Shaper: Jay Wright

Show aired on 13th February 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Ain’t Misbehavin’ from Jason Moran a fated person here on Jazz FM. Good morning, it’s me, Elliot Moss, thank you very much for joining me for another edition of Jazz Shapers. It’s where music and business come together in a beautiful way. Business Shapers who are shaping the world of business and people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and my Business Shaper today is Jay Wright; he is the CEO of Virgin Wines and a founder of business in his own right as well. You will be hearing lots from him about what he is doing for the wine business. In addition to hearing from Jay, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business and then there is the music and we have got some fantastic music today from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Madeleine Peyroux, one of my favourites the Neil Cowley Trio and this from the one and only James Brown.

James Brown with It’s A Man’s World in fact officially It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World. Jay Wright is my Business Shaper here today on Jazz Shapers and he is, as I said, the CEO of Virgin Wines. Basically he has been running the show since 2008 and before that he was the person who set up the World Wines Direct business and became managing director of that and that’s way back when. He’s been doing all sorts of things since. Jay, thank you so much for joining me.

Jay Wright
Pleasure Elliot, good to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now tell me how the, the lead singer of a glam rock band called Wild Affair and apparently somebody who worked in a Registry Office, ends up in the wine business or maybe it’s a natural move?

Jay Wright
It was just something I hadn’t done badly before so I… the music thing was a lot of fun when I was at Manchester Poly I got together with likeminded glam rock fans and one of them decided they could play the guitar a bit and one thought they could play the base and one thought they could hit the drums and I couldn’t play anything so thought I’d sing and yeah we had a lot of fun for three or four years and played lots of concerts and had a great time but it was never going to be a career. I don’t think we were quite good enough sadly so I then went to work at Manchester Registry Office doing births, deaths and marriages which was an interesting year working for Manchester City Council.

Elliot Moss
The rich tapestry of life?

Jay Wright
Yeah it was, yeah there was… we used to have eight marriage rooms going on at once at any point in Manchester on a Saturday morning. Yeah we had the wrong guests in with the wrong weddings, the wrong brides, the wrong grooms. Very professionally done obviously so but that was just for a year and then I ended up working for the Reynauds Group who are the FTSE top 100 leisure business based out of Warrington. Worked there for about six or seven years and during my time there ended up setting up their mail order wine business that they wanted to do which was called World Wines Direct and I have never really looked back since then in terms of working in the world of wine.

Elliot Moss
And what was it about the world of wine that you know, apart from obviously enjoying it, lots of us enjoy wine but not everyone goes off and runs a business. What was it about the wine thing that got you?

Jay Wright
I think it becomes an evolution really, I mean you get the… Green Awards was very much, it was the drinks business to begin with so evolved in the pubs and the hotels and the distillery and all sorts of different parts of that business and then when I first got asked to set up World Wines Direct, to be honest I knew nothing about wine and nothing about mail order so I was obviously ideal and then spent the next sort of few years learning how not to sell the mail order wine business and it was really over the course of that three years of doing that, that I got a real love for the product and I think it is virtually impossible to be involved in something that gives people so much enjoyment, so much part of people’s social life that there is so much knowledge to get out of it if you want that or if you just want to sit down and enjoy a bottle of £5.99 on a Monday night in front of EastEnders, it does the job just as well. You know, you can take it as far as you want to or not. You just, you just really kind of get captured by the whole spirit and passion of wine and yeah, I’ve sort of, I mean I am not a wine connoisseur, we’ve got wine buyers in our business who know far far more than I do about wine but I got a very very healthy, practical interest in it and obviously over the years have built up hopefully, you know, quite a decent amount of knowledge as well. Particularly from a commercial perspective, understanding what works for customers and what doesn’t as opposed to wine buyers who take it a little bit more of a theoretical view about wine.

Elliot Moss
Well I was going to say you must be doing something right because you have got a forty million pound plus revenue with a very healthy margin too. Lots coming up from my Business Shaper, that’s Jay Wright, CEO of Virgin Wines. Time for some music in the meantime, this is Madeleine Peyroux with The Summer Wind.

