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As wine retail chain moves online, relationships with suppliers come in handy

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Although his competitors soaked up the online wine retail space while he focused on expanding his brick-and-mortar portfolio from one to nine Bourbon Street Wine & Spirits locations in New Jersey, Michael Wade is attempting to snatch up flash-sale market share by leveraging the relationships he has built with wine suppliers and wholesalers since his first store opened in Phillipsburg 17 years ago.

On WineFlash.com, Wade offers one popular wine to U.S. consumers each day at the best price available on the Web. While his business model closely follows other wine flash sites like New Jersey-based WinesTilSoldOut.com, Wade’s platform stands out from its competition by providing free shipping to customers that complete a minimum three or four bottle order — a perk made possible by Wade’s connections with nationwide suppliers who need reliable channels to distribute their surplus of certain vintages.

“Some of the wines featured on our site would normally sell for $100, but with the economy the way it is, there’s not a large market for them anymore. So, instead of suppliers being stuck with cases of these fantastic wines taking up warehouse space, they give us fantastic deals on them to pass on to our customers,” Wade said. “But based on shipping costs, a $20 bottle of wine could end up costing $50 when it’s delivered, so I knew the free shipping would be a great selling feature. What made it work for us is the things we thought were basic for retail stores — like helping distributors unload their trucks — gave us a good reputation in the industry over the years, so we get in touch with different suppliers and get the wines we want pretty simply.”

Wade said New Jersey’s direct shipment law — enacted by Gov. Chris Christie on Jan. 17, 2012, to permit wineries to take orders online and ship their goods directly to consumers in the state and nation — is proof that “the Internet is the direction the wine industry is going,” which pushed him to go forward with launching WineFlash.com in September.

While the additional competition from in-state and out-of-state wineries as a result of the law hasn’t affected Wade’s Internet venture yet, he wants to maintain his flash website’s growth trajectory in the future by offering a larger variety of wines, as well as food pairings for his featured wine of the day.

“Many flash sites sell wine at good prices and ship it to your house quickly, but we’re trying to be different by being more service-oriented to capture what we do in our stores,” Wade said. “It’s more of a lifestyle that we’re going for, and it’s why I make sure that I’m running this site as store number 10 for my company.”

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