Q&A with Ruth Yates – Owner of Corks Out
Corks Out, founded in 2003 by Ruth Yates has grown into an award winning chain of 5 wine shops & bars in the North West of England – with branches in Warrington, Chester, Heswall, Timperley and Alderley Edge – as well as a comprehensive online shopping facility. We were keen to learn about Ruth’s recipe for success and she kindly answered a few questions about her business and how it benefits from using our Le Verre de Vin & Pod Bar wine & Champagne preservation systems.
Ruth, what inspired you to open your first Corks Out shop back in 2003 and then to expand further in the following years?
I was a buyer for a large company at the time but didn’t enjoy buying bulk entry level wine and wanted to offer the consumer something a little different, I saw a shop in the village where I live and seized the opportunity, it all happened very quickly, however, at the time I wasn’t thinking of expanding, that came two years later when Chester came on board. I very quickly realised that two shops just didn’t work financially and quickly expanded the business. It’s been a tough 11yrs but I wouldn’t change it for the world, I love what I do.
Congratulations on the successful reopening of the Chester shop & wine bar – can you tell us how you’ve improved the location?
Chester always had an on-trade licence, however it just didn’t really take off in the way we wanted it to, mainly because it’s a 13th century cellar and mostly below ground, which means that it’s difficult for the consumer to see what’s inside.
We re-launched our Alderley Edge store last August and our Stockton Heath store in April this year. Both of them really changed the way we run our business. Therefore, we decided to refurbish the Chester store this year, which took a bit of planning due to the type of building and we had to make sure we did it in a way that complimented the look and feel that it already had as well as getting people to know what we were doing inside.
Chester has a room that can be seen from the street and this was always a spirit room, we have moved spirits into the store and turned that room into a seating area, then we opened up another door that is normally closed to bring customers straight into our tasting room, which is where our Le Verre de Vin Portable Tower system is situated, along with seating for around 20 people. We have changed the layout of the main store to make it more customer friendly with a Bloody Mary station and seating where customers can view the wonderful stone work. We have complimented the whole of the store with a mixture of cast iron, aged and distressed cracked glass and steel and that all important warn leather seating. We complimented this with a mixture of modern and chandelier lighting, I was afraid it wouldn’t work but it’s perfect and really suits the age of the building.
On your website you quote a customer saying: “Corks Out is not just a specialist wine boutique, it’s a culture, a way of life.” Can you tell us a little bit more about the concept of your shops & wine bars and the wide range of wines and Champagnes offered for tasting?
My vision for Corks Out was always to demystify wine for the consumer and offer a real point of difference, that’s an easy phrase to say but not one to fulfil all of the time, you need to work hard at it by constantly being innovative, keeping in touch with trends and listening to your customer needs and not your own.
Moving to the bar concept on a higher level last year was a risk but a calculated one, we knew that we had to be different to other bars but we still wanted to have that synergy with the retail side. Using a Le Verre de Vin Portable Tower system, we offer 10 Champagnes by the glass and 6 sparkling, including 2 English fizz. We do Champagne Trio’s, which offer the customer 3x50mls of Champagne, customers will experience a Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut, a Non-Vintage and a Rose or Vintage. Mostly it’s about choice, value for money and point of difference to other bars and retailers. Therefore, we have become a way of life to customers, somewhere they can explore something new, find out a bit about what’s in their glass and socialise at the same time. We are very aware of responsible drinking, we don’t open late and offer food to go with drinks and our customers see it as a trendy, yet sophisticated atmosphere where everyone knows each other, if they don’t, they do when they leave…
You’ve been using our unique Le Verre de Vin wine and Champagne preservation systems for many years in your shops, and have just installed our latest Portable Tower in your newly refurbished Chester store – can you tell us briefly how you implement our systems in your business and what the benefits are for you and your teams?
We had been serving a couple of Champagnes by the glass but we wanted to offer more choice. We found out about the Pod Bar, tried it out and it was as simple as that. We then had to see how it worked in our Stockton Heath store in terms of how well it sealed the mousse and flavour. It keeps wine and fizz fresh, this meant we could really open up what we wanted to serve, with Krug and Dom Perignon hitting the menu. Customers loved it and volumes increased, not just by the glass but also on takeaway sales, our sales on Champagne have increased by over 30% in the past 12 months. We didn’t have to market it too much as word got around very quickly in terms of local customers.
You’ve got a busy and varied events and tastings schedules; what’s the formula to make them enjoyable for both new and existing customers?
I think the main thing is to not make them too complicated or studious, it’s about customers enjoying different products that they may not have tasted before, we try to get everyone involved in a ‘find out more’ discussion, rather than us just lecturing them on what they are drinking. Customers interact with each other and feel comfortable about asking questions, it then becomes something they want to hear, rather than what we want to tell them. It’s about listening more rather than just talking; it works for us and hopefully our customers as they sell out very quickly. We theme them on grapes, regions or a country as well as spirit and beer tastings, we also include blind tastings, food and wine matching, wine quizzes and ‘call my quaff’ – a wine version of call my bluff, great fun for teams of larger groups.
So what does the future hold for Corks Out?
The aim is to take the retail/bar model further with a few more stores and develop it a little more within each location. We have created something that customers love; it’s unique in its own way and there is so much more we can offer the consumer in terms of both retail and classy wine/champagne bar experience. I feel after almost 11 years that we have only just got going in terms of where we want to be and there are many more innovative ideas to come out of Corks Out. As one of our customers quoted above ‘it’s a way of life’.
And last, but not least, what is your most memorable wine or Champagne moment?
Drinking Billecart-Salmon Sous Bois on a hill with Billecart and team Corks Out overlooking the vineyards. And more recently, enjoying a glass of Ruinart Rose watching the sunset on the beach in Mauritius, that’s a difficult one to beat!
Ruth Yates, Owner, Corks Out
LOCATION: United Kingdom
DATE : April 2014