NAPA — WineBev Repack Services, the business side of an organization that trains disabled adults with marketable skills, has expanded to a south Napa facility three times as large.
Yet as successful as the 3-year-old venture has been for United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay in employing 75 people in repacking cases of wine for two-, four- and six-bottle packages for club shipments and retailers, WineBev is in business-development mode to replace job volume from a major winery client that has trimmed its outsourcing needs.
The purchase of the 45,000-square-foot building at 500 Technology Way for WineBev and offices of its parent organization, United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay, allowed the business to expand as the number of client workers able to be employed has grown from a few when the business opened in 2007 to 75 today, according to Mike Lisenko, president of business operations.
“We were squeezed for space where we were,” he said.
The company is occupying two of the four units in the new building and plans to occupy the rest in the next five years as existing leases expire.
WineBev started at the behest of a bequest to expand the parent agency’s services beyond recreation and referrals for youth and adults with the neurological condition mostly in Sonoma County to more services in more areas, such as Napa and Solano counties. A model for starting employment services involves opening the criteria to more disabilities than cerebral palsy.
“Nationally, 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, and we’re trying to make an impact in that area,” Mr. Lisenko said.
A veteran of contract packaging businesses, he advised the agency on providing a repacking service to the wine industry.
By tailoring job functions to the capabilities of each employee and finding solutions such as jigs and automated equipment, WineBev attracted contracts and donations from wine companies.
A $50,000 donation in March of last year from Foster’s Wine Estates paid for setting up a production line in the former 12,000-square-foot warehouse at 720 Airpark Road. In connection with the $5.5 million November purchase of 500 Technology Way, previous owner and Napa Valley investor Richard Long donated $1 million toward the acquisition.
WineBev inked a deal with Trinchero Family Estates to place workers in a facility for the Sutter Home brand. That has expanded from three employees and one supervisor — state licensing of adult developmental centers requires at least one per four workers — to 12 employees and three supervisors.
For more than two years Foster’s contracted with WineBev to repack 15-bottle cases of Beringer white zinfandel for six-bottle packages for sale in Costco Wholesale stores. However, the parent company, Australia-based Foster’s Group, has been calling for cost-cutting in its business units, and one of the solutions was to redesign the white zin packaging for Costco so it could be done inhouse.
WineBev continues to create two-bottle Meridian chardonnay packs for Foster’s to sell in Costco. However, the white zin project accounted for three-quarters of WineBev’s operations and employed 25 to 30 workers, according to Mr. Lisenko. A quarter-million cases of white were repacked over that contract.
Yet as the end of that part of the Foster’s work was in sight, WineBev in October won a $65,000 State Council of Disabilities grant, which was used to hire Craig Hamilton as business development manager.
That has led to starter contracts with Packaging Plus and Gorilla Shipper for assembling wine shipping materials rather than wine itself at this point.
Packaging Plus hired WineBev to store packing materials and assemble 12-bottle packs via a high-volume wet-taping line. Mr. Lisenko estimates that should WineBev prove itself on that contract, a deal for the full line of shippers could almost bring back the volume of the six-pack Foster’s contract.
Georgia-based wine-oriented Gorilla Shipper has given WineBev a three-month contract to store corrugated, “green” and bulk shipping materials in wine country rather than the Los Angeles area. Mr. Lisenko intends to leverage Gorilla’s connections with boutique North Coast vintners into more packing contracts.
In taking new contracts, though, WineBev meets with the winery to find out whether their volume and throughput needs match the abilities of employees and the cost to achieve that, according to Mr. Lisenko.
“We’re not in business startup mode anymore,” he said.
Fees for services now are covering administrative costs for the business. More than $250,000 in wages have been paid to client workers since January 2008, with many taking home more than $160 a week after taxes. The company plans to employ 112 by October.
Still, United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay doesn’t want to put all its services in contract packaging, because some clients may not want to pursue that career, Mr. Lisenko said. The facility also has an art education and new educational functions for help with adult and college classes.
Cushman & Wakefield’s San Rafael office represented Mr. Long in the sale.
For more information, call 707-603-0010 or visit www.winebev.com.
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