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Wine Importer Business Idea

Learning how to become a wine importer can be an excellent small business idea or addition to your existing gourmet enterprise. According to the Wine Institute, Americans drank 767 million gallons of wine in 2009. Approximately 26% of the total wine consumption in the United States comes from imported wine.

Wineries have existed for thousands of years. Imported wines from France and Italy employ unique characteristics that emphasize quality, not quantity. Imported wine benefits from the perception that it is of higher quality than its domestic counterpart. Domestic wines are increasingly popular, but imported wines are always in demand.

How to Become a Wine Importer

Begin learning how to become a wine importer by evaluating your key startup decisions ahead. Consider these questions:

  • How will you find wine to import?
  • How will you sell or distribute the wine after it is imported?
  • Are you currently involved in the sale of alcoholic beverages?
  • What steps will you have to take to begin importing wine?
  • Where will you store your imported wine stock until you sell it?

As a wine importer, your primary responsibilities will include:

  • Contacting and forming partnerships with wineries outside the United States
  • Managing wine shipments
  • Investigating sales avenues for your imported stock
  • Delivering wine to sellers or distributors
  • Direct sales of imported wine
  • Conducting research into wine trends
  • Keeping up with wine industry news
  • Developing advertising campaigns for imported wine sales
  • Managing and examining the financial health of your wine importing business

Getting Started as a Wine Importer

The importation and sale of alcoholic beverages is highly regulated in the United States. A big part of learning how to become a wine importer involves traversing through all of the laws and regulations. There are a number of required permits to obtain. Begin the application process early because receiving certificates and licenses after applying can take quite a bit of time. Most regulatory agencies offer the convenience of online applications. Some applications require paid fees. Required federal permits and applications include:

  • Employers Tax Identification Number (EIN): The EIN is required for many of the permits and applications you must later obtain. Apply for your EIN with the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Basic Permit: Apply for your importer basic permit with the Alcohol Tax and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (TTB).
  • Certificate of Label Approval (COLA): A COLA is required for each unique bottle label you import. Apply at the TTB website.

In addition to federal regulations, you must follow state laws governing the import and sale of alcoholic beverages. A liquor license is typically the minimum requirement. Check with your state’s alcohol control board about additional required permits.

Because the market for imported wines is wide, there are a variety of ways to get your stock in to the buyer’s hands. One way is to form partnerships with local sellers for sale to the public. If you run your own liquor store, direct sales with an effective display and marketing campaign will increase sales. Encourage customers to try your imported wines by hosting wine tasting events. Speak with restaurant owners about supplying imported wines for their customers.

Keys for Success in Your Wine Business

Your primary objective when thinking about how to become a wine importer is to start and run a successful import business . Keep these keys to success in mind:

  • Only offer superior products. People drink imported wine because of its exceptional reputation. Domestic wines have vastly improved in taste. They are also generally less expensive. Your imported wine must be of superior quality in order for people to choose it over less costly options.
  • In your advertising, always emphasize the benefits your customers receive. For example, drinking wine in moderation has been shown to have health benefits. Or, promote the sophisticated and robust taste of imported wines. Give customers a reason to purchase your wine products.
  • Price strategically. Nobody expects imported wine to be the least expensive wine around. The cost of importing, storing, delivering, and paying taxes and import fees ensures that imported wine will have a higher price tag. People do pay more, however, for a richer experience and higher quality. Ensure that your prices are such that they are acceptable to customers and still give you a healthy profit.

Expansion Ideas

Understanding how to become a wine importer and turning that knowledge into a profit gives you the opportunity to increase your bottom line by expanding. Consider the following ideas for growth:

  • Increase the amount of wine you import
  • Open your own liquor store or restaurant
  • Add online sales to your services (note that this will require additional licensing)
  • Teach evening or weekend courses on how to pair gourmet wines and food
  • Expand your importing business to include other gourmet products such as cheeses, liquor, beer, olive oil and vinegar
  • Branch off into tourism and conduct guided tours to famous wine regions around the world

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