Soutirage takes WMS into the wine cellar
At first glance, a fine Bourdeaux and a warehouse management system would seem like an unlikely pairing. At Soutirage, a Napa Valley wine merchant, they go together like red wine and blue cheese.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to Chad Meyer, the founder of Soutirage, to learn how he and his team have adapted an on-demand warehouse management system (RedPrairie), to track the “provenance” of some of the finest bottles of wine in the world for serious wine drinkers.
Meyer knows a thing or two about fine wines. His father co-founded Silver Oak Cellars back in the 1970’s. As a kid, Meyer worked in Napa Valley vineyards. Today, he describes himself as a serial entrepreneur who manages a company that incubates start ups.
Soutirage, which combines his love of wine and business, is a wine retailer of a different vintage. “We deal in fine wines,” says Meyer. “But we don’t have a store front, you can’t order online, we don’t send out e-mail blasts and we don’t have people visiting us.”
What Soutirage does is act as a concierge or personal wine merchant for serious wine drinkers and collectors. “We deal directly with our clients and then source the wines that will reside in their private collections,” Meyer says. “Our goal is not to sell them one bottle as in a retail shop. Our goal is to sell them 10,000 bottles over the next 30 years.”
For those clients, a wine’s provenance – its history – is paramount. While you might think that one bottle of 1961 Chateau Petreus is the same as another bottle of 1961 Chateau Petreus, in truth, there can be a lot of variation from one bottle to the next, based on how that bottle has been handled over the last fifty years. As Soutirage puts it, five decades of flawless handling can be ruined in twenty minutes in the trunk of someone’s car. And, when it comes to bottles that can run several thousand dollars each, there’s also the potential for counterfeit or altered wines.
One of Soutirage’s selling points is that it will do everything possible to nail down the provenance of the wines it sells and to stand behind that wine after the sale. First, Soutirage sources directly from the winery whenever possible, even on older rare wines. When it can’t get what it needs from a winery, it deals with trusted partners whenever possible. In addition, they provide clients with 360-degree bottle shots so the customer can view the condition of a bottle, the label and the cork and seal prior to a purchase. “As we are assembling a parcel of wine, we have a handle on every bottle, where it came from, where it’s going and what our clients already have in their homes,” Meyer says.
Tracking the provenance is where the WMS comes into play. When a bottle arrives at Soutirage’s warehouse, the bottle is confirmed against the PO, entered into the WMS system and photographed. The system will create a serialized bar code label that not only identifies the bottle but also the source. Serialization allows Soutirage to see if it is getting bad wine from any one source. To prevent counterfeits, the tamper resistant label dissolves if it is peeled away from the bottle. The system will then recommend a putaway location in the warehouse.
“We isolate unique SKUs and we try to group like bottles in like locations,” Meyer says. “If we have a wine where there is significant bottle to bottle variation, our sales team can refer back to those 360-degree bottle shots and then recommend which bottle the pickers should select.”
In all, the WMS is tracking 6,700 SKUs and several times that many bottles. In addition to stocking the bottles it will sell to customers, Soutirage also provides storage for some customers’s collections.
Why did Soutirage choose an on-demand solution? “One of my focuses in any of the businesses that we take on is to focus on the things we do well and push off to subcontractors the things we don’t do well,” Meyer says, who added that Soutirage was already using an on-demand ERP system from NetSuite before implementing the WMS. “IT is one of those things that we don’t do well, so an on-demand solution for our WMS made a lot of sense.”