Many distillers will tell you that small stills make the finest whisky, and what is it they say about the way mighty oaks from little acorns grow? I could go on, but I’m sure you can see where we’re heading in an article devoted to the retailing of whisky miniatures. For brothers Justin and Gavin Alexander have proved that running a business with the self-explanatory name of Just Miniatures can be a big money-spinner.Just Miniatures has a retail outlet on the High Street in Colchester, Essex, and the Alexander brothers are both directors of the firm. Gavin looks after the financial side of the business and oversees its web-site, while Justin puts his previous experience of working for a large off-licence chain into handling stock sourcing and purchase.The company’s web-site came on stream on 1st May last year and the shop opened 12 months later. According to Justin Alexander, it’s working well.“We’re very pleased with the way business has gone so far,” he says. “Turnover has quadrupled since we got the shop.”Apart from direct sales, Just Miniatures currently processes around 300 internet orders per month. There is no minimum order value, and customers may buy a single miniature on line if they wish.Discussing the origins of the enterprise, Justin Alexander recalls when he was employed in the off-sales trade:“I sold Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie and so on, and when finally I was in Scotland and decided to visit some distilleries, I bought a miniature bottle at the first, then another one at the next. It was a souvenir of a visit – like you might buy a pen or a bookmark at a castle. Eventually I got to 500 different expressions of malts.I found that there were not many outlets in England for minis – very few specialist shops, and you’d pay maybe three or four pounds postage each time you bought one, so it became expensive. We did lots of research, and came up with the idea of trying to put all the miniatures we could get hold of in one place.”Just Miniatures now boasts a stock of almost 1,500 lines, of which some 760 are whiskies, with 700 being Scotches. 25 Irish, and the rest what Justin terms ‘New World whiskeys.’ Additionally, there are collectable mini water jugs, ceramic decanters, and even die-cast replica whisky vans on offer.The Alexanders host regular tastings and frequently introduce new lines to keep their returning customers interested. Recent additions include miniature ranges from Blackadder and Duncan Taylor, and between 30 and 40 Suntory Japanese miniatures. Miniatures of the new Macallan Fine Oak selection are also an imminent arrival.A lucrative aspect of the business is in providing firms with corporate gifts items. According to Justin Alexander: “We supply people such as BT, O2, Adidas and Virgin Holidays with branded items and some personalised lines.“We also do a lot of bottles for weddings, miniatures with ‘we have moved’ labels, instead of the usual cards people send out, and we even do Christmas crackers with miniatures in them.”Among the more unusual items in stock is the Celtic Spirit Company’s 12 year old single malt, a Scotch whisky distilled on Islay and bottled in Wales.“It’s hand-bottled, and hand-labelled, a bit like Maker’s Mark,” says Justin. “We get asked a lot for Welsh whisky, and we even supply a Scottish wholesaler with the Welsh range!”Clearly Justin Alexander takes his work seriously:“I’ve been to just about every distillery in Scotland that allows visitors in, as far north as Glenmorangie, and I’ve been to all the island distilleries except for those on Orkney.”The cheapest item on sale at Just Miniatures is a plastic bottle of Martini at 99 pence, while the most expensive is a 1939 Macallan from their Vintage Collection, which retails for a cool £320.Orders are frequently dispatched to Italy, the company’s largest overseas market, along with Germany, Holland and Spain. “I think that most of the miniatures we sell on line are probably collected rather than drunk,” says Justin, “but more from the shop are bought to drink. People are,
of course, always more prepared to experiment with miniatures than they are with full bottles, due to the cost. And we sell miniatures of things like Kirsch to people who just want small quantities for cooking.”The most popular miniature retailed by the company is Jack Daniels, of which some 500 per week are sold, with Bailey’s being the second best seller. Predictably, leading malts are Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie and The Macallan, with The Macallan being Justin’s own personal favourite dram. A recent web-site revamp has led to clearer navigation with a more inviting style of presentation, and Just Miniatures also now offers (full size) copies of Whisky Magazine to its discerning on-line customers.With business booming, the Alexanders have demonstrated that good things really do come in small packages.