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Dialing up wine sales over the phone

  • Reminders of good sales techniques are pinned to salesperson Molly Konzen's cubicle wall at the VinoPro office in Santa Rosa, Calif., on April 16, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

In an age when most people have cellphones, caller ID and and a healthy disdain for unsolicited phone calls, a telemarketing company would seem an unlikely place to find growth.

But while the telemarketing industry is shrinking, there's a growing use of phone sales in the wine industry, especially after the recession changed the buying habits of luxury wine drinkers.

VinoPRO, a Santa Rosa company that handles phone sales for 50 wineries including Jackson Family Wines, Constellation Brands and Treasury Wine Estates, brought in $8 million in revenue last year. It has grown 1,800 percent over the last three years, and has been notified that it qualified for the Inc. 500, which lists the fastest-growing companies in the nation, according to Jeff Stevenson, the company's president and CEO.

VinoPro Wine Telemarketing

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"There are several people making six figures in Sonoma County selling wine, using the most antiquated technology on the planet, the telephone," Stevenson said.

"If we had tried to do this five or six years ago, before 2008, the wineries were oblivious to the fact that they needed help in this area. There were heady times, and they didn't feel the need to pursue alternative channels," he said. "Now, you have to give someone a reason to spend money."

The success of telemarketing companies coincides with an ongoing push by wineries to ship directly to consumers, sidestepping the "three-tier" system where wineries sell through wholesalers to retail outlets and restaurants. Direct sales are much more profitable for wineries because they don't have to share their profits with second and third parties.

Last year, wineries shipped 3.18 million cases directly to consumers, according to a recent report by Wines & Vines and ShipCompliant. Direct sales rose to $1.46 billion, up 10 percent from 2011 and 24 percent higher than 2010. VinoPRO sells 0.5 to 1 percent of all direct-to-consumer wine sales, Stevenson said.

One simple reason: people like to talk about wine.

"It's a passion," said Mark Pope, founder of Chatterbox, a Napa company that also does wine telemarketing. "So a discussion abut wine can be fun."

Mark Parton, founder of Call For Wine, a telesales company now owned by Napa-based Wine Direct, says he's always surprised at how easily customers will stop what they're doing to talk to someone from a winery.


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