August 20, 2014, 12:33 PM

How Wine.com.br grows its Brazilian e-retail vineyard

A tour of Wine.com.br’s office shows the laid-back company culture and business smarts behind the retailer’s 100% online sales growth in 2013.

Lead Photo

Ricardo Flores, CMO, Wine.com.br

Employees heading to the office of Wine.com.br near Vitória, Brazil leave their fancy stilettos and Chuck Taylors at home. The 300 or so local staffers at the retailer, No. 46 in the Internet Retailer Latin America 500, kick off their shoes and place them in cubbies upon entering the casual headquarters of the wine retailer. If workers need a break a few hours later, they can lounge on one of the beanbags dotted around the office, and for lunch they can take a company-provided shuttle into town to eat at one of the restaurants with a view of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Wine.com.br wants to create a place where people want to work and where employees feel valued, says Ricardo Flores, director of marketing. Happy employees, he says, will naturally help fuel sales. The numbers indicate the philosophy is working. Wine.com.br grew its web sales 101% in 2013 to $58.4 million from $29.1 million a year earlier. “Last month was the best month we’ve ever had,” Flores says of July.

About 85% of current Wine.com.br employees started in the call center and moved up through the ranks, says Flores, who works not from a corner office but from a seat amid the call center representatives. “It helps me to know what is going on,” Flores says. To help employees, whose average age is 25 years old, better understand customers’ needs and issues, all Wine.com.br staffers must spend a couple weeks each year working as a customer representative manning the phones.

But no matter the department a Wine.com.br employee works in, the retailer aims to be as transparent as possible. Digital boards hang from the ceiling  of the office displaying in real time revenue compared to monthly goals, and other key metrics such as cost of merchandise and B2B sales, which currently account for about 5% of the business. “They get the same information we provide to shareholders,” says Flores.

Besides open communication, light-hearted jokes are common. On any given day CEO Rogerio Salume might play dress up after losing a bet that the retailer won’t reach an ambitious sales goal or metric. Most recently, he spent the day as a Baiana, a traditional Brazilian woman who dons elaborate, billowy ethnic dresses.

Be it barefoot or costumed, the retailer’s staff is busy and was especially busy this month, expanding into a new 73,000-square-foot facility across the street which houses its call center and additional warehouse and fulfillment space. There’s more space available for rent next door to the new warehouse, which Flores says Wine.com.br might snap up in a few years’ time. The retailer employs about 60 warehouse workers, Flores says.

It will need the space to continue support new ventures, including a foray into selling craft beer online in Brazil with its launch of HaveANiceBeer.com.br last year. Sales for the site grew 120% year over year this year, in its first year of operation. Through the site, Flores wants to introduce Brazilians to craft ale and lager. Brazilians love their beer; they just don’t have, crave or know about the good stuff, he says. Only about 5% of beer in Brazil is craft beer, Flores says. (In the U.S., about 7.8% of the beer market is craft beer, according to the Brewers Association.) The retailer will start selling coffee next year via a European acquisition, Flores says.

Other ventures aside, Wine.com.br has its hands full making wine approachable to Brazilians, Flores says. Wine.com.br is trying to change the stereotype in Brazil that wine is only for the affluent. As part of that effort, it is focusing more on driving repeat customers than finding new ones. At the end of July, its wine club had 67,000 members who pay a fee for a shipment of two, four or six bottles once a month. 75% of those who sign up for the wine club for one shipment come back and buy again, Flores says. A team of five Wine.com.br sommeliers, one in France and the rest in Brazil, help the retailer decide which wines to carry on Wine.com.br, and the retailer makes personalized recommendations to shoppers based on wine consumption, Flores says.

Much of the wine the retailer sells, around 85%, makes its way to shoppers via plane. The retailer has contracted with Brazil airlines including TAM Airlines to fill empty space on flights in Brazil with its wine, getting around Brazil’s lack of roads in many areas. The bottles are packed in a patented box that can withstand being thrown 4 to 5 feet without the bottle breaking. The box took about eight months to design, Flores says.

Wine.com.br has come a long way from its early days 11 years ago, when it was known as Wine Station and delivered only to shoppers in Vitória, who placed orders by calling one of the owners’ phones.

“As we grow, we are changing the thought in Brazil that wine is expensive and only for the rich and glamorous,” Flores says. “You don’t need a fancy glass or special knowledge to enjoy wine. You just need good company.”

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