The gentle and caressing sound of Madeleine Peyroux with The Summer Wind. Jay Wright is my Business Shaper and he is the CEO of Virgin Wines and he has been in the wine business, he’s been bitten by the bug but you were saying Jay, and I think you are probably down playing a little bit, you know you’re not the connoisseur but you say you know how to run the business because you are running a very successful business and in fact I believe not that long ago – I love this title – I think a couple of years ago, you were named Man of the Year at the Drinks Business Awards. I just want to be Man of the Year for something. I mean but why do you think you got that? Why do you think the business has turned round and gone ‘he’s done a good job’ because there is lots of competition, there’s lots of phenomenal wine. We’ve never had more ability as a consumer sitting here in the UK to get access to wines from everywhere. What’s making you special and standing out?

Jay Wright
I, well I think you split it into two sections. One, my belief is that you build businesses from the inside out and you make sure you have great people working with you in the business and you set up the culture within the business really well and Virgin Wines is more like a family than a business. We are all, you know, we are great friends, everyone has a very sort of social relationship as well. It’s very informal, it’s probably what you would imagine a Virgin business to be like. You walk in and there’s a pool table and bean bags and everyone sort of sits round and you know, has a good laugh with each other but it is very professional as well and we take what we do incredibly seriously so, so it is trying to get that balance between informality and having fun and professionalism. It is sometimes a difficult balance to get but I think we manage that really well. So if you get the right people in your business then hopefully your customers get the benefit of that at the end anyway but then we also obviously focus so much on the customer in trying to make sure that we provide a brilliant service, on trying to make sure there are lots of different ways that you can buy from Virgin Wines. The last thing we want to do is think everyone is the same and that everyone wants to get the same sort of service or the same sort of involvement or the same amount of engagement. Different people want different things from their wine supplier so we have lots of different sort of schemes available that people can buy wine from us from depending on how much they want at any given time or how much they know about wine or what kind of interaction they want with us. It might be that people just want to dip in and out of the business, they can do that. People want to come along to one of our tastings and come and meet us all and have a real sort of one-to-one experience in terms of sort of trying before you buy then people come and do that. We do thirty odd tastings around the UK each year so anyone can come along and meet the team.

Elliot Moss
Hard to do all this though, I mean it is hard to do this, sorry to cut across you because the personalisation is what you are talking about and there are many things you do but how do you maintain the balance in doing all of those things and still making a buck?

Jay Wright
It’s around balance; one is about how you buy your wine and so the quality of product is obviously going to bring people back. At the end of the day you can have the best service and the best website and the best systems and everything else that goes along with that…

Elliot Moss
And the wines horrible.

Jay Wright
…but if the bottle of wine that turns up with the customer doesn’t taste very good then people aren’t going to come back again so making sure the wine is absolutely fabulous is the most important thing. And we buy wine in a very different way to anybody else that I know of so it’s a unique process in terms of we don’t by wine off the peg. We don’t go into a sort of off the shelf so to speak so most companies will just go and say, ‘there’s a bottle of Jacobs Creek, for instance or Gallo’ and they will just buy that and put it on the shelf and sell it. You know, the problem with brands is that all brands teach you to do is buy the same thing week in, week out and the beauty about wine is there is so much to experiment with and so much to try and if you go off the beaten track a little bit there is so much more to find and that’s what we do. We sort of, we work with lots of independent wine makers who hand craft their product and are really passionate about what they do but we don’t just then go out then, let them make the wine and bring it back and hope our customers like it, what we do is we look at… we’ve got over a million ratings for our wines on the website so probably more empirical information than any other wine business… and when we want to go and make a new sauvignon from the Languedoc we look at all the ratings that our customers have given us and all those customer comments about that sauvignon and we work out what we are doing well and what we are not doing so well and we go out and we make that wine with the wine maker out in the Languedoc and bespoke that wine for our customers. So we know in advance we are bringing back what they want and that’s almost having that… we are almost making wine to the tastes of what we know our customers are looking for. If you do that you get it right much more often than you don’t and if your hands, if you are involved in that process hopefully the control you have over the end product is much much greater. So I think that gives us a real edge in terms of where we sit within the whole wine market.

