Through the Grapevine

Marketing directly to consumers distinguishes this wine importer from industry peers.
This story first appeared in the November 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Most wine importers get their vino into the marketplace through what the industry calls the "three-tiered system"-the importer strikes a deal with a distributor, who then markets the product to retailers and restaurateurs. Not Seattle-based Small Vineyards LLC, an importer specializing in hand-harvested wine from family-owned vineyards in Italy. Co-founders Josh Hanson, 36, Doug Fugate, 49, and Kay Syrrist, 50, developed a concept virtually unheard-of in the wine industry: a direct-to-consumer approach in which employees host in-store tastings, wine dinners and other events.

"No one is in a position to train the salespeople and develop the brand like the importer," says Hanson, whose unorthodox business model has paid off to the tune of $5 million in 2005 sales-an 85 percent increase over the previous year. The 5-year-old business continues to mature, with year-end sales projected to increase by another 50 percent.

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