Established in 2004 to fill a necessary niche in the logistics market, Wine Works provides its clients peace of mind with their product; they are prepared to handle anything once the wine is in the bottle, including export container packaging and reworking for shipments overseas. “Previously, wine logistics was just handled by standard transport companies,” says General Manager Kent Brown. “The owners of the company determined that there needed to be a gap in there that had a bit more of a focus on the wine industry and delivering logistical efficiencies for them. We are wholly and solely focused on wine; that’s where our experience lies, that’s where our expertise lies, and that’s where our passion lies. The wine industry is one that’s a little bit different from others, so it does need a different approach to it.
We organise either standard transport or refrigerated transport, depending on what our clients are after – that might be from one bottle up to a B-Double full of wine, and everything in between. We move barrels around; we move containers around. Basically, anything to do with wine, we’ll hop in there and help move it. We offer premium warehousing that’s climate and temperature controlled – between 15 and 19 degrees, which is the ideal storage for wine. We’ve got four warehouses up in Lonsdale, which is about 15 minutes from the McLaren Vale Wine Region, and that’s all temperature controlled. It’s about 10,000 pallets’ capacity.”
Brown joined Wine Works in 2010 with the intention to emphasise the company’s commitment to customer service. His loyal staff are always ready for action, using the power of communication to make sure that each step runs smoothly and efficiently. “We’ve built up a good base of knowledge in terms of how to handle any logistical problems that present themselves in regards to our clients,” he says. “Quite often, the focus is the same; whether it’s a bottle or a B-double, it’s all about timing. It’s about getting it to the marketplace and getting it on the shelf so Joe Blow can wander in on a Friday afternoon and know that it will be there. If it’s not there, he’s going to buy something else. If he likes it, all of a sudden one of our clients has lost a customer. It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help us.
What drives our business is the relationships we build with our clients. I spend a lot of my time out on the road, catching up with a winemaker for a beer and a chat, seeing how things are going, seeing if there are any problems – not necessarily with what we’re doing for them, but just in general – and trying to help out in that aspect. That’s a very important cornerstone of our sales and marketing approach, but also just our service in general; being out there and understanding day-to-day what issues our clients are having. Suppliers are much the same.
Communication is key within any industry, but certainly within logistics and transport. Trucks break down, tires go flat, people run forklifts through pallets – it’s part and parcel of being in the industry. It’s about making your clients aware of what’s going on and keeping them up to speed. So, they’re not getting a phone call from their client, but they’re getting a phone call from us with a solution already, and life’s a lot easier for them. It’s building those relationships, being there as a sounding board – as a bit of a consultant – and understanding their business. A big part of being in the wine industry is integrating ourselves into our client’s business, understanding when they generally bottle, how many sku’s they’re going to be bottling, where their clients are, are they pushing out cartons or pallets, how they’re turning things over, and how we can find savings for them.”
Last year, Wine Works was the well-deserved winner of Wine Industry Suppliers Australia’s Export Award, and have received a few nominations for Overall Supplier of the Year; they also have an upcoming nomination in the Logistics and Distribution category for this year’s presentation. Brown and his team are always looking to expand their business to accommodate both new and repeat clients, encouraging their growth along the way. “In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve lost two clients and I’ve probably picked up about 120,” he says. “So, we’ve really got ourselves out there in terms of making people aware of us and what we do. As soon as someone’s had some work done by us and had that one working experience, they tend to keep coming back.
We’re constantly adding trucks to our fleet. We’re just building a new warehouse with some new SOLAS regulations that are coming in regards to export. We’ve been focusing on being able to deliver a package to our customers that handles all the needs that their freight forwarders and their customers have. Aside from the operational stuff, there’s a real focus on software, in terms of making sure our clients have it as easy as possible. We deal with clients that might just be a one or two-man band, and they don’t necessarily have someone that sits in the office all day and puts orders in. If they’re out in the vineyard and they’ve got their iPad on, they can put an order in, check their stock, upload an invoice, and track where the deliveries are; that’s where our real focus is, trying to make it as easy as possible for our clients so they can focus on what their main strengths are.”
Unfortunately, one of the main developments affecting the wine industry, according to Brown, is the growing presence of Coles and Woolworths; their success in the market has allowed them to charge less per branded bottle, while most independent wineries can’t afford to match theses convenient prices. “Every year in business, there’s a slight increase on rates and people’s wages go up,” he says. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, the price of wine really hasn’t grown in terms of a bottle product, and that’s been primarily driven by your Woolworths and Coles of the world being in the market and being able to produce wine at a reasonable rate where people are expecting to pay $10 for a decent bottle of wine.
For clients of mine doing 5,000 cases a year, they can’t afford to sell a bottle of wine at $10. It’s, $35, $40, or $50 a bottle and, more often than not, it’s worth it. But, there’s been a real downgrading of the value of the product, and that’s been driven primarily by the big guys being there and flooding the market with these cheap, generic, made-up wineries. Ultimately, that’s how it will affect us, in the fact that you’ll see wineries making less or trying to find the cheapest option. We don’t sell ourselves at the cheapest option. We provide a premium service at a reasonable price.”
After starting with the company as a Logistics Manager, Brown took over the business in 2012; his previous experience allowed him to assess necessary areas of improvement and direct workflow accordingly. “The real focus has been lifting that customer service, really understanding our clients, and turning the business around to not only be profitable, but allow us to invest money back in the business so we can continue to improve our product and service,” he says. “We’ve now got sixteen employees, two extra trucks, and are building another new warehouse. All this stuff gives you confidence as a client of ours, to see that we’re growing, we’re succeeding, and we’re trying to invest that money back in our business; that’s been the real cornerstone of what we’re trying to do. We want to continue to grow, expand, and service as many wineries as we possibly can, because we think we’d give them an added benefit and a bit of a leg up against the competition.
Wine Works as a whole is primarily driven by our relationships with our clients, our communication with our clients, and our ability to go that extra step. There are so many businesses that have rigid rules where if the order’s not there then it’s not going. We understand that doesn’t always work for our clients – that’s not always driven by our clients. If they get an order at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon for 10 pallets of wine, and it’s got to be there Monday morning in Melbourne, it could be the difference between that wine selling or that wine sitting in a warehouse for two years until they can find someone else to buy it. So, we just make those things happen.
Sometimes you’ve got to bend a few arms and call in a few favours, but the key is to make things happen for our clients, take the stress and the headache out of it, and enable them to focus on what they do best, which is make great wine. If they can just focus on that and continue to do that, and we can do our part, I feel like we’re giving back a little bit and helping them out.”