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TWS Share – Life Expectancy


#1

What do you do on the 7th consecutive day of rain?. Rummage around in places you rarely visit. So I stumbled upon my membership package circa 2005. It included the quarterly wine list at that time. (No, I am not a hoarder, I love my shredder).The WS claret was £4.75 compared to the current £7.50, a price increase of about 60%. That seems reasonable given inflation and tax changes. Then I came across my share payment of £40. It is still the same amount today. Allowing the share price to diminish in real terms should open the door to new members and increase revenue. I know little about TWS strategy but it appears the plan is to let the share purchase become incidental. You could argue it already has. If the share wall around the Society crumbles other things like multiple profiles attached to a member with a share would be more acceptable. So all looks good, or does it?

The change is to a fundamental, so downsides real or imaginary matter. The share wall is part of the differentiation of TWS from its competitors. But it would still retain member shares, its unique history and cultural differences. The only vaguely relevant case study I can think of is the local Co-op, although its origins are at the other end of the social ladder. The Co-op to my mind has survived (an achievement) but not thrived. My parents felt an affinity to the mutual nature of the Co-op which I no longer feel. As a child I can remember the shoppers getting “divi” slips, I am unsure if all shoppers were members. The comparison is not perfect but TWS could unintentionally morph into something else given time. The other unknown impact of removing the wall is on the membership profile. There could be some change but I have no idea if it would be neutral, positive or negative.

This is a wine blog so lets talk blends. We are all a blend between a member and a customer. A change in the blend to less member more customer may not matter so long as the wine, price and service remain good. So why do I have a small twinge of unease?

If this has all been discussed before please point me in the right direction.


#2

Interesting question. I wonder if the CEO @SteveF might like to comment? He hasn’t been seen on here for quite a while.


#3

Membership used to be £20 but that was doubled when there were a great number of mutuals going private and gamblers betting TWS would de-mutualise joined to reap the expected rewards.

Although membership is £40, new members immediately get £20 credited to their account.

I was trying to persuade a wine loving friend to join, but when he told me that he is 85 and a lifetime membership wasn’t an attraction to him I desisted.

He has now found the delights of Aldi and boasts of how cheap and good their wines are. I agree with the first premise…


#4

The important thing about TWS is that, being a Co-op, it is motivated entirely by providing the best possible service to members, and not at all by a search for profit. Long may it thrive!


#5

I was unaware of the price increase, it was before my time. Thank you for the insight. I am a bit puzzled though how adding a share premium of £20 then giving a £20 discount helped. Unless of course the speculators were all teetotal. I have always been slightly wary of that group. (I am not referring to speculators). Do you have a view on what the optimium share price would be?

I can see your friends point of view. In the future when people ask my age I will reply somewhere between stopping En Primeur and sourcing from Aldi.


#6

I hadn’t given much thought to the share price stability, but perhaps as there is (now) no reason to join other than to buy wine it is not necessary to have a high entry cost. It seems to me better to encourage members with a long-term interest in buying wine, than to discourage people from joining by making the initial cost higher.


#7

I think that the cost of a share should not be a barrier to entry, nor should it be a ‘peppercorn’.

£40 seems about right, particularly with the credit back on first order.

I understand that historically a dividend was paid, but at present there are no distributable reserves. I also believe that in the past, on the death of a member, the value of a share was very often more than the subscription price, but stand to be corrected there if I’m wrong.


#8

I think TWS does want to make a profit - how else could they fund investment? - but, as the website says ‘maximising profit isn’t a priority’.


#9

I’m not how standardised the terminology is, but when I worked for a not-for-profit organisation, we did not make a “profit” at all; we made a “surplus” (in good years at least). The surplus provided a degree of financial stability, and was invested back into the business, not creamed-off by shareholders.


#10

For me, that’s the crux of the matter. May it continue.


#11

No. I was put off joining for sometime because I didn’t like the idea of paying a fee in order to buy wine. I regret now putting it off for so long.

TWS has in all the time I have been a member seemed to be crying out for new members. I suppose what they want is not members per se, but members who regularly buy wine from them.

My good friends are members but haven’t bought for some time and no longer get the mailings.

But I have no thoughts on what the joining fee should be; as I am already a member it’s academic.

