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Monday, August 19, 2013, 4:00 pm

Inc. names VinoPro to list of fastest-growing

Debuts in top 5% of Inc. 5000

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    SANTA ROSA — VinoPro’s major shift two years ago to becoming the contract telesales force for wineries has propelled the company into the ranks of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S.

    VinoPro principals Lori Adams and Jeff Stevenson with investor Mike Houlihan

    VinoPro principals Lori Adams (center) and Jeff Stevenson (right) with investor Mike Houlihan

    VinoPro (707-396-5000, vinopro.com) this year debuts on the Inc. 5000 list of private companies with the fastest revenue growth in the past three years. VinoPro ranked No. 238 with 1,810 percent revenue growth to $2.4 million in 2012 from $126,000 in 2009. The New York-based publication publishes the list Tuesday.

    VinoPro sold more than $8 million in wine in 2012.

    “We’re on track for a whole lot more in 2013,” said Jeff Stevenson, VinoPro founder and chief executive officer. Yet the company is having to limit how many new winery clients it takes on to be able to allow the sales team to spend meaningful time with consumers of existing brand clients. And some prospective vintner clients haven’t been collecting enough information from tasting room visitors, specifically phone numbers.

    He estimates VinoPro’s 40 salespeople will ring up about 1 percent of overall direct-to-consumer wine sales this year and help employ about 500 in winery tasting rooms and shipping departments as well as fulfillment and distribution centers.

    “More than 60 percent of our sales are between 4:30 and 8 p.m., but wineries close at 4 to 5 p.m.,” Mr. Stevenson said. “If wineries wanted to increase their sales by 20 percent to 30 percent, they should stay open another two to three hours.”

    The winery-to-consumer sales segment of direct wine sales amounted to $1.52 billion in the U.S. in the 12 months ending in July, up 12 percent from that period a year before, according to the most recent data from ShipCompliant and Wines & Vines.

    VinoPro also has been growing in headcount, mostly in sales. VinoPro has brought on 18 new salespeople in recent months and now has a staff of 53 in its 8,000 square feet of southwest Santa Rosa office space. The company is negotiating for 4,000 more square feet.

    A fast-growing part of the business is the 9-month-old wine club division, which has 22 salespeople. A suggestion of a sales rep based on the company’s success in cutting attrition rates from nearly 30 percent at the depths of the economic recession to 11 percent for clubs VinoPro has been working with for at least two years.

    “We have sold almost 2,500 wine clubs over the phone since the beginning of this year, and we have not poured a drop of wine,” Mr. Stevenson said.

    Leveraging a custom-built data interface with winery e-commerce systems, VinoPro salespeople can get a notification as quickly as five minutes after an online order is placed, down from a half-hour lag as of late last year. Working from market research that contacting — “touching,” in sales lingo — a customer soon after a sale results in more sales, VinoPro brand reps call customers immediately.

    The company has found that nearly one-third of website purchases require a change to the shipping address for various reasons. While on the call, the rep can offer wines not available online or were difficult to find, cross-sell from other brands in a wine company’s portfolio, hear about upcoming events related to the brand and, recently, consider wine tourism packages. This results in a 200 percent average upsale on online orders, according to Mr. Stevenson.

    Though some wine companies are initially hesitant to have their telesales reps cross-selling between its brands, VinoPro has experienced as much as a 25 percent bump in sales for giving consumers such options.

    VinoPro in the past three years has invested heavily in customer relationship management, data-interchange and call center software to allow its sales team to have enough real-time information in front of them to develop relationships with consumers during conversations. Some customers make purchases only after several such conversations with a rep, which may result in sales only after several times on the phone, according to Mr. Stevenson.

    “Our partnership with VinoPro has produced amazing results, and they deliver on their commitments,” said Kory Erickson, vice president and general manager of Treasury Wine Estates, in a statement. “Their technology innovation and sales leadership in the direct-to-consumer space is something we place tremendous value in.”

    Because the focus is on developing a long-term relationship between brands and consumers, VinoPro claims the rate of those called who don’t want to be contacted again is only one in 200 on a list, or a half-percent. That’s why the company has developed a two-week sales training program, seeks salespeople from outside the wine industry and makes sure its CRM system shows the rep in real time important dates such as a consumer’s birthday, anniversary or planned dinner parties.

    “Once you show you care about their drinking habits, they will let you back in their lives,” Mr. Stevenson said.

    VinoPro started in February 2008 as a bottled-wine broker and telesales company. In 2011, Mr. Stevenson listened to an accountant and brought in investors Mike Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine Co. and author of New York Times best-seller The Barefoot Spirit, and Martin Jones to recapitalize the company and improve professionalism and processes.

    “We focused on the scalable portion of the business, which was customer relations, over the brokerage house business,” Mr. Houlihan said.

    One driver for VinoPro’s current surge in hiring is the recent one-year suspension of the employer contribution mandate under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to Mr. Stevenson.

    Staffing was kept at 49 for several months to be under the 50-employee “pay vs. play” threshold in the health care law. Consultants told him that hiring more could add $200,000 to VinoPro’s health care costs.

    “We would have to hire 20 or 30 more salespeople to make up for that,” Mr. Stevenson said.


    Correction, Aug. 20, 2013: VinoPro had $2.4 million in revenue in 2012 and $126,000 in 2009. Wine sales topped $8 million in 2012.

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