Final Part of Memoirs of Cape Wine Import: How to set up Shop

Insight Magazine wraps-up their journey with Cape Wine Import with gritty details of the import business in Norway.

Written by: Mia Westby

11.02.2021

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Logistics fun and games—Carina Elise Godou (Left) and Mia Westby (Right) Photo by: Phillip Isrenn

Since we started Cape Wine Import, about a dozen people have reached out to us expressing their dreams and sometimes plans of starting their own wine import company.

We try to be as polite about it as we can, when we crush their dreams. Maybe we made it look easy, which is a compliment I suppose, but in this final article we wish to be candid. Neither Carina nor I have taken any salary from the company and have personally added an additional 150k of our own savings on top of investor equity. Today we are looking at an asset value increase of 1233% in one year and we are assuming a steady, exponential growth in 2021. Our numbers are solid, not because it is easy, but because we take cost management extremely seriously.

  The people who have reached out to us for guidance is a diverse group. Some want to import fruit wine from Lithuania, some want to start an import company to order half a pallet of wine from Argentina, one discussed bulk wine from China and one had an agency for a pink vodka that apparently the NBA players were obsessed with. We are not going to stand in anyone’s way, but we thought we should do them a favour and share the unpleasant facts, before they lose all their savings. 

Lesson #5 to Aspiring Wine Importers:
“Don’t forget lesson #1: It’s not easy”

Starting a wine import company in Norway requires a special permit from The Norwegian Tax Administration. Time frame: six months to one year, if they grant it. We did it in four months, but Carina is, by any standard, a machine. I’m not completely sure she is not AI; she claims she has titanium in her back and that’s why it beeps through security. 

Costs: Deposit 40k, setting up the company 30k. 

Carina, or as we call her MacGyver, has the unique ability to absorb knowledge like no one I have ever met. She keeps track of five different and complicated spreadsheets, consisting of tax and various fees, the ever-changing variables in accounting, profit per bottle based on location of the Wine Monopoly, volume and so on. She had to notify the Wine Monopoly that the formula on their website was incorrect and sent an alternative calculation to the tax office because of a clumsy formula in their systems that she managed to simplify. 

She has probably saved our company at least half a million NOK in just accounting, so this is an expense that aspiring wine importers need to add to their budget. 

We also negotiated down the shipping prices by researching several companies. The worst offer we got would generate a loss of approximately 150 NOK per bottle—and since we didn’t start by researching shipping—we had everything ready and our entire business was on the verge of collapse before we had even begun. Luckily, we found a more sensible company to handle the shipping, but since we are not using the one our storage partner recommended, we usually have a small stand-off at the dock in Oslo. To solve this, we call in favours from friends and family, if a shipment is not sizable enough to justify the extra 5000 NOK in transportation from the dock to our storage in Moss, we stack the wine onto the truck ourselves.

When the wine arrives in Moss, it is handled by a logistic service and if it’s not packaged in a certain way it will be more expensive to unpack. It’s then sorted in a controlled tax storage and the Wine Monopoly will let the wine hold court there, making it difficult to order, until a scheduled launch. And if you do everything correctly and make it through several deadlines, in time your wine can be ordered through the Wine Monopoly’s website. 

But how will anybody know about your wine? The Wine Monopoly only has a few shelf-spots available for random wine and the best indicator to receive one of these is low price, which in turn will eat away on your small profit. 

Carina and her boyfriend Henrik, pairing delicious Le Lude Brut Rosé with burgers = Bubbles & Burgers 

The holy grail for wine importers is “basisutvalget”: To have the wine in the physical stores to be sold at all the category six Wine Monopolies (the big ones) in the country. The best way to earn a spot in “basisutvalget” is through winning a tender. The Wine Monopoly gives a description like this: Red wine from country x in district y, x % alcohol and maximum y NOK, tastes x, certified ethical and have had both parents present during childhood. My point is; it’s extremely specific. 

Cape Wine Import plans to deliver on a few of these tenders in 2021 and three bottles of citrus vodka and three bottles of rosé wine from Portugal are on their way to Norway to participate/dominate. We plan on doing crowdfunding, selling equity in the company to finance the specific wine/liquor, if we win. This is a completely new and innovative approach; low risk and will include more people on our wine journey. If you are interested, contact us, we are not difficult to find. It’s a much better idea than setting up your own shop.

Besides this, there is HORECA, the restaurant market. Selling directly to them, we skip the Wine Monopoly fee and they get a lower purchase price. Not low, but lower. However, it’s incredibly difficult to penetrate the market. Large importers and established champagne and beer companies pay the rent for clubs and restaurants to be at the top of their menu and visible in the restaurants. They have marketing budgets that we can’t compete with and sometimes this sort of sweetener also demands exclusivity. 

Mia Westby aka. DJ Mium at SHE Equality Matters in Oslo Spektrum 2019.

Nevertheless, we did meet with the owners of TIFFANI Frogner, an eclectic selection of businessmen that both love the wine and see the potential we have. When the city opens up again, we have several events planned there; Cap Classique tasting with Sommelier Urban Substans, gin tasting with Cape Town Gin and Safari Afterwork, where I will brush up on my DJ skills as DJ Mium and go behind the decks. Oh—And our wine is always found on the menu there. Goodbye COVID-19! Hello, TIFFANI Frogner! We hope to see some of our readers there very soon.  •