Richard Cook has big ambitions for his Premier store in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Despite the current economic crisis, Richlands Convenience Store is still managing to operate successfully. But Richard has spied an opportunity for the business to cash in on.

His main aim is to hone in on the most profitable areas of the business and expand them. And one of the key categories he is hoping to revamp is alcohol.

"The smoking ban in pubs, in addition to the credit crunch, means that people are drinking at home more often. Our alcohol sales are up by more than 10% year on year so we're planning to increase the whole range," he says. "We are having the alcohol area revamped this month and we're going to make it bigger in order to offer a better selection."

However, there is one problem standing in the way of Richard's plans - a lack of knowledge on the subject. "I'd like to be more of an expert on wine and beer," he says. "We get customers coming in saying: 'I'm looking for a wine to go with my fish tonight. Do you have any suggestions for wines that might be a suitable accompaniment?'

"I have a rough idea, but perhaps if I was properly trained on that side of things, then I could give better advice and hopefully encourage repeat sales. It would be great if I could recommend, for example, a really good Italian wine, or at least give people more direction."

Being able to give people good advice on their alcohol choices would be a good conversation piece, he claims. "Also, if staff could give tips, it would make them feel more confident and would help them to build a stronger relationship with our customers," he adds.

in the experts' opinion:

Arjan Mehr

Londis, Bracknell, Berkshire

“Wine knowledge isn’t the kind of thing you can explain in two sentences. Richard’s symbol group will be able to point him in the direction of a wine course – it may even sponsor him to take part.

“The course will give him a much broader perspective on the origins of wine and what to drink with which foods.

Two years ago I went on a course with Londis, organised by a supplier, and I’d highly recommend it.

“Of course, you will need to have some understanding of your local customer demographic and what their spending power is so that you know which wines they can afford to buy.

“Placing tags on shelves with a brief description of the wine is useful. This will tell customers whether it is light and fruity or dry and oaky – just use basic, easy-to-understand language.

“Going on a wine course will also teach you how to store your wine. Even a good bottle of wine can taste like vinegar if you don’t store it at the right temperature.

“This is the kind of advice that you can also pass on to customers in order to build up a good rapport with them.”

Mark Johnson

Celebrations Off Licence, Stockport, Cheshire

"Contact the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) and request a Take-home Blueprint for merchandising. It can also provide wine wheels, which explain which wines go with which foods. I was in the same predicament as Richard when I first started up and it really helped me out.

"In addition, Richard's cash and carry manager and wine supplier should be knowledgeable on the subject and can provide him with tasting notes.

"And there's nothing wrong with simply reading the back of the bottle. There's a lot of snobbery where wine is concerned, but it is better to speak to customers on an everyday level, than put them off by using complicated terms.

"When giving a recommendation try to stay away from well-known brands. Instead, suggest a wine that is available only at your cash and carry. That way, customers can only buy it from you, rather than the multiples, and it is likely to encourage repeat purchase. Another advantage of using lesser-known wines is that you aren't competing in price with the multiples."