CornerStone Wines: Third-Generation Owner Clinton Ang Wants To Go Regional
Third-generation owner of Cornerstone Wines, Clinton Ang has what it takes to scale up the company to take on a regional position.
CornerStone Wines can trace its roots back to the late 30s where it was a humble store that sold every possible produce from rice to alcohol. Currently at the helm of the family-owned business is Clinton Ang, the third-generation owner. After his father’s passing in 2003, Ang took on the reins as the Managing Director and propelled the business to even greater heights. The company’s presence can now be seen across 28 countries including Thailand, China and Maldives. And that is not all, Ang continues to fly the family flag high and well beyond the confines of Asia to Oceania and Australia.
LUXUO had the privilege of catching up with Ang where he shared more about the family-owned business and how it navigated through the pandemic.
You are at the helm of a family group. What is the philosophy and also the Christian values behind CornerStone that set the company apart?
Everything we do is for the next generation. Many of the wines we buy are likely to be stored for the next generation where they will decide to sell or possibly keep for the subsequent generations to come.
Our focus on continuity and sustainablilty keeps us grounded but in the end we are just the gatekeepers for the next generation. It’s never easy to uphold Christian values, but we decided to avoid selling our products to nightclubs and KTVs so to preserve a family-oriented approach.
The current health and economic crisis which Singapore and the world are facing is a challenging one. What initiatives have you taken to cope with the current shift in consumer behaviour?
Our business traditionally focuses on a business-to-business model and that made up about 15 per cent of our revenue. When I returned from Europe in late Feburary 2020, I was briefed on the situation and a decision was taken by the team to pivot our business to emphasize more on business-to-consumer.
Within two days, we managed to convert our warehouse into a cash and carry, upgraded our website, and expanded our consumer team from four to ten the next month.
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Tell us more about how you came to create CornerStone? How many bottles of wine are sold today under your label?
CornerStone was born from a crazy idea to make wines that best suit Asian cuisines. The company was founded in 1997 with two products. Today, we are selling 28 different labels to 28 countries and averaging 1.2 million bottles annually.
My philosophy is to partner with the best family-owned winery with the best facilities and winemaking know-how. Then I would secure vineyards with the best value to make our wines. Once these two key components are fulfilled and coupled with the right approach to not cut corners, we produce one of the best value wines one can seek.
Alongside CornerStone, you have also developed other labels, Vino+, XII and Cora. Explain to our readers how distinct are these specific labels?
Due to the high demand for CornerStone and to remain loyal to our distribution partners, we launched the other brands to offer our partners options so that they can cover different segments of the market.
What major developments do you foresee across South East Asia?
While we consolidate the trading business that has suffered, we continue to grow and build the consumer business locally and regionally.
Our warehouse cash and carry has done surprisingly well. Many consumers are sharing that they enjoy viewing the vast variety of wines and spirits we have, touring our cellars as well as having drinks there. It’s rather unexpected but it seems that they enjoy the “real” feel and look of a brick and mortar store.
How important has ecommerce been for CornerStone been this past year (2020-2021)?
So important, it’s almost considered a life and business saver. From an initial 15 per cent, consumer business now comprises of 50 per cent of our sales.
What does it take for a wine company to survive in Southeast Asia‘s competitive ecommerce landscape?
Honestly, it’s very tough and competitive with low margins and high costs of last-mile fulfilment. The company has to be a one-stop solution that caters to as wide a variety as possible.
CornerStone also offers commercial wine storage in Singapore. This is an interesting proposition in a country where space is prime, tell us more?
Some may not realise but we are blessed to have a property and investments portfolio which helps diversify and complements our wines and spirits business.
Owning a 50,000 square feet, 7 storey freehold building is a blessing. This is a infrastructure investment that is worthwhile in the long-term.
You are a true lover of Champagne, it is Brut or Demi-Sec or Rosé which has won your heart? Or do you also like to wander in the French region itself?
If I only had one wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would be a Brut champagne, preferably “san dosage” (no sugar). As a purist, even though it is bone dry, I like it that way. Champagnes are great as you can drink on its own, from sunrise to sunset and it doesn’t matter if you are sad because it makes you happy after. If you are happy, it makes you happier!
What do you tell people who want to buy a vineyard when they retire? Can such a dream be realised and how would you go about it?
How do you make a million (dollars) from a wine business? You start with 10 million. Whilst a joke, it’s not far from reality as it’s a tough business.
If you were to name one mentor who has influenced you greatly in your life and career path who would that be?
My father. His never-give-up attitude inspires me greatly. Surviving through World War II, various crises and even his physical handicap, it did not hinder him to set up a company that is considered to be one of the top importers in Asia.
For more information about CornerStone Wines, click here.