trade customers and those who would specialise in private clients. ‘We thought: we have this number of


private clients – let’s get people directed at contacting them and seeing what they are looking for. That sort of specialisation, that division, just really grew.’


A decade on and the results are clear. Sixty per cent of the London-headquartered business, which has 56 staff and an office in Hong Kong, is now generated from private clients, with the remaining 40 per cent from wholesalers. Financially, the decision has paid off too.


The company posted revenues of £52.8 million last year, up 89.25 per cent on the year before, and recorded an equally dramatic surge in pre-tax profits to £3.3 million, up 200 per cent. Looking back on the decision, Bedini says that ‘it was just simple logic’. However, at the time, he didn’t believe that the shift in focus would be so dramatic. He continues, ‘We were just looking at ways


to grow the business and manage the business better, and we thought that amongst all these hundreds of client names we had there were some who were buying big. They were going


t was a decision that transformed his company. For five years Mark Bedini, chief executive of wine broking


to be big collectors, and we thought it would be pointless to simply continue ignoring them – we should really pay attention to them.’ As for why he didn’t consider pursuing the


strategy earlier, he says, ‘It’s always a question of resources. As a nascent business we had our hands full handling the trade business, but as we grew we saw the opportunity to develop the private client side.’


SOWING THE SEEDS


Bedini founded Fine+Rare in October 1994 with his business partner, Bud Cuchet. Already by that stage he had clocked up more than a decade in the industry, including five years as a wine broker with Richard Kihl and six years with Corney & Barrow. He says the company came about in the ‘typical situation’ – he began to become frustrated by a ‘lack of vision’ working for a large company. At the same time, he noticed the advent of email, namely CopyServe, a program that enabled doctors to message each other, and he thought that similar software could be used in selling wine. Scraping together whatever cash he and


Cuchet could raise, the two developed software that organised supplier wine by ranking the cheapest product first. With the


technology, the entrepreneurial pair could see where the best buying opportunities were, and in the first year of trading the company turned over £2.7 million. Bedini says he launched Fine+Rare not because he wanted a better lifestyle, but to create a ‘really successful business’. ‘When I became a wine trader in the 1980s,


it was like a door opening for me. It was fantastic. It became very much all-consuming. I said to myself, “I can do this, and I can do this well,” and that is when I decided that I could build my own business.’ Aside from recognising the importance of the business’s existing clients, the company’s other success has been in innovation, Bedini says. A key product has been the development of the Wine Desk, a proprietary trading platform that constantly updates prices and availability on more than 34,000 wines that can be bought and sold.


Bedini describes the trading platform, which additionally enables customers’ orders, enquiries and payments to be processed, as the ‘real heart of the business’. It also led to one of the company’s biggest developments in ‘autopricing’ in 2002.


He explains that autopricing involves a series of algorithms that are used to ‘spit out


Glass act: Mark Bedini


BUSINESS XL 15





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