As long as grapes bud from vines, the wine business will be bursting with flavorful opportunity. According to John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a St. Helena, California, non-profit wine trade association, the wine industry has enjoyed significant growth for the past 12 years, with today's big wine drinkers being baby boomers as well as some in the Millennial generation (those ages 21 to 29). Estimated at $26 billion, with a 115 percent increase since 1995, the wine industry likely won't be sobering up anytime soon.
Wine has such appeal that a variety of businesses can be seen cropping up--from wine bars and wine stores to educational in-home tastings and ancillary products that enhance the overall wine experience. And now that new laws legalizing online wine sales have uncorked the industry, entrepreneurs are finding a worldwide market to conquer. Attracting the masses means keeping your wines inexpensive and drinker-friendly. "In a lot of retail environments and on some wine lists, there has been a movement toward categorizing wines by their flavor profile rather than strictly by their grape variety or by their country or region of origin," says Gillespie. Also growing in popularity are wines packaged in single-serving bottles and wines topped with a screw cap.
No matter how you twist it, package it or label it, if you specialize in wine, consumers will gladly toast your efforts. Even NASCAR drivers are producing their own vintages--a surefire indication that it's all systems go.
If you dream of opening your very own wine business, consider the following startup tips:
- Establish strong relationships. Jeff Playter, 35-year-old co-founder of RadCru.com, an online marketplace that features one select wine offer per day direct from the winery, stresses the importance of personally meeting with winemakers and owners of wineries. The extra effort will establish a better partnership, giving you better access to unique and harder to find wines. Your customers will reward you accordingly.
- Use online tools. Word about RadCru.com is spreading the fastest through the blogosphere. Appealing from both a technological and wine aspect, bloggers are eager to cover the innovative company, which just launched in July, and Playter and his team are using the free coverage to their advantage.
- Differentiate yourself. "You have to find an angle," says Playter. "There are a ton of wine shops out there that have great wines. You just have to find something that stands above the crowd."
- Read up on the laws. New laws allowing online wine sales may have entrepreneurs giddy with excitement, but before you get too carried away, Playter advises you hire a good lawyer who knows about wine and do extensive research to see how the new laws are affecting things. "The laws have changed much quicker than the infrastructure to allow those sales to happen," he says. "There are costs involved from a legal perspective; there are licensing issues. You have these new markets, but it might not be worth it for some of these wineries to go in and actually start selling in this market."
- Know your stuff. Launching a wine business requires a solid knowledge of wines, so you better brush up on your wines before attempting to become a key player in the marketplace.