Elliot Moss
And that’s why the business is doing really well. Absolutely supermarket driven. Great stuff. Lots more coming up from my Business Shaper, Jay but the latest travel in a couple of minutes is going to be before that and even before that, yes you are very lucky today, some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss thank you very much for joining me on another Saturday. My Business Shaper today is Jay Wright and he is the CEO of Virgin Wines. As you’ve developed this model and I don’t know if it is called a model, the thing… you mention the Virgin name and obviously you know you license the name like many Virgin businesses do and that’s not uncommon.

Jay Wright
Yep.

Elliot Moss
What is it about the Virgin name in terms of the values of the business that you hold up and say ‘that’s what makes a Virgin name’ because forget the relationship with Richard Branson or not, it’s about that brand and that brand is obviously giving things to you isn’t it? What does it give you?

Jay Wright
Yeah and you try to make sure that you live and breathe that brand and the values of that brand within your own business so there are certain things that sort of, that Virgin stands for and I think most people would, would see that sort of, the sort of the energy, innovation, absolute passion for customer service, what we sort of call rock star service – perhaps we should maybe call it jazz style service today – but that really heart felt, caring, just really really passionately caring about what you do and all those sort of things sort of make up that Virgin ethos so it is that informality I talked about before, it is that professionalism but its that going the extra mile all the time and as I say, caring about and making sure every experience the customer have is at the very highest level and the quality, the product is absolutely superb and that it’s got… it’s got that innovative spirit around it where we just do things a bit different to other people.

Elliot Moss
Now assuming all that’s true and it must be because you are doing things that embody those things. I imagine that it is not always plain sailing, I imagine that there are tough conversations that you need to have with your team and you strike me as a pretty relaxed kind of person, I mean, and you can tell me if you are just acting brilliantly or that’s true or what your team would say but, but when you’ve got to have punchier conversations and when the informality has to be slightly more formal, how do you personally handle that as a leader?

Jay Wright
Honesty. I am always the best way to be is be completely honest and open with people and if you have issues, every business has issues to deal with, we all get things wrong, we all make decisions sometimes that aren’t right. If you have made the decision for the right reason because you thought through it well and you thought you were doing the right thing and you haven’t just made some haphazard stupid decision because you haven’t really you know, thought through the consequences or cared enough to think about what you are doing – what annoys me about things in business like that the most is if people just haven’t given it their attention, they haven’t worked their hardest, they haven’t you know, they are not passionate about what they do. If people are trying hard and they are trying to do the best thing you just help and you guide and you encourage and then you try to put people on the right track but honesty is the best policy all the time and you shouldn’t ever have anyone in your business who doesn’t know where they stand within the business. I think if you have a conversation with someone because over the last six months they’ve been doing things you’ve not been particularly happy with and it’s a big surprise to them in that six months, you’ve got it wrong, you should be talking to people all the way through and I am a massively hands on sort of CEO. I mean I am just one of a team, we don’t have a hierarchy in our business in terms of how we do things. It’s a completely open plan office, I sit on the end of a desk with everybody else in the business. I don’t have an office, there’s no difference between the space I have and one of our customer service team, it’s exactly the same. I mix and interact all day with everybody and hopefully through leading by example and through people seeing the energy and passion that I’ve got for the business that can emanate itself right the way through everybody else but if people haven’t got that passion and they haven’t got the energy and they haven’t got the enthusiasm then we will probably have a problem.

Elliot Moss
Passion, energy, enthusiasm you had better make sure you have got all of those three things if you want to work with my Business Shaper today, Jay Wright. Time for some music, this is the lilting gypsy-like sound of Cyrille Aimée with Let’s Get Lost.

That was Cyrille Aimée with Let’s Get Lost, I hope you enjoyed it, I did. Jay Wright is my Business Shaper today; he is the CEO of Virgin Wines. These innovations that you have come up and these various different things – where do those ideas come from? How do you be a creative force? Not just you personally because I know you talk about team a lot but how do you define or describe the creative process?

Jay Wright
I don’t like those prescribed let’s sit down for an hour and brain storm.

Elliot Moss
Dreadful.

