Managing Director of Wine in a Glass (WIAG), Michelle Anderson-Sims, is the first to admit that starting a business from an idea is a long, hard learning process. ‘I had lots of failures along the way but learnt from them all. Some lessons you pay a higher price to learn than others,’ she says. She can still recall the first $20 sale which seemed like such a huge milestone to reach at the time but five years on, she is rightfully satisfied with a significantly higher turnover that has reached six digits. This successful company has made its mark on the Australian wine and entertainment industries and is rapidly expanding throughout the world.
When I first tried to catch up with this enterprising businesswoman in 2018, she came up with the best excuse ever. The Commonwealth Games were in full swing and WIAG had been contracted to be the sole provider of 250,000 glasses of Australian wine at the event.
‘They’ve sold out,’ Michelle told me over the phone and texted me photos of the extra pallets they were preparing for a dash to the venues. It was worth the wait. I sat down with Michelle in February 2019 and was able to revisit her extraordinary story as well as get a hint about future developments.
Even if you didn’t get to the Commonwealth Games, chances are you’ve experienced this innovative product if you’ve attended a match at the GABBA or Etihad Stadiums or attended a Pink, Adele or Red Hot Summer Tour Concert. Effectively, WIAG has captured the events market with premium Australian wines pre measured and vacuum sealed in food grade, fully recyclable and reusable PET cups which provide an excellent alternative to glass.
‘We are filling a void,’ explains Michelle. ‘Speed of service at large events is paramount, and when you need to serve five thousand people in a fifteen-minute window, speed of service becomes critical and our portion-controlled wine can help to address this using our pre-packaged products.’
Even cinema, hospital, and aged care chains have recognised the value of WIAG products which are arthritically approved.
While some sales are made directly through their website, the majority are through distributors Australia and world-wide. Currently they are exporting to countries such as Malaysia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea, South America. With Michelle well versed in international trade, she is constantly extending this list.
The quality of the cups and the unique sealing process ensures that the products are tamper evident and have a long shelf life – eighteen months for white wines and two years for red wines. After use they can even be recycled. I’ve tucked my sample cups away for my next bush picnic and Michelle tells me that customers have posted pictures on the WIAG Facebook Page of lemon butter and jam in WIAG cups.
Touring the Echuca manufacturing plant, it becomes evident that this enterprise has required significant investment. Michelle has obtained the exclusive intellectual property from France to use the concept in Australia. It is an expensive exercise to bring a container of empty cups (140,000 pre manufactured and especially designed ‘Sims glass’ cups) from France to Echuca.
‘In-country logistics are a handicap on our business as we are some 2.5 hours from the port but we have factored these costs into our business model so we can maximise employment opportunities for local residents.’
Over a two-year period WIAG undertook and achieved accreditation for HACCP certification. ‘It’s a big investment for a start-up,’ Michelle admits, ‘but a brilliant framework for our business and improved our production practices and quality output.’
Make no mistake. This is big business happening in a rural setting.
If, like me, you thought that Michelle came from a manufacturing or wine industry background, we are all mistaken. I ask about her journey to this point and it is quite inspiring.
First and foremost, Michelle is mother to four children ranging in ages from 22 years old down to 14 years old. It was during a family holiday in Europe that she first stumbled on the concept and realised the opportunity for the Australian market. To that point, with only a secretarial diploma to her credentials, she had been working in series of senior management corporate roles that had earned her the reputation of being good at getting things done, especially when there were difficulties.
Discovering the wine in a glass concept in Europe was an opportunity for her to fill a void in Australia and start her own business.
Michelle admits that her first mistake was in starting out using a similar product from the USA. ‘It was a failure because the market didn’t like the wines produced in the United States.’
She quickly backtracked to the French manufacturers and designed her own ‘Sims Cup’ with the intention of filling them with premium Australian wines. She started out by renting a portion of the premises of one of her wine suppliers, an Echuca based vineyard. She made the decision to purchase the entire property as WIAG rapidly grew, tripling its sales each year.
In the early days of the business Michelle took advantage of a mentoring service which proved to be most useful. Getting the right team around her has been crucial and she is the first to say how lucky she has been. ‘You have to surround yourself with positive people who share your passion and vision for the business.’ A lot of young people, particularly those in their GAP year, gravitate to work with WIAG’s core team who are committed to providing upskilling opportunities.
When it comes to marketing, Michelle admits that it is a handicap being a long way from Melbourne but says that LinkedIn and social media has helped the company to grow. ‘You just have to be creative.’
When it comes to advice for other business owners, Michelle has two key recommendations. ‘Share the vision of your business with staff and, if you see an opportunity, just grab it and run with it.’
KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE