A Story About Relocating to London
Here at Story of Home, we interviewed entrepreneur, wine guru and proud Frenchman, Maxence Masuier. We discuss his experiences of relocating to London, environmental credentials and running a business during lockdown.
Maxence’s story of relocating to London is one of determination and focus. From a childhood in the restaurants of Paris to a successful business operating across 3 locations in London….
Restaurants in Your Blood
Fish Shops and Nightclubs were where it began for Maxence’s grandparents, but it was in restaurants that the real family institution began. Maxence jokes “I was born in a restaurant in Paris and started working there at 14 – I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out”.
Despite secret dreams of becoming a sound engineer, there was a quiet family assumption that he would follow the tradition and after 10 years working for his father in the restaurant, he realised the trade was indeed in his blood.
The sale of the central Paris family restaurant gave an opportunity for change and Maxence toyed with the idea of relocating to New York or London.
“It always surprised me, France is so close, and yet, there were no proper French wine shops selling just wonderful French wines – I felt like I’d found something I could do really well”
His first plan was to open a French restaurant in London, and having been inspired by the Air Streams selling burgers in New York, he considered opening something similar in Hackney – with simple good food and wine. “I knew restaurants, so I thought this is where I’d end up”.
Maxence worked his way around the London restaurant scene getting a feel of the London trade. “Little by little I worked for different restaurants and saw I was especially talented in wine, I really understood it so I began to gain experience as an assistant sommelier in famous restaurants.”
Whilst the decision of relocating to London seemed to be a good one, Maxence made the daunting decision that restaurant life was not going to be his future. “I was tired of restaurants, the rota, the hours, the way of life – it’s really tiring for family life”.
Maxence found a gap in the market for a wine shop exclusively selling French wines. Made in Little France was born!
“It always surprised me, France is so close, and yet, there were no proper French wine shops selling just wonderful French wines – I felt like I’d found something I could do really well”.
Hundreds of Miles for Treasure
Understanding the importance of the niche he’d chosen, Maxence travelled hundreds of miles with his Father, connecting with wine suppliers throughout France, building relationships, ready for when he might find the right location to match his exclusive wines.
Hearing Maxence speak, you sense the strong bond and relationship these two men have together. Both are obviously lovers of wine, but there was a keenness to explore the hidden gems, to uncover treasures of vineyards producing small amounts for the love of the wine. He was excited to move beyond the run of the mill.
Maxence knew the relationships with his special secret suppliers wasn’t the end of the story. He absolutely understood the importance of choosing the right location.
“I told my father, if this journey of relocating to London to start a wine business can succeed, then the location of my first shop must be close to the butcher on St John’s Street, EC1. I never dreamed the location would come up, but it did. You have to have a bit of luck in business, and it was definitely a sign from God”.
Hard Graft in Clerkenwell
What followed was a gruelling year with Maxence working alone in the shop every day, morning to night, dealing with all aspects of the business. The irony of swapping long restaurant hours, to 365 days in his shop was not lost on him, but his passion kept the dream alive.
Despite the intense hard work Maxence’s instincts were proved right, locating the business, near the butcher Turner and George, provided the magnet to help bring customers to his door.
Maxence says “Clerkenwell feels like New York to me, with all the cultures living together. I love it, filled with people who really appreciate design and architecture.”
*Check out this stylish London home which is currently For Sale opposite Maxence’s shop on John Street, EC1.*
Growth in Stoke Newington
Three years after starting the first shop, Maxence was able to launch his second shop in Stoke Newington.
Maxence says “it’s the trendiest area, everything is different here and the store does double the sales than in Clerkenwell. Customers come to choose a natural wine to share with friends, it’s an event and we love that. A lot of thought goes into their choices, and it’s an honour to be part of that.” A Lot of Maxence’s Stokey clientele also enjoy craft beer (as does Maxence himself). He has spent time building strong relationships with local micro breweries, and sells some of the best craft beer currently on the market.
“Customers are drawn to Maxence’s exclusive wines, they appreciate his vast knowledge and the stories he tells of the vineyards and their owners”
Notting Hill Beckons
When he first relocated to London, Maxence took the time to study the different locations, foot traffic and rent prices. West London always seemed like the dream move and it became a reality with the opening of the Notting Hill shop in November 2021.
“The customers are predominantly British families, who’ve been living here for years, they seem to love what we are offering and they really know their wine.”
Customers are drawn to Maxence’s exclusive supply, his vast knowledge and stories of the vineyards and their owners. He also has a strong environmental ethos, in all of Maxence’s shops, a large wooden barrel, full of wine is the focal point, allowing customers to fill reusable bottles – keeping prices low and zero waste.
Maxence says ”It is extremely hard to import quality wine for the barrels at these types of prices, especially with new taxes after Brexit, but it’s something I am extremely passionate about. I work very hard so everyone can enjoy quality French wine, in a traditional French way, for me it is central to our brand and future.”
Stay at Home and Drink Wine
The immediate closure of Restaurants in March 2020 has had lasting repercussions on many businesses, including Made in Little France. Maxence’s wholesale business closed, losing thousands of pounds in stock, which was sitting in restaurants across London.
Maxence explains he made the decision to just write it off, rather than chase down struggling business owners for payment.
Maxence is grateful wine shops were seen as an essential business and part of everyday UK life, this enabled him to operate during the lockdowns and Maxence started delivering to the ‘work from home’ market.
Time will tell how many of those new customers remain loyal to Made in Little France but it seems likely they’ve made friends for life.
The Challenge of Relocating to London and Starting a Business
“Friends had told me starting a business in London was less complicated than in France, and that has been true.” However, there was one major fly in the ointment, despite having most of the money, it did prove very difficult to get a loan for the final percentage, I was refused a bank loan of £20,000 without any reason”
However, Maxence says; ”Once I worked out the financial issues with the banks, it’s really been great starting a business in London, and I would encourage others to take the risk too”.
Maxence adores France, and his roots are firmly there with his suppliers forming a critical core of his business. But his love of London becomes immediately apparent and he sees himself as a Londoner.
He is clearly thrilled to be living and working in one of the greatest cities in the world, and Londoners are delighted he chose to settle here, giving them access to the hidden gems of the French wine.
Maxence is still catching his breath after the launch of Notting Hill, and is keen to allow the business to develop before making his next move. His time of working in the shop 365 days a year, has now passed, but it’s still taking up most of his time. He does however have some dreams for where he might settle personally, and has his eye on a Georgian Townhouse in De Beauvoir, full of period features and charm, with a garden for his growing family to enjoy. Watch this space!
Talking to Maxence was a real pleasure, discussing relocating to London and his motivation and drive to create a business that would make his family proud.
Maxence explains “The goal was to show to my father you can earn money in different ways, the response my father had was, you were wiser than me, but I am not sure about that.”
Relocating to London Business Tips
- Find your own niche even in a business that exists already
- Be prepared to self-fund and avoid having to rely on UK bank money
- Understand the different buying power in locations in London
- Find a magnet in each area to draw in your customers
- Don’t give up if a pandemic knocks out a percentage of your business
- Consider your environmental credentials right from the start
- Stick to your design ethos even if it means delaying your opening times
- Be prepared to work very hard to get yourself stable and secure