Jay Wright
It’s absolutely horrific, everyone sort of comes in and thinks they have got to come up with something innovative and normally you have something innovative when you are in the shower or you are on the running machine or whatever and you just have an idea and case in point, I remember going back about ten years ago now, I came up with this… we… I am good friends and we do a lot of work with a guy called Matthew Jukes and Matthew Jukes is an absolute superstar in the wine world, he is one of the most knowledgeable, nicest and one of the best palates that I have come across.

Elliot Moss
Is he a wine master? Is that one of the three hundred or so? There’s not many of them are there?

Jay Wright
Yeah, I don’t think he is because he’s sort of decided not to do that because he’s, he’s not particularly into the whole education around that, he’s much more into the communication of wine and Matthew is brilliant at that and I had this idea one day that maybe could just get Matthew to pick, to road test a whole load of wines that we’ve got and pick the best six each month and sort of package them up in to one particular, and have this scheme called ‘Just Reds’ where people just got these wines but they knew that one of the best palates in the whole of the UK had put his name to it and get him to write some personal tasting notes for them all so you were genuinely getting what Matthew thought about them and maybe get some video for each of the wines showing tasting them and things like that and that was literally just on the running machine in the gym one day. I got back home, phoned Matthew up and said, ‘mate, I’ve got a great idea would you do this for us’ and he said, ‘yeah course I will, let me know when’ and now we’ve got fifteen/twenty thousand people on the Just Reds Wine Club who get these fantastic wines on a regular basis which are you know, chosen by, road tested by and written up by Matthew and it’s… so that’s just one example of sort of how things happen and it is certainly not exclusively me who comes up with the good ideas, in fact probably rarely. We’ve got loads of very very talented people in the business who come up with all sorts of great stuff but the most important thing is it works for the customer and we can come up with all the best ideas or what we think are the best ideas ourselves inside the business until your customers have turned round and said ‘we love this, it’s great’ and ‘it does something for my life in a positive way’ then it hasn’t worked.

Elliot Moss
Eminently sensible. Final chat coming up with Jay plus we will be playing a track from the Neil Cowley Trio, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

The Neil Cowley Trio with the fantastic Sparkling. Jay Wright, the CEO of Virgin Wines is my Business Shaper just for a little bit longer. Where does it go from here? I mean you have built this business, you’ve set up your own business, you’re doing really well. You look like a happy, balanced guy. What’s next for you?

Jay Wright
We did a management buy-out of Virgin Wines, myself and the team back in November 2013 so, so we sort of started a new stage in our development at that point. I think setting yourself financial goals is the wrong way around doing things. I think you set yourself targets about how you, the things you want to do really really well and how you liaise with customers and how you want them to think about your business, how you want to engage with them and if you do, if you do those things really well hopefully the financial rewards come as part of that in terms of you know, in a business sense. We’ve, we’ve got our wine bank scheme which is our most popular scheme where you basically put some money in your wine bank account each month and for each five pounds you put in, we give you one pound of what we call wine interest. So in effect you have twenty percent extra to spend on everything with Virgin Wines than you would normally have and you know the pricing is the same for everybody so if you are buying from Virgin Wines you might as well be on wine bank, you get more value. You know we’ve got sixty eight thousand people on that wine bank scheme now which is, which is great and those people love, they are the most loyal customers that we’ve got and they kind of love interacting with us. I would love to see that become a hundred and fifty thousand, two hundred thousand people. I would love to get to the point where Virgin Wines was the completely dominant force in wine retailing in the UK but those are nice things to say. To actually do it is about doing it the right way, it’s about building the teams internally in the right way, keeping the culture that we’ve got, keeping that real happy environment that we’ve got inside the business, making sure that we don’t just chase things, turnover for the sake of it but we sell wine in the right way, of the right quality, at the right price to deliver real value to people, that we keep on trying to engage with customers. You mentioned earlier on in the conversation Elliot about how you know, it becomes less profitable the more personal your relationship gets. I actually don’t mind that at all. I want us to have personal relationships. I want our customers to feel part of Virgin Wines. I want it to be an extended family where all of our customers and everyone in the business feels like we are in this together along with our wine makers.