Perhaps an occasional mailing with tempting offers would encourage dormant members to turn into active members, and returned envelopes might indicate deceased members.


#12

This is a key point - just to have lots of members isn’t actually profitable as you have to service them (admin for joining, mailings etc).

The joining fee has to be positioned such that people who are going to buy one case and never return are discouraged but those with an ongoing buying habit are not. Under those criteria the membership fee should be equivalent to the “saving” seen by purchasing 2 or 3 cases of mid-range wine so £20 is probably not far off…the current £40 fee again acts to discourage the casual buyer as they need to purchase to redeem the £20 voucher.

Be interesting to know how many people join (may be a gift) but never purchase


#13

TWS has to make a profit, surplus or whatever you want to call it, to fund investment. It also has the capacity to transfer some of the remaining surplus to shareholders.

If you look in the website you will see the following

At the end of the accounts you will see how much of a surplus attaches to your own share at present. In recent years there has been no transfer to this due to a deficit in the P&L reserves in the balance sheet. I have no idea how this arose, but it looks like it will be eliminated in the year just ended. We shall see.

The statement also makes note that there are slightly less active members but they are spending more each on average.


#14

I was struck by how few new members joined in 2018/19 - 599, assuming I’ve read the cash flow statement correctly.


#15

Post withdrawn.


#16

I think that is £599,000. If you divide that by £40 you get 15000. This agrees with the number on the final page on the notes to the accounts.


#17

Thanks, understood. In that case I’m surprised that there are so many new members per annum.


#18

I understand your point, but the likes of Naked Wines (and many non-wine companies) do not seem to see it that way. They fight like hell to tempt in new customers with discounts and vouchers, and then launch their direct marketing campaigns at them. I suppose TWS is not one for the hard sell either


#19

15,000 new members in an active membership of c120,000 and total membership quite a lot more than that doesn’t seem an inordinate amount. It would be interesting to know how many of that 15,000 are active members a year or so on. Some will have been given it as gifts.

I know a good friend who we gave a membership as a birthday present a few years back who confessed to me that he hadn’t bought anything because he found the choice overwhelming! He buys wine quite regularly from up market supermarkets.

Another friend says that he buys wine cheaper in Lidl, which is undoubtedly true. This reinforces perceptions of his ‘careful with money’ approach…he can well afford it, just tight!

The reason for the P&L reserve deficit in the accounts dates back about 3-4 years to the charge taken against the DB pension scheme then. It’s not a cash item, and is a one off, so I expect it will run off this year. However, I don’t think anyone will be retiring early on their WS dividend!


#20

This is an interesting point of view.

Where does the cost of servicing a member who never buys lie today? I’d say it’s in posting them stuff.

Once a newbie has got the initial membership pack (which, given TWS signs up 15,000 members a year should benefit from enormous economy of scale) all the fixed cost is in print and mail.

I for one would happily never get anything through the post. However given the current crapshoot of the digital CRM system, where I seem to learn about half the offers through this forum as I’m never on the list, it feels like getting post is the only way to keep in touch much of the time.

We all know TWS have set improving CRM as a strategic goal. Once that’s done, what’s stopping someone joining, buying one case and if they then become “inactive” they get much, much less post. The incremental cost of sending an email is basically zero.

I’m not talking about having a free for all but I am thinking about how servicing inactive members could be tweaked to optimise the way TWS spends. Suddenly, inactive members are not “bad” from a cash point of view because servicing them basically costs nothing.

There loads of other things here too. I don’t ever recall being contacted with info on Vintage Cellar Plan or Wine Without Fuss, for example. I can’t get my head around that. Perhaps there was something in the score of leaflets in my welcome pack but that’s hardly the place for it. The dream for a business is consistent and easily predictable cash flow.

Far from me to tell anyone how to do their job (and certainly I am not trying to) but perhaps rather than worrying about keeping away members who may (but we don’t know for sure) become inactive, the membership fee should remain where it is and work goes into ensuring the spend on members is appropriate to their activity and every chance has been taken to make them aware of the services available to them in a responsible way.

100% sure this is happening but just my 2p on the debate

p.s. I’ve been a member since 2016 and have ordered precisely 7 times, total order value £1044 so I don’t know if I’m in any way typical. Took me almost 11 months after joining to place my first order.