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Naked Wines founder calls time as group enters ‘next chapter’

By Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor

Naked Wines founder Rowan Gormley has announced plans to step down as the group enters a “next chapter” following the sale of Majestic Wine to become an online-only retailer.

Mr Gormley – who set up Naked Wines in 2008 and headed the combined group following its merger with Majestic in 2015 – will hand over the reins after the busy festive season to chief operating officer Nick Devlin.

Shares in the group dropped nearly 3% on news of Mr Gormley’s shock departure and as it revealed widening half-year losses amid tough trading in the UK and Australia.

Mr Gormley said the time was right to stand down as Naked Wines moves into the “next chapter of growth”, setting its sights on the US market.

It comes ahead of a major strategic switch for the group, which has rebranded as Naked Wines after its fast-growing online business.

It is soon to complete the sale of its under-pressure retail business Majestic to US firm Fortress Investment Group for up to £111 million, leaving it as a pure online wine seller.

Naked Wines is also looking to increase its focus on the US as its UK division suffers weaker trading.

Details of the change at the top came as Naked Wines said half-year pre-tax losses widened to £7 million from £200,000 a year ago after “sluggish” trading conditions in the UK and Australia, as well as increased marketing spend to attract new customers.

Revenues lifted 1.7% to £233.1 million in the six months to September 30, but with the soon-to-be sold retail business stripped out, sales jumped 15.6% higher to £87.5 million.

It said it would slow spend on attracting new customers over the second half as a result of the UK and Australia performance.

Mr Gormley said: “Now it is time to hand over to a new team.

“It takes one set of skills to take a business from zero to £200 million of revenues, and it takes a different set of skills to build it from there.

“I am a start-up guy, and Nick is the perfect leader for the next chapter of growth.”

Analysts questioned the timing of his departure.

Adam Tomlinson at Liberum said he questions “why Rowan would be leaving just at the time that his ‘baby’ is now a standalone company ready to take on the huge US market”.