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'Brexit has drastically changed the day-to-day reality for the company': in conversation with Thibault Lavergne, founder of Wine Story Club


For the second in our series of interviews with UK-based French entrepreneurs, we chatted to Thibault Lavergne, founder of independent wine merchant Wine Story Club, about his professional journey

Thibault, it’s great to talk to you. As a Frenchman, why did you choose the UK as the place to set up your company? 

After several years spent working in the wine industry, I set up Wine Story in 2005. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset and wanted to have more independence, so forming my own business was the next logical step. I had been in this country since 2001, and my wife had grown up and was working here, so it made sense to set my company up in the UK. 

Tell us a bit more about how you launched Wine Story Club. Are there any particular benefits or challenges that the UK brings for someone in your position? 

Setting up a limited company, hiring an accountant and opening a business bank account are all straightforward processes in the UK. At that time, it was also significantly easier to import goods into the UK from abroad. 

The UK is one of the best wine markets globally for diversity, as it has historically always been a minimal-production, import-focused market. You can find wines of every style, origin and label, as British consumers are very curious and open-minded in their preferences. London is crucial for turnover and value, but also, importantly, for variety and breadth in the market. 

2022 has continued to bring its fair share of challenges for small businesses. In the face of all these, how are you ensuring the resilience of your company? 

The pandemic forced us to diversify our business model. Beforehand, we were mainly focused on on-trade clients – so restaurants. When these started closing, we started targeting off-trade clients (such as wine shops and online wine merchants) as well as private customers. 

Brexit has drastically changed the day-to-day reality for the company: we have had to rely more on third parties to deal with the increased administration, paperwork and regulations. 

Although the government had promised a free trade deal with no tax, this is not the reality that import-based British businesses face. Even for an entry-level wine, overheads with extra customs paperwork can make the importation process up to 10% more expensive. The recent energy crisis has also led to shipping companies increasing their prices. 

What are your plans for future development? How is your particular market evolving? 

Alcohol consumption trends are changing in the UK: more beer drinkers are starting to drink wine, and these new consumers especially enjoy organic and natural wines. To support our adjustment to a new customer base, we are establishing a new digital presence for the independent merchant arm of the business and will be relaunching our website in October. 

In the face of all the ongoing geopolitical challenges, what would be your best advice for a French businessperson looking to set up a UK company in 2022? 

Having a flexible work-from-home model can help ease the pressure of increasing costs for your company, and it can also mean boosted productivity with less time wasted on commuting. But because of the fallout from Brexit – increased costs, delays, more complicated customs and clearance processes – I would discourage anybody in the UK from setting up a business focused largely on an import model. 

And finally, how has the French Chamber supported you throughout your professional journey in the UK? 

Over 15 years, the Chamber has helped me to build up a strong network of Franco-British businesspeople. I have also been able to promote my business through the Chamber – not just by contributing articles like this one, but also by organising events like wine tastings! 

Wine Story Club is an exclusive UK-based importer and wine merchant. The company is driven by a fundamental belief that “small is beautiful”: wines produced in small quantities on family vineyards are far more likely to have individual character, identity and soul. Wine Story Club seeks out wines which are typical of their region to help you appreciate the diversity of the world of wine in its full glory.

The company focuses on natural modes of production (organic, natural & biodynamic), believing that wine is a natural product which deserves respect and should be preserved as much possible from the influence of chemicals and additives.

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