As I see it there are seven groups involved with the wine business; an industry in turmoil. I have always felt that whenever there is chaos there is opportunity. If you are in the wine business are you ready to do that?
Domestic Wineries – I could write pages & pages on just this topic (but not now). This is the sector where I believe that there is the most chaos. After a decade of grow (for the most part) we are seeing one of the most challenging business environments in over 25 years. If you are one of the financially strong wine business operations and you can successful find a way to move inventory, there can be great opportunity to absorb at least one of the financially weak wineries. There are numerous new channels opening to sell wine, explore your options with a mind to cautiously expand.
International Wineries (non US) – I have been hearing from many wineries that finding their way into the US market is near impossible right now. I am aware that some international wine producers are also not happy with how their current importers / distributors are representing them. There will be changes in the importers’ book of business. Finding new opportunities with importers may be possible. There are also new (non-traditional) methods to discover representation. Keep your ears open to hear about them. I saw articles today that New Zealand’s wine exports exceeded $1 billion for the first time. There are always opportunities for those who are brave enough to take chances.
Importers – There are so many new wines coming to market. U.S. consumers love to discover new wine varietals. I would strongly recommend that if you are an importer that you assign someone within your organization to monitor the social networks to hear about the latest buzz (i.e. that’s how I heard about Uruguayan Tannat). Help your clients to use technology to broaden their brand appeal.
Distributors – Everyone thinks you have it easy, but no one in business today has it easy. Everyone (and his brother) is advising “smaller” wineries to use technology to maximize the direct to consumer channels. Do you think the larger operations have deaf ears? There are also a host of transactional brokers making headway including WSJ and Amazon. Soon USAToday, Target, and Sears will be selling wine (OK when will GM and CitiBank get into the act???). You have to think out side the box to handle these challenges.
Retailers – Just because of the way most state liquor laws are written, retailers are the smaller guy on the totem pole. Yet some retailers are finding unique ways to successfully expand their marketplace in a big way. Are you one of them? It is no longer about serving your immediate local neighborhood. Have you begun the process to expand? If you don’t, the shop down the road will, and where does that leave you? Are you sourcing your wine in the same old way? I’ll bet that the guys who are growing beyond the local neighborhood are exploring methods to source their wine in new ways!
Wine Consultants – With all the changes that are going on are you readily helping your specific clients adjust? If you understand these changes you will be in demand. Make certainly that you are moving your clients at a speed they can handle without letting them drag their feet. Hate to quote an oldie, but “Time waits for no man (or woman)”. As I always say catching a technology wave is nearly impossible if you don’t start early.
Web Based Online Wine Sales – All I can say is that the world is changing and if you can deliver, you can help re-shape the world of wine.
I know that I have only fleshed out thumbnails of each sector. I am not about to write anyone’s business plan (at least not for free). I hope that this piece stimulates discussions from each business segment. The waters are boiling, everything is swirling around us. Let’s hear from the peanut gallery before paths are chosen for us!