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Written by Nikitas Magel   

NM: From your perspective as a savvy undercover agent in the intriguing business of wine, what are your thoughts on the increasing integration of internet technology into the wine industry in general?  And how does that apply to The Wine Spies, specifically?

AR: Well, there's this whole notion of 'wine 2.0,' which, in my opinion, began when 'web 2.0' started to become a buzzword.  People started declaring companies like mine and others as belonging to a category called 'wine 2.0.'  Whether that's true or not, I don't know.  I think there are some companies that are certainly more innovative and creative in their uses of technology than traditional wine retailers or even many online wine retailers, and I applaud them.  I think I'm in really great company.  There are retailers out there that some might call my competitors and other companies that are doing things in social media.  I think it's virgin territory, largely.  I think there's still a lot of experimenting to be done, and I think it's really great that there are a lot of companies that are willing to experiment.  Now, again, back to us… whether we are a 'wine 2.0' company or not, I'm not quite sure.  Personally, I don't like such labels, and prefer not to be pigeon-holed with what could be a limiting term.  We don't do as much in direct social media on our website as we could, but we've also wanted to keep our model very simple.  And we've been very successful with that model.

NM: Any plans for future changes to The Wine Spies that you're at liberty to divulge?

AR: Yes, you will see change.  And that change will come incrementally.  We don't want bombard, we don't want to do a giant new release.  We will continue to tweak and adjust, and really our focus will remain on the quality of our wines, the quality of our reviews, and — internally, from an operational standpoint — the quality of our execution.  Now, I'll get back to where we're going by explaining first where we've been.  We self-funded this company, and in less than nine months, have paid ourselves back, paid back the loans.  And then a month after that, we became profitable.  So, to achieve those two milestones — becoming debt-free and then profitable within a year in business, where most businesses take a couple of years to achieve — those were huge indicators that we have a winning formula here.  And that just drove home the need to really continue this very critical path that we follow every single day, and to stay on that path through every part of execution, to make sure that we're doing everything right, and that we're taking good care of our customers and good care of our wineries.  And then the milestone that came after that is that we started putting money in the bank.  Which is another incredible milestone for a company, to actually have a cash reserve.  So, from the beginning, Agent White and myself had a commitment to each other, to our mutual success, and to really focus on profitability… not doing things the 'old web' way.  We'd decided we were not going to go for outside money — at least not for a long while, not until we really established the company.  We did everything organically.  And that led to profitability, pay-off of the debt, and actually being able to pay ourselves a salary while putting money away in the bank.  Those are huge things that will contribute to the value of our company, should we ever seek outside investment.

Now, to answer your question in a way that's more meaningful and more practical, as to where we're going in the future, I can only say that we have some interesting plans that will be rolled out incrementally, and they're very exciting.  The rest, at this point, is top-secret.

NM: Fantastic!  Now, hopefully, your answer to this next one won't be quite as secret: What are your thoughts about the future of the wine industry in general?  Where do you see the most significant changes being made in the industry today?

AR: A lot of people have postulated that Amazon will be a real driver for change in the wine industry, specifically with regard to all of the regulatory issues that are really bogging down the industry.  Whether that's true or not, I can only hope that they are.  I do think that, in general, there is definitely more of a movement towards a consumer-direct model, where wineries are selling directly [to customers].  Now, I don't know what to call an intermediary consumer-direct model — maybe that's what we are — where the winery is reaching out to new consumers through us.  Again, we're very unique from any wine retailer in that we're willing to give away that second and third sale; all follow-on sales, right now, belong to the winery.  It's our purpose to do the initial match-making: introducing our customers to new wines, getting them to fall in love with those wines, and then when they want more, to buy it from the wineries.  And that's a real turn-on to the wineries; it's a benefit for them in working with The Wine Spies.  Yes, we're leaving money on the table; yes, we already have relationships with the wineries and could easily make those follow-on sales.  But we wanted to do something different.  And not just on the consumer side, but on the winery side — in support of their consumer-direct efforts, in support of their growing their efforts that way.  Because that's the way that side of the industry is going, and should go.



 

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