Very often timing is everything. That certainly proved the case for Gregory Swartberg when he started Cru Wine Ltd (CWL) in 2013, which he initially operated by himself around his full-time job as a strategic consultant for big names in the city.
The 31-year-old Dutchman’s first employee came two years later, when he finally decided to marry his own skills with his passion for wine and concentrate on the business full time.
“I got lucky because when I started, the market was hitting rock bottom”, he said. “It did help me that I had four good years with the rising value of wine being attractive and people being excited to buy it, so the timing was good and I was able to attract some of the best people in the industry to come and work with me.”
Seven years on and CWL, now 10 strong and with offices in London, Geneva and Hong Kong, is toasting becoming a recipient of a Queen’s Award at the first time of asking for international trade performance.
From the start Gregory wanted to approach the sector differently, which he believes has resulted in Cru’s rapid growth and burgeoning reputation: “Trading in fine wine is a very traditional industry with many companies and people having been around for many years. I’m young and therefore in this arena it can be a challenge in attracting clients to leave what they have been used to.
“So, we were obliged to develop a better product and it’s had appeal and it’s driven our success. On top of that, I am a risk taker, not afraid of paying more to attract the best talent or to take bold decisions. Having a good team with a good product means there’s a better chance of getting somewhere.
“When I started, I purposely ensured that we would be lean, unlike many of my competitors who had lots of staff and therefore a high cost base. I changed the model and used software systems which allowed me to have much lower overheads. I also don’t take a flat fee on selling costs.”
Gregory analyses data on latest prices, rather than bulk buying and awaiting price rises. This modern and nimble approach means the assets he manages have grown and are worth more than £10m. Since its launch, CWL has overall performed better for its members than the leading market index, with a current track record of 9 per cent per year.
The performance, Gregory believes, is down to having a great and passionate team. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, said: “Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”
And this has proved to have been the case at CWL. While some competitors have unfortunately struggled in one way or another during the Coronavirus crisis, CWL doubled revenue in March, appointed another staff member and remained in good shape.
The team reacted quickly to the unfolding situation and in less than a month created a new product, launched this month. “Our numbers have been holding up”, said Gregory, “and we have several investment streams including an e-shop, but as the world began to change we managed to develop a new monthly subscription plan priced between £175 and £350/month to deliver premium wines to people’s doors. It’s not business as usual for some of our services, so we’ve tried to adjust and create some new ones.
“The coming months will be difficult, but we are confident that we will be able to achieve our targets. It’s the beauty of having a good team and being diversified.”
So how will they be celebrating their Queen’s Award success? “Comtes de Champagne from Taittinger. I have a magnum to share with the team!” said Gregory.