Often seen as a luxury buy, champagne perhaps isn’t one of the first things the average consumer might think of buying online, but champagne educator Kyla Kirkpatrick is looking to change that.
Having worked as an educator through her business The Champagne Dame, Kirkpatrick last year launched ecommerce platform Emperor Champagne, aimed at helping consumers “go on a journey” and identify the champagnes that are best for them.
“With more than eight million bottles of champagne sold in Australia in 2015 and Australia being the largest growing market for champagne in the world, there is a great opportunity for a dedicated, online champagne retailer servicing this market,” Kirkpatrick said.
“Based on our research and feedback, consumers not only enjoy champagne but they are hungry for more diversity in their champagne choices rather than just always-consuming big brand, entry level cuvees.”
Kirkpatrick herself came to the world of champagne through an interesting journey: she originally studied commerce and Mandarin at university and worked at the NASDAQ in London before returning to Australia to continue her finance career.
“In 2005, I came across an article on Napoleon Bonaparte and his friendship with a young Jean Remy Moët, which captured my imagination and after an initial enquiry to Dan Ginsberg, the author of The Art and Business of Champagne, I had an invitation to go and study with him in France and so I did,” she said.
With this love of the history behind each bottle, Kirkpatrick launched The Champagne Dame in 2008 to educate people about the world of champagne. Hosting over 100 champagne masterclasses and events each year, Kirkpatrick said she kept hearing the same things about the lack of range and quality service in Australia in regards to champagne, and the opportunity to fill the gap in the market was clear.
“Utilising our valued database of The Champagne Dame customers we were able to access a targeted audience and base our business decisions for Emperor on valid research findings rather than just a hunch. There were some surprising learnings which have really shaped the way we are doing business,” she said.
The company’s key target customers, as Kirkpatrick described them, include the ‘About Town’, an executive who loves wine and champagne but is time poor so wants to order online and know they’re getting the best, and the ‘Luxury Learner’, often in their 30s and looking to use their disposable income to “indulge in the finer things in life” and at the same time develop their knowledge about it.
However, while Kirkpatrick may have already had the targeted audience and database in her hands, the road to launching Emperor Champagne took over two years.
Part of this time was spent looking at funding options; Kirkpatrick invested $250,000 of her own money into the business and secured a further $750,000 from two private investors, both clients of The Champagne Dame.
“I think this has been really useful in that they knew me, they knew how I operated a business. and they had a genuine interest in the industry. We had an instant level of trust and respect which is really crucial for a partnership,” she said.
Key to the business model and strategy is its importing arm, with Kirkpatrick explaining the company’s import strategy is important for controlling price in the market on certain champagnes and gaining the maximum margin. Bottles are then stored in and distributed from a climate-controlled warehouse in Victoria.
“We have a very strict criteria as to what our champagne partners need to posses in order to work with us to support the promotion of their brands in Australia, including their branding, their values, the quality of their product and having a strong focus on digital marketing and social media marketing” Kirkpatrick said.
“We don’t mind building brands for our champagne partners in Australia but we need a good base to start with and that includes great branding and good content coming out of France.”
Beyond the online channel and selling direct to clients through her The Champagne Dame arm, Kirkpatrick is also looking to grow an import agency, with plans to hire a sales team to sell imported champagnes to venues and independent bottle shops around Australia.
With 120 bottles in its range, priced between $55 and $550, the business launched at the perfect time – a week before the spring racing carnival in November, with Christmas on the way, which saw it take $200,000 in sales in its first eight weeks.
“People tend to buy more champagne for entertaining over this period, and we also had a number of large corporate orders which boosted figures. I expect this to grow next year,” Kirkpatrick said.
The business is now looking to raise a further $2 million, with Kirkpatrick looking to buy a chateau in Champagne, France to house an ‘Emperor club house’.
The Emperor Club itself consists of a monthly subscription through which members will receive two bottles of champagne that fits within a certain theme, for example understanding rosé champagnes.
“This is an amazing way for customers to diversify their champagne knowledge and its is like performing a mini-champagne masterclass at home every month,” Kirkpatrick said.
“Kyri, my partner in life and our head sommelier, joins me each month to film a video tutorial which really dives into the champagne and peels back the layers to help viewers understand what is unique about that particular champagne.”
Despite the big alcohol retailers in the market, Kirkpatrick believes the Emperor Champagne offering, with its focus on premium selections and education, provides a distinct alternative.
“With regard to benchmarking ourselves, funnily enough we mark ourselves against the wine industry and certainly not the champagne industry,” she added.
“We benchmark ourselves for marketing and communication against other affordable luxury brands and industries such as cosmetics and fashion. We change our website every week, we are constantly producing fresh educational content, and we value the importance of great imagery.”
Image: Kyla Fitzpatrick. Source: Supplied.