Norwich firm Naked Wines toasts its new ‘angels’

Laura Hodges (blue top) celebrates joining Naked Wines with her friend Tina Dalzell, whio introduced

Laura Hodges (blue top) celebrates joining Naked Wines with her friend Tina Dalzell, whio introduced her to the company - Credit: Archant

An award-winning online wine retailer has become so successful it has had to start a waiting list for new customers or angels.

Norwich teacher Laura Hodges, 33, was this week delighted to be among the first on the list to be signed up as angels by Naked Wines, which is based in The Close in the city.

Under its innovative business plan, known as crowdfunding, Naked's angels pay £20 per month into a pot that gives the company £5m of purchasing power every month, which is used to support small winemakers and bring boutique offerings to members at wholesale prices.

Money paid in by angels is subsequently deducted from their wine purchases.

Naked, which employs 120 people at its Norwich HQ, has built a customer base of 225,000 angels, almost 150,000 of them in the UK, since its launch in 2008 by Rowan Gormley.

Ms Hodges, 33, toasted her acceptance as an angel at a special reception organised by Naked Wines.

She said she had been desperate to join after a friend told her about the company.

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'Being an angel means more to me than just being in a wine club. I'm supporting independent winemakers and the wines are pretty special too,' she said.

Naked, a past winner of several business awards including the customer care category of the EDP Business Awards, ships wine throughout the UK, the US and Australia; it last year recorded profits of almost £2m on global sales of £53m, up 40 per cent in just a year.

As a result of its rapid growth its most popular wines were selling out quickly and that prompted Naked's announcement earlier this summer that anyone wanting to join would have to go on a waiting list, currently up to eight weeks, to help ensure angels were able to get the wines they wanted.

In just four weeks, the list has grown to more than 10,000 and this weekend the first 500 people on it were allowed to join Naked.

Eamon FitzGerald, managing-director of Naked Wines UK, said: 'We were crowdfunding before the term was even invented.

'We recognised the situation in the wine industry where the two most important people - the customer and the wine maker - were both getting screwed by the middle man.'

By eliminating the middle man, independent wine producers benefited while customers could enjoy high quality wine for £7.50 a bottle, up to 50pc less than in the high street.

The firm's rapid expansion has seen Naked Wines add 30 to its workforce in the past year; Mr Gormley is now based in California, heading up the company's worldwide operations.

Mr FitzGerald believes their business model would translate well to other artisanal industries.

Among the winemakers Naked has supported are Carmen Stevens, the first black South African woman to graduate in winemaking. Naked's angels also stepped in to help Katie Jones, an Englishwoman making respected wines in France, after vandals destroyed one of her vintages last year.