TBA PicFor the second year in a row, our client VinoPro again made the Inc. 500 list, showing 190% growth over last year.

In 2013, they hit the ultra-prestigious Inc.500 list where they ranked No. 238 with a whopping 1,810% growth. Now, that is something to cheer about! But, like many startups, they had to make major changes before they realized success in their industry.

VinoPro has a great brand story, complete with all the management and marketing buzz words of the past half-decade from “pivot” to “engagement,” from the “entrepreneurial culture” to “empowerment,” and from “drive” to “lean startup.”

VinoPro started out in 2007 as an ordinary wine brokerage house that bought wines from wineries, warehoused them, called customers with private wine cellars across the country, and made sales over the telephone. Next, every sale had to clear compliance (each state has its own laws regarding beverage alcohol and many don’t allow direct shipping), package and ship the wines, collect the receivables from each client, and then replenish their warehouse with more wines. Nothing new here. It was a relatively standard wine brokerage model with no real scalability.

Today it bears little resemblance to its original business model. It all changed a few years back when VinoPro Founder and CEO, Jeff Stevenson, reinvented the brand. He took it from a wine brokerage house to an out-sourced, out-bound call center. A what? Let’s back up a bit.

Stevenson, with the help of his consultants, Houlihan and Jones, called a “time out.” Together they examined the core competencies that were driving the current business and realized it wasn’t the buying, storing, and shipping of wine, and it wasn’t the collection of receivables or the paying of invoices. It was the real-time telephone relationship selling that was driving the business.

Stevenson’s core competencies came from his experience as a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and master programmer.  So, together they set about using his unique specializations in sales and software to provide the wineries with incremental sales from the wineries’ customer lists.

Slowly at first, he began to pivot from a strictly brokerage model to a hybrid brokerage sales business, eventually evolving into a full-on relationship sales service business. Stevenson exemplified the lean start-up by doing all of his build-out work in-house, including wiring, equipment, and office space which reduced his need for capital. He shopped for used office furniture and relied heavily on cash flow management to achieve this transformation over a period several years.

He set his considerable programing skills on integrating telephone technology combined with customer relations management technology, and came up with super-efficient, proprietary software which significantly boosted his business. He created a true entrepreneurial company culture. It included changing the way he was compensating his callers from hourly to a growth, sales, and profit based model. This attracted engaged high achievers and weeded out low producers who could no longer get paid for attendance alone. He changed the title of his callers to “personal wine stewards” and invested heavily in training, gaming, and teamwork.

VinoPro depended on each winery’s data collection, point of sale practices, and software to do his job most efficiently. To improve his relationship with his winery clients, Stevenson began working as a consultant to help them improve these critical areas. Recently he developed a data collection kiosk for tasting rooms that offers incentives for information about their tasters. This innovation alone has doubled the number of phone numbers collected from those winery clients.

VinoPro is now one of the top telephone sales services companies in the wine industry, and the only wine industry business in the Inc.500. As Stevenson says, “At VinoPro, we have mastered an ancient form of communication – the telephone!”  Not only that, but he have transformed his startup into a nationally recognized successful brand. Congratulations, VinoPro!