Found In Space

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http://www.sendwine.com

It worked for Godiva and 1-800-FLOWERS. Now Mike Lannon, 40, who started his retail wine company in 1997 and took it online a year later, is betting the $150,000 he invested in SendWine.com that wine will become the Internet's next big must-give item.

But that's easier said than done. A rat's nest of antiquated state laws regulate alcohol sales, and in many cases, it's illegal for businesses to ship alcohol across state lines. Finding a solution to this problem was the cornerstone of Lannon's bright idea.

"We're building a nationwide network of local wine shops," he says. "We have about 100 retailers, and we can easily--and legally--arrange shipments to more than 80 percent of the U.S. population."

How does it work? The consumer purchases a bottle of wine through the Web site, and SendWine, in turn, contacts an affiliated wine retailer near the recipient. The bottle is wrapped in SendWine.com's custom packaging--a white linen napkin with a gold seal--then shipped via overnight or two-day delivery. "We're fast, we're legal, and we make sure the packaging is distinctive and suitable for a special gift," says Lannon, who adds that most of his wines are priced upwards of $50. "Nobody else is pursuing this market in quite the way we are."

Strong as his idea is, Lannon isn't taking success for granted. "We're in a race," he says. "We have to build our brand and our infrastructure of wine shops. If we do both--and stay focused on delivering high-quality service to our customers--we'll succeed."

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Found In Space.

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