(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
For every new business that launches in Orange County, there must be a hundred ideas for a new business, even really good ideas.The step from good idea to new-business launch is a big one.
Former UC Irvine students Matt Zimmer, Jodi Wynn and Doug Allan recently made that step with STACKED Wines LLC. in Newport Beach.
The company makes individual servings of wine and sells them in a four pack -- or to be precise a four-stack -- for about $15. A stack contains the same amount of wine as a regular bottle. So far, the company sells a chardonnay and a merlot.
Click on the photo at left to see more photos of STACKED Wines containers.
STACKED Wines had the "Best Concept Paper" in the 2011 UCI Business Plan Competition,which means the judges thought the idea--at least on paper--was a winner. But stepping from concept to selling STACKED Wines online has taken eight months.
The firm is licensed to sell only in California right now, but is working to get wine seller permits in all other states. The stacks are sold online, at A Market in Newport Beach and Brewery Provisions in Orange. The company expected to launch in a major retail chain in March.
"We're trying to do for wine what the can did for the beer industry," Wynn said. "Until the '50s, beer was sold in large bottles. The aluminum can met with resistance."
STACKED is selling premium wines and the single-serve container is a more sophisticated design than a beer can, Wynn said. One target audience will be people on picnics and hikes. Another is parties.
All three founders earned their MBA degrees at UCI. Zimmer, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan, created the stacked packaging concept. He and Wynn, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of San Francisco, were in the same MBA core group. Allan, an alumnus of the Cornell Hotel School, was in a different core group but brings a background in the wine industry, according to Wynn.
"We used the business plan competition to test how well we worked together," she said. "We had already formed the LLC (before the competition). The competition formalized our business plan and got us in front of investors."
The experience was invaluable, she said, even though STACKED Wines didn't win the $15,000 first prize (that went to CritWalls, software for project-sharing virtual walls). The team's mentor introduced them to potential investors and industry experts.
"Everyone involved in the competition opens their Rolodex to you," she said.
Even so, startup was neither flawless nor instantaneous, she added. "You're bound to make mistakes in the start-up process."
Building contacts for the supply chain took six months. Obtaining alcohol licenses and wholesale licenses took six months too. The firm had to develop air-tight shipping containers to protect the wine.
STACKED Wine has some investors but is looking for more so that the product rollout can be done more broadly.
"We were going to do small sales to get cash flow, but now we realize that our advantage will be as the first mover with this concept so we need to launch big," Wynn said. "California is a big market, especially for wine, but we will go for chains (retailers) not just individual wine shops."