Floggers, rummaging sticks, a tilting haunch and a copper ‘crane’ hang as museum-pieces from the walls inside Tanners Wines’ historic Shrewsbury premises. These evocatively named vintner’s tools, all previously used by the company which was established in 1842, are lovingly displayed, each accompanied by a small note on their history and diagram as to their use.
“Our heritage is vitally important to us,” explains James Tanner, CLA member, Tanners Chairman and fourth generation Tanner to run the company. “As a business established over 170 years ago, to a large extent we are defined by our history. We acknowledge it in everything we do, right down to the engravings reproduced on our wine labels and the old ledgers and tools we display in our branches.”
Accordingly, Tanners approaches the business of selling wine with an emphasis on the traditional values of personal customer service, strong relationships with its suppliers, a belief that quality will win in the end and profound staff expertise; they have a populous ‘Thirty Year Club’ for staff members who have clocked up that length of service – not something many businesses can claim!
The company’s traditional impression is reinforced by its flag-ship premises on the charmingly named Wyle Cop in Shrewsbury. Tanners’ sprawling building would delight any architectural historian, with offices and retail spaces variously dating from the medieval, Tudor and Georgian periods. It was the fascinating interior that caught the eye of location managers back in the 1980s, when Tanners was chosen as the setting for a number of scenes in the 1984 adaptation of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott.
“The filming was fascinating,” enthuses Alf Horton, himself a member of Tanners’ Thirty Year Club and film liaison manager for Tanners at the time. “I admit it did cause some pretty major disruptions – we had to move a pair of very large sherry butts out of the building and had several walls spray-painted with mud-coloured paint – but when it came to the actual filming it was great fun. We kept the adjoining shop open and it was business as usual. We just asked customers to remain fairly quiet, but instead they tended to freeze to the spot every time the director shouted ‘Action!’ which was very funny.”
There are, inevitably, pitfalls in running a modern business in what is essentially Mr Fezziwig’s warehouse-cum-ballroom. Quite aside from the low door arches and uneven floors, structural changes to the building are never simple. “We’ve recently knocked through an external wall to gain access to a new retail area,” explains Private Sales Director, Robert Boutflower. “The changes were undertaken sympathetically and in liaison with a Conservation Officer throughout, which did add a layer of complexity, but was ultimately worthwhile. We’ve also had flooding issues in the past, being situated right beside the Severn. It’s frustrating but we’re pragmatic – the benefits of being in a building like this far outweigh the disadvantages. Our customers love it! I think the fact that we’re a bricks and mortar wine merchant in an internet age reassures them that we’re not a fly-by-night operation. Our building really serves to reinforce our values of reliability and experience.”
Beyond operating as a shop and offices, Tanners makes maximum use of its attractive premises with a busy diary of public tasting events and corporate functions each week. Guests enjoy a tour of the cellars, marvelling at the odd ‘Heath Robinson’ touch such as a radiator strapped to the ceiling in the shop – this building doesn’t lend itself to an off-the-peg shop fit!
“We’re well aware that all this could make us look a little old-fashioned, so we go out of our way to emphasise our modern, dynamic credentials too,” asserts James Tanner, whose latest innovation is a state-of-the-art WineEmotion dispenser, installed in his new shop, A Taste of Tanners, and designed to enhance the customer experience. The company also recognises the importance of employing social media campaigns and a cutting edge website to operate in a modern way and exceed customer expectations. “We also offer same-day despatch as standard and have UK-wide logistical capabilities that allow us to compete with all-comers.” These high standards, accompanied by an enviable product list of well over a thousand wines, have helped Tanners achieve numerous awards and accolades from the wine industry and customers alike over the years, including being named Harpers’ Best Independent Wine Merchant in 2012.
The company’s strong reputation is understandable – they have had many years to hone their craft. The Tanner family has been selling wine since 1872 when Shropshire-born William Tanner returned from sailing the world as a ship’s captain and founded the firm of W. & H. E. Tanner with his brother Henry. The business later passed to Alfred Tanner of Shrawardine new Shrewsbury, a successful breeder and exporter of pedigree Shropshire Sheep and Hereford Cattle who, in turn, passed the business to his sons, Frank and Clive. Their eldest brother, Craig Tanner, was a well-known Hereford Cattle breeder and point-to-point rider who farmed at Eyton-on-Severn, carrying on a family tradition of farming in the area going back over 400 years. Clive’s son, Richard Tanner took over the wine merchant business in the 1960s, with his son, James, taking the reins most recently. “As I said, Tanners has this tremendous heritage so we’re happy to be seen as traditional,” concludes James, “but traditional in the very best sense of the word.”
For more information, please call Tanners on 01743 234455 or visit www.tanners-wines.co.uk
First Published in CLA Land & Business Magazine December 2014