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A worker pick grapes at a vineyard in Napa Valley. (ROBERT GALBRAITH)
A worker pick grapes at a vineyard in Napa Valley. (ROBERT GALBRAITH)

Small Business Briefing

Entrepreneur hunts for distressed wineries Add to ...

The latest news and information for entrepreneurs from across the web universe, brought to you by the Report on Small Business team. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeSmallBiz

Buy up and drink up

Annual sales of California-made wine have flatlined at about $18 billion (U.S.) in the past four years as consumers choose to drink less expensive brands. Then along came entrepreneur Bill Foley, who is gambling on becoming a commercial force in a struggling industry, Bloomberg writes in a news feature.

Mr. Foley, who made a fortune selling mortgage title insurance during the housing boom, bought Chalk Hill in June, 2010 for a price well below its peak valuation. He's now hunting for more distressed wineries in the Napa Valley and the vineyards of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Mario Zepponi, a principal at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Zepponi & Co., told Bloomberg that Mr. Foley has emerged as the most ambitious individual empire builder in the wine trade since the late Jess Jackson developed Kendall-Jackson Estate Wine Ltd. in the early 1980s. Since 2007, he has spent more than $200 million of his own money and credit on 12 wineries, accounting for more than 20 labels.

He favours aggressive lowball bids. In 2010, he pursued a prestigious New Zealand pinot noir producer named Te Kairanga. It had a book value of $20 million, and Mr. Foley ended up buying it for $8 million.

“I’m not doing anything I haven’t already done,” Mr. Foley told Bloomberg with a shrug. “You buy companies, collapse the back office, keep the front office and enhance the marketing and sales programs.”

His strategy, from a financial perspective, appears to be working. And it's interesting that unlike most winery owners who get into the business for the romance, Mr. Foley does not describe himself as a hobbyist. He's in it for the money.

From crisis comes opportunity

While interning in Mozambique in 2005, and studying how small and medium-sized businesses can play a role in developing economies, Elizabeth Scharpf stumbled across a critical factor in female absenteeism: the women were menstruating, Anne Kreamer writes in Harvard Business Review. Ms. Scharpf, now a 34-year-old graduate of Harvard's schools of business and government, decided Rwanda was a good place to launch her first initiative because local female entrepreneurs had played an integral role in the country's economic renewal in the wake of the genocidal 1994 civil war. Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) discovered banana plants were a local agro-waste fibre, and after experimenting, it concluded they had the potential to be an absorbent, cheap, safe material. The organization now partners with women in Rwanda and other developing countries to provide training, technical expertise and co-investment for the distribution and ultimately the manufacture and launch of their own SHE LaunchPads franchises.

CEO? No thanks. I'll choose entrepreneur

Fox Business is reporting on interesting findings from a Work IQ survey by Intelligent Office in which none of the respondents expressed a desire to be a CEO. Of the 1,075 people questioned, about 65 per cent preferred the title of entrepreneur or independent worker. "We believe there is a paradigm shift happening in our culture as it relates to work style," IO's COO Tom Camplese says. More than 60 per cent want flexible work hours and people overwhelmingly would like more mobility, and not be forced to spend eight hours in an office. More than 65 per cent prefer a job that provides a laptop computer or tablet for more work-space freedom.

EVENTS AND KEY DATES

Strengthen your customer loyalty

Some people claim that taking customer service to the next level is complex. Jeff Mowatt disagrees, which is why he's taking his seminar, Influence With Ease, to several provinces: Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, and Northwest Territories. Mr. Mowatt will share easy-to-apply tips, tools and phrases to generate significant results by strengthening customer loyalty, increasing spending per customer, and recharging customer service teamwork. Early-bird registration is $145, standard is $197.

Brave enough to face the Dragons?

Do you have a hot new invention or the next million-dollar idea? Does your small business need a boost from an investor?Think you can take on the Dragons? The popular CBC show Dragons' Den is "always looking for the hottest entrepreneurs from coast to coast." No experience necessary, but be ready to pitch your business in under five minutes and you could qualify. The next set of auditions take place Feb. 18 in Vancouver and London, Ont.

EDITOR'S PICKS FROM REPORT ON SMALL BUSINESS

A new way to speed up business growth

Partnership marketing is about finding people or businesses who have influence because they already have a relationship with a community, group or marketplace, and getting them to introduce your business to their network. With their simple endorsement of what you have to offer, followed up by a concerted e-mail, direct mail or social media effort, you can open new doors to potential clients and grow your business faster in a new market than if you had just done it on your own, columnist Ryan Caligiuri writes. He also outlines five steps to develop a partnership marketing strategy.

FROM THE ROSB ARCHIVES

New bottles save winery big bucks

Thanks to boosting energy efficiency and buying carbon offsets, Tinhorn Creek is carbon neutral. Greening the winery didn't hike spending. It brought savings, writer Naomi Carniol discovered in this story from March, 2010. The biggest savings came from switching the glass bottles that store wine. The new bottles are about 15-per-cent lighter. Produced using less raw materials, they are more eco-friendly and less expensive. The switch was expected to save the winery a whopping $30,000 a year.

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