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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, October 22, 2012, 7:00 am

Sales growth drives online retailer to expand to Napa

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    ST. HELENA — Blicker Pierce Wagner Wine Merchants, an online retailer of fine and rare collectibles that is better known as BP Wine, and the owners’ “flash” online wine sales venture Last Bottle Wines are growing so quickly that they are have secured a much larger south Napa warehouse.

    BP Wine and Last Bottle WinesExcept for 2009, BP Wine sales have been growing at 10 percent to 20 percent a year since it started in 2006 and are running out of space at the 5,000-square-foot St. Helena warehouse, according to co-owner Stefan Blicker, 44. He and partners Cory Wagner and Brent Pierce started Last Bottle Wines, which sells one or two labels a day at big discounts until the inventory is gone, launched it in early 2011, and sales have grown “exponentially” to the point the venture has outgrown one Napa warehouse then another.

    “Moving a wine company is a logistical nightmare,” Mr. Blicker said.

    Expanding Last Bottle (707-251-8186, lastbottlewines.com) isn’t so much of an issue because it sells one or two wines at a time, moving dozens of pallets in one day then out as orders the next day, he said. BP Wine (707-967-0240, bpwine.com), however, has inventory for 1,700–2,200 different wines in stock at any one time, and record-keeping on the condition of each bottle such as torn labels must be meticulously maintained with each move.

    To have one place for casegoods and allow for more efficient receiving and inspection of collectibles, the owners of BP Wine and Last Bottle on Aug. 15 purchased a 30,000-square-foot warehouse at 607 Airpark Rd. in south Napa for $2.8 million. Community Action Napa Valley’s food bank will continue to occupy 8,000 square feet there after the partners’ ventures consolidate into 22,000 square feet of the building in December or January.

    The two companies have a staff of 19 including the owners, and a number of those employees float between the ventures, depending on activity. The company hired three more for the busy October–December shipping season for fulfilling orders from months in which it was too hot to ship by traditional means.

    Direct-to-consumer shipments have been growing rapidly recently. In September, such sales grew by 36 percent to $133 million from a year before, and total direct shipments over those 12 months rose 11 percent to $1.39 billion from the preceding 12 months, according to Boulder, Colo.-based ShipCompliant, whose regulatory-compliance software handles U.S. shipments for more than 2,000 wine brands.

    Mssrs. Blicker, Pierce and Wagner started Last Bottle after acquiring a large quantity of wine and selling it to a flash-sale site that resold it in six hours for twice what the partners paid for it.

    “We quickly sat down and thought, ‘Hmm, we can do this!’” Mr. Blicker said. Two months later, the Last Bottle Wines website opened for business.

    Many ask Mr. Blicker whether flash-sales sites are a relic of the rapid shedding of inventory a number of fine-wine producers undertook starting in 2009 as the impact of the global economic crisis dramatically trimmed orders and allocations. Social networking helped fuel online deals retailers such as Overstock and Groupon, he noted.

    Flash sites also have allowed wine producers to shed inventory rapidly without widespread consumer and market knowledge of the steep price reductions, he noted. Last Bottle offers 30 percent to 70 percent off prices plus 2 percent credits on all orders, then a $20 credit on the actual last bottle sold.

    A U.S. Small Business Administration loan to purchase the 607 Airpark building was obtained through First Republic Bank and TMC Development.

    Jeff Feeney of Coldwell Banker Commercial Brokers of the Valley represented the buyer of 607 Airpark, Wagner Pierce Blicker LLC. Matt Bracco, Glen Dowling and Chris Neeb of Cushman & Wakefield represented the sellers, Carlsen Investments and Panattoni Investments.

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