Interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines

Rowan With today's post, I am happy to announce the launch of a new series of funky brand interviews. Whilst I will continue to post reviews and analyses of brands and different aspects of brand strategy, funky brand interviews will bring a bit of a more personal and informal perspective into some of the most innovative and original brands out there. Importantly, they will give you a chance to discover the passionate and entrepreneurial people behind these brands.

The brand I'm kicking off with is Naked Wines -- a UK-based online wine retailer which was launched in 2008 by Rowan Gormley together "with a delightful bunch of deranged, obsessive and passionate friends" as he puts it on the company's home page. Previously CEO of Virgin Money, Richard Branson's financial services group, Rowan later on launched his own venture called Orgasmic Wines. It was subsequently renamed Virgin Wines, after Branson had been convinced by the venture's financial success and decided to run it as part of his Virgin group. Later on, his love of wine prompted Rowan to start another venture, Naked Wines, which was launched in December 2008.

Schmoozy Fox: You once started a venture called Orgasmic Wines, which then turned into Virgin Wines, and now you are taking care of your new "baby", Naked Wines. How is it different from the two previous wine businesses?

Rowan Gormley: The main difference of Naked Wines is that it has a very strong social networking character, with a very active member community of currently 20 000 members and about 30 wine growers. The site members can connect directly with other wine lovers, recommend wine to them, as well as connect with the wine growers themselves. This is, if you like, the "2.0" aspect of our community. What's more, another defining feature of Naked Wines is that the whole business model is "2.0" as well! That means that wine producers have direct access to the final customers and can interact with them directly online. They can listen to their customers' opinions, see how much they like their wine , and develop strong connections with the Naked Wines online community members. Our 2.0 business model eliminates many costs which would otherwise be transferred to the final customer, as well as many marketing costs, for instance, direct mailing.

Schmoozy Fox: How did you come up with the name Naked Wines? How do people react to it?

Rowan Gormley: It is definitely a name that catches people's attention. Sometimes people ask me, "why Naked?" But once I've explained to them that "naked" in this context simply means that all unnecessary costs have been eliminated, and you get, well, "naked" wine at its "naked" cost, then they see the logic behind this name.

Schmoozy Fox: Who can post reviews about wines? Is it only "wine angels" [those site members who have "befriended" a particular wine grower -- SF] or just about any member?

Rowan Gormley: Any site member can review any wine.

Schmoozy Fox: What's the profile of your site members? Are most of them real wine connoisseurs or, on the contrary, does it include many people who don't know that much about wine?

Rowan Gormley: It's actually the latter. You will be surprised to know that there are many people out there, who are very educated, who run their own businesses or are executives in big companies. Every day, they have to make very high-level decisions, and yet they get cold feet when they are facing decisions about which wine to choose with their meal. That's why an important feature of Naked Wines is built around educating people about wine, and helping them select the best bottles for each occasion.

Schmoozy Fox: Being an online wine retailer and trying to scrap all wine marketing costs to deliver products at best prices, how do you market your own business? Do you use mostly online, or "traditional" marketing channels?

Rowan Gormley: "Traditional" marketing can get quite expensive, so we mainly concentrate on online channels.

Schmoozy Fox: And how do you find new wine growers? Do you also try to get their attention via online marketing?

Rowan Gormley: Actually, many of them spend all their time making wine, so they don't even use the Internet that much! The good thing about my job is that I get to travel a lot. I usually have somebody concrete in mind to visit before I plan my trip, but once I get to the final destination, I of course discover even more good wine growers. Others we've found simply by attending wine fairs and networking.

Schmoozy Fox: Finally, what are the values of the Naked Wines brand? What is its brand personality all about?

Rowan Gormley: We try to be all about fairness and accessibility. We also like nurturing small but excellent wine growers, and enabling human relationships between them and our site's members. We also like to sell our wine to small and family-run restaurants, which are perhaps not world-famous, but which serve excellent food at reasonable prices.