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Wine Hits the Franchise World

Entrepreneurs tap into America's taste for fine wine with new wine bar and retail store opportunities.

This story appears in the August 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Being knowledgeable about is always a surefire way to impress friends, but now there is an opportunity to turn your drinking expertise into your very own . Ripe for the picking are a variety of wine franchises that are looking to expand and need help doing so. It's prime time to specialize in the sophisticated, feel-good beverage. According to "The Gomberg-Fredrikson Report," a private wine industry business report, U.S. sales of wine from national and foreign producers grew 5 percent in 2005 to an estimated 703 million gallons, valued at $26 billion . Tempted? Here's a look at two franchises--they may vary in taste and budget, but both represent opportunities in a fruitful market.

The Grape
Making sure customers fully enjoy the wine experience has been The Grape's goal since it opened its first location in 2000. The Atlanta-based features a wine bar and store, allowing customers to sample the wines at the bar, then buy their favorites next door. The franchise serves approximately 150 different wines, the majority of which are exclusive to The Grape. In an effort to make the experience even tastier, gourmet food items are also available at the bar. "The ability to taste and cross-sell between the two business units [makes] our concept unique," says Martin A. Thallman, president of The Grape Franchise Group. since early 2004, The Grape's focus has been on the southeastern region of the U.S., with plans to have at least 25 stores operating by year-end. The company currently has its sights set on Texas, where, according to Thallman, it expects to eventually have 20 locations up and running with the help of multiunit operators. The investment for a single franchise ranges from $875,000 to $1.2 million.

If a smaller operation is more to your taste, WineStyles might go down smoother. Founded in 2000 and franchising since late 2003, Wine-Styles, based in Margate, Florida, has redefined the wine-buying experience. Focusing on retail, the locations are designed to take on the look and feel of old wine cellars, and the wines are organized in eight different categories ranging from "crisp" to "silky" to "nectar." The goal is to make the wine selection process less intimidating for consumers by identifying wines by taste rather than by the more traditional means of variety and origin. "A little education [for] the consumer makes the wine selection process a lot easier," says COO Bob Florio. Customers can choose from almost 150 selections from around the world, each of which sports an equally unintimidating price tag of $25 or less. Major expansion is in the works for the near future, with plans to get more than 100 franchises up and operating this year alone. Expansion also includes plans for international growth, with new locations opening in Mexico. The initial investment fee ranges from $150,000 to $235,000.

So who makes the ideal franchisee? "Typically, people who almost make a hobby out of [collecting] wine or just enjoy drinking wine make really good franchisees," says Florio. Of course, some business experience is also helpful, but it is not essential.

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