Elliot Moss
Well let me ask you about that as well specifically just before we go to your song choice because the management buy-out has I imagine brought you even closer as a group of people to what you do. If you hadn’t had done that do you think you’d feel the way you feel about the future of the business now? Would you still be as invested as it were?

Jay Wright
Yeah. Because that’s the way I am and I have been invested and passionate about everything that I do whether it’s going out and watching Lincoln City which is one of my great passions in life…

Elliot Moss
Oh dear.

Jay Wright
…which is a bit depressing but I love. Whether it’s watching my boys play football on a Sunday or whether it’s the music that I listen to and etcetera, etcetera. I think you have to be passionate about everything in your life and work has never been any different. I used to, when I was fifteen years old and washing up in the wine bar, I used to love it. I’d go down and my best friends were all from work and I’d look forward to doing it and it was, it was great fun so yeah, I’ve always loved working because it’s always been a hobby rather than a job and I am very fortunate to be able to say that because if you can love what you do then you’ll, you know, one life’s a lot more fun but you are probably a lot better doing it on the back of that too so yeah.

Elliot Moss
Listen Jay it’s been really great talking to you and that’s really nice to hear that someone is happy and enjoying life and passionate and I think you are right, everything you do is about your passion which shines through. Thank you so much for spending some time with me. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Jay Wright
I haven’t got a massive range of jazz, as people might have heard earlier on, I was in a nasty long haired glam rock band back in the day so I still have a little penchant for that sort of music so I actually picked something which actually just means quite a lot to me in terms of I am a massive fan of the Michael Connolly books and the Harry Bosch character and it is one of the sort of nice things to do and relax outside of work is read a really good novel and get really sort of wrapped up in a story and Harry Bosch is a massive jazz music fan and there is a great book which was written called A Darkness More Than Night and in that one of the themes that goes through is a song called Straight Life by Art Pepper and so I thought that as that’s got a real sort of connection to me from both the novel perspective but then the music within it as well I’ll pick that as my song of the day so to speak. So I hope that’s okay.

Elliot Moss
One of the best reasons ever. Thank you so much. Here it is, it’s Art Pepper with Straight Life.

Art Pepper and Straight Life, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Jay Wright; CEO of Virgin Wines. Totally down to earth, no pretensions whatsoever. Passionate, talk about someone who really does love everything he does and the reason why that business is successful in one simple phrase, he is totally customer focussed and that really came through from talking to him. Really good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am, next Saturday here on Jazz FM. In the meantime coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Jay Wright was born in Peru and also lived in Houston, Texas for a few years as a child. He gained a degree in Economics and Politics from Manchester Polytechnic, was lead singer of a glam rock band called ‘Wild Affair’ and also worked at Manchester registry office marrying people!

In 1997 he set up World Wines Direct – a mail order wine business within Greenalls – and became MD before setting up his own mail order wine business, Warehouse Wines, launched in 2000. He sold the majority of his shares to Direct Wines two years later.

In 2008 Jay was also made Managing Director of Virgin Wines which was part of the Direct Wines group. His arrival heralded a significant period of restructuring, which included merging the Warehouse Wines brand with that of Virgin Wines. The merged company combined the best parts from both businesses by capitalising upon Virgin’s presence in the online sector and Warehouse Wines’ mail order experience. During Jay’s time at Virgin Wines he has spearheaded many major business innovations which have placed the Company in a powerful position, with consistent profitability and steady, quality growth in a challenging business climate.

Follow Jay on Twitter @jaywright1969

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

We had the wrong guests in with the wrong weddings…the wrong brides…the wrong grooms…

When I first got asked to set up World Wines Direct, to be honest I knew nothing about wine, and nothing about mail order. So I was obviously ideal.

You just really kind of get captured by the whole spirit and passion of wine.

The problem with brands is that all brands teach you to do is buy the same thing, week in, week out.

I think you have to be passionate about everything in your life, and work has never been any different.

It is trying to get that balance between informality and having fun, and professionalism.

You try and make sure that you live and breathe that brand, and the values of that brand, within your own business.

Honesty is the best policy all the time, and you shouldn’t ever have anyone in your business who doesn’t know where they stand.