Big Lift for Small Brands
By Karl Klooster
When a winery anywhere in the country wants to ship wine directly to an out-of-state buyer, it must comply with that state’s rules and regulations to legally carry out the order.
Anyone who has tried to market wines nationally knows how much state laws can differ from one another. Some have made the process relatively simple and straightforward, whereas others have turned it into a Byzantine maze. High taxes, annual fees, licensing requirements, shipping regulations. Costly and complex procedures that small winery owners don’t have the time, money or expertise to undertake.
The vast majority of Oregon wineries face this dilemma. The road to profitability runs directly from producer to consumer, and tasting room sales coupled with online, or “e-tail” maximizes direct sales.
But if the buyer doesn’t live in Oregon, and the winery is unable to ship the order to him or her wherever they may live, a solid sale and likely a good customer will be lost. That problem was turned into an opportunity with the launching of Northwest Wines to You.
If you are unfamiliar with the name, don’t feel alone. It’s a quiet company that works efficiently behind the scenes. Headquartered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey between Carlton and Lafayette, the venture was born from inspiration coupled with some smart moves and common sense.
The prime mover behind Northwest Wines to You is Rebecca Shouldis. Well known in Oregon wine circles, Shouldis is a winemaker and marketer who has also owned a retail wine business.
When she went to work for the Abbey Warehouse in 2008, she was tasked with finding ways to increase the storage business. Over time, the monks had built a sizable customer base but little else. Wineries brought in wine and it was stored. When they wanted to get some wine or send it somewhere, they called, and the shipment was prepared. Records were kept, monthly fees charged. End of story.
Within a year of the time Shouldis joined, she was ready to implement a new and innovative plan. She would start a new company specifically created to contend with all the out-of-state complexities.
Whereas a few companies had been set up for order fulfillment and shipping, this company would be a bonded winery able to take possession of the wine prior to the sale and ship it under it nationwide under its own licenses.
“It costs us over $10,000 a year just for the licensing fees in all the states we ship to,” Shouldis said. “But without us, each winery would have to pay the fees themselves.”
She carefully studied the regulations in each state and decided that a few weren’t even worthwhile trying to sell into; others would have to wait until increased business merited the added cost. States were evaluated by relative ease of shipping in relation to potential.
Currently, only 10 states have put up serious roadblocks by not allowing direct shipping. For information’s sake, they are: Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Utah.
The remaining 40 states are all viable markets, but each has its own regulations, which almost inevitably vary. But once the parameters are defined, the job becomes easier.
With growth, even complex shipments were more profitable. In their first year, 2009, they represented four wineries. The following year it was 25. Currently they have more than 60.
“We’ve grown an average of more than 20 percent a year since we started,” she said. “In fact, we’ve reached the point where we’ve got to slow down a bit and evaluate where we want to go from here.”
Shouldis was referring to the fact that they now have as many clients as their fulfillment operation can efficiently handle. Increases in both staff and square footage appear imminent. But since they have sold the business back to the Abbey, the final decision will have to come from the Trappist Monks, who, not incidentally, have proven to be prudent businessmen.
Just a quick perusal of their website (www.northwestwinetoyou.com) reveals a full picture of the broad extent of their current representations. Each of the client wineries is featured on the site and if the winery has a website, its logo is an active link to their site. From a sales standpoint, however, you don’t have to go to individual sites. Every wine in each winery’s portfolio is listed and can be purchased on the Northwest Wines to You site.
In all, 30 individual varietals or types can be activated with a single click. Furthermore, everything you need to know about the company’s policies and procedures is available for anyone to examine with a few more mouse clicks. The site, like the Abbey Warehouse, is jam-packed with goodies.
Welcome to the wave of the future and likely the model for the way small Oregon wineries will not only survive but thrive in an intensely competitive and difficult national marketplace.
At this point, Northwest Wines to You is the single, unique example of an ingenious way in which it can be done. As a result, it’s leading the pack in marketing wine online.