Naked Wines uncorks success in online retailing

By John Egan

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of angel funding and crowdfunding, two vehicles for investing in entrepreneurial ventures. But just as winemakers combine grapes to produce wine blends like Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Naked Wines has blended the angel funding and crowdfunding concepts.


Here’s how it works: Customers, called angels, invest directly in entrepreneurial winemakers for $40 a month. Naked Wines then invests this money in winemakers around the world that produce wine exclusively for the company. In return for the investment, an angel gets to buy the wine at wholesale prices by tapping into the monthly contributions.


“Winemakers don’t get the recognition or the rewards they deserve, and we want to see that change,” says Rowan Gormley, who founded Naked Wines in 2008. “In the restaurant industry, individual chefs have become much more famous than the restaurant. We’re helping to do the same thing for the wine business.”


On March 31, Julia Fox, marketing manager at Naked Wines, and Jesse Baldo, e-commerce coordinator at Naked Wines, will join Ryan Phelan, vice president of marketing at email marketing software provider Adestra, at DMA’s Email Evolution Conference to discuss the wine company’s messaging strategy.


Since launching in 2008, Naked Wines and its angels have invested millions of dollars in more than 130 winemakers in 14 countries. Naked Wines has more than 300,000 investors.


This unique investment arrangement has paid off for Naked Wines angels and winemakers. For instance, angel-turned-winemaker Tom Shula recently won a gold medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for his merlot. Funding from Naked Wines paved the way for Shula to team up with a Naked Wines-backed winery, Pickberry Vineyard, to get his merlot off the ground.


Wines from Shula and other Naked Wines entrepreneurs now are available through an on-demand service in San Francisco. A startup called Doorman delivers Naked Wines products to homes during scheduled time slots from 6 p.m. to midnight.


Gormley says it took some convincing for investors and winemakers to buy into the Naked Wines concept.


“We had to find the crazy people who were tired of the system and hungry for change and get them to be our cheerleaders,” Gormley tells The Huffington Post.


Gormley founded the company in the United Kingdom and entered the U.S. market in 2012. A year later, a German group of wine companies called WIV Wein International poured $10 million into Naked Wines. In 2015, the German conglomerate sold its majority stake in Naked Wines to Majestic Wine, a British wine merchant, for what at the time was a little over $100 million.


In announcing the cash-and-stock deal, WIV Wein International CEO Andres Ruff declared Naked Wines is the world’s most successful online wine retailer. Indeed, Naked Wines’ annual sales now exceed $115 million. In the three countries where it operates — the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia — Naked Wines’ total target market is estimated at $24 billion.


As part of the deal, Gormley became CEO of the bulked-up Majestic.


“The combination of Naked Wines and Majestic provides the very exciting opportunity to build a world-class wine retailer serving customers who are looking for inspiration that the supermarkets cannot provide,” Gormley says.

This article is brought to you by the DMA. Click here to register for Email Evolution Conference, March 30 – Apr. 1, 2016, in New Orleans.