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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, February 25, 2013, 6:50 am

Fine wine surge propels VinLux expansion

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    NAPA — VinLux Fine Wine Transport, a logistics company for fine wines going to California trade accounts, more than doubled the size of its south Napa facility and staff to accommodate a surge in wine shipments and demand for its services.

    VinLuxIn January, VinLux (707-265-4100, vinluxtransport.com) was able to add about two dozen client wine producers by expanding the size of the warehouse by two and a half times in a shift across Highway 29 to 80 Technology Ct. in Napa Valley Gateway Business Park. A number of the new customers had been waiting since September because the previous 98,000-square-foot facility at 21 Executive Way wasn’t able to efficiently accommodate their wine, according to President Steve Loe. The customer list now tops 400.

    “There have been some consumer changes in tastes, and they have gotten used to buying less expensive wine,” Mr. Loe said. “It appears they are coming back to buying more expensive wines.”

    VinLux delivers producers’ wine to mainly to restaurants, wine shops and hotels but also limited shipments to chain retailers such as Costco Wholesale, Trader Joe’s and Raley’s. Annualized delivery growth has averaged about 35 percent for the past two and a half years, according to Mr. Loe. With the move to the new facility, delivery volume rose 16 percent December from the previous December, and daily volume there is 30 percent higher than the average day in December. VinLux moved more than 3 million bottles out of the previous warehouse in December.

    “We’re in line this year to exceed volume of the previous two years,” he said.

    The new warehouse was configured with wider case rack aisles to speed forklift access and arranging high-volume brands near the truck docks, limiting the space required for staging incoming and outgoing inventory.

    While the company workforce fluctuates based on shipping volume, it is more consistent than that of some wine fulfillment, logistics and distribution businesses, because trade accounts will reorder depleted stock regularly. VinLux currently employs nearly 100, mostly split between warehouse workers and drivers of the company’s 35 trucks to deliver to Northern California accounts. The company has also been adding more customer-service staffing.

    To speed orders to the southernmost end of the state, particularly for those needing next-morning delivery, VinLux partners with Pacific Wine Distributors, boosting the total effective truck fleet to 60 vehicles.

    By staffing up before the move, working nights and weekends and being helped by the late-year bottle depletions, VinLux was able to avoid a 21-day shutdown to be moved to the new location by the end of the lease term.

    Along with the expanded, more-automated facility, VinLux in January rolled out new computerized options for customers and added three more information technology specialists this fall to move more programming in house. One new service is the ability to upload “flat” computer files for orders, such as from Intuit QuickBooks, through the VinLux customer website, saving the expense of a proprietary electronic data interchange. Customers can use that to electronically track orders and inventory.

    Also, bills of lading are now scanned and available for download via the customer portal for proof of delivery. And, customers now can download Microsoft Excel-compatible spreadsheet files of VinLux reports, making them more useful than those previously available in Adobe PDF format.

    VinLux was started in 2008 as a joint venture between Napa-based Biagi Bros. Warehousing & Transportation and Santa Rosa-based Jackson Family Wines. Its new location is next door to one of Biagi’s several large southern Napa County wine warehouses that largely serve three-tier  distribution and the recently expanded direct-to-consumer fulfillment center for Wineshipping.

    Such proximity allows wine producers to move inventory more easily from one sales channel to another, according to Mr. Loe.

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