Q: I am thinking about starting a wine import business. What do I need to do to get started? I would imagine there are health requirements for importing wine into the United States market. What literature or books can I read on this topic?
A: Contact your local Alcoholic Beverage Control agency (usually a state office) for information on licensing. Importing wine, even if it is not for sale, usually requires a liquor license. You'll want to legally register your brand name and your labels so you get intellectual property protection for them.
Shipping alcohol or other imported products into the country typically also requires a customs broker, who works to complete the forms and pay duties on goods to the U.S. Customs Bureau on behalf of its clients. The U.S. Customs Service has good information available for would-be importers on its website, http://www.customs.ustreas.gov, and it also publishes a booklet called "A Basic Guide to Importing", which can be purchased for under $10 from Amazon.com.
If your product contains at least 7 percent alcohol by volume, you should also contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department, whose web site is http://www.atf.treas.gov. The ATF is responsible for testing alcoholic beverages and granting label approval for wine. Wine that is less than 7 percent alcohol by volume is not within their jurisdiction. Call the ATF office in your city or state to find out what requirements you may need to meet before you can begin your wine import business.
There are several good books available on starting an import business, and myriad books on selecting and selling wines. You might pick up Kenneth Weiss's "Building an Import/Export Business" (Wiley; 2002) and "Start Your Own Import/Export Business" (Entrepreneur; 2007) for starters.
Q: I've operated a successful outdoor patio restoration business for 10 years, but find that winter months bring a major slowdown in revenue. I often have to lay off employees and even get part-time jobs myself to get by. Is there anything I can do?
A: Rather than taking an unrelated part-time job during the off-season, why not extend your company's brand and services into the winter months? Brainstorm with your employees and some long-time customers about products or services you could offer that would bring in revenue throughout the entire year.
For instance, is there a complimentary service you could sell your summer customers from October through March? Perhaps you could do indoor work, such as restoring wood floors or cleaning carpets and drapes. Or maybe there's a seasonal niche you could find, such as cleaning chimneys or setting up and removing holiday displays.
Use your established network of business colleagues, clients, vendors and contractors to your best advantage, and you can bypass most of the pain and pitfalls that accompany starting a brand new business. Having a database of clients who already trust you on their property and appreciate your work ethic means that half the battle will be over before you start this new venture.
And if you pick a seasonal service, the work you bring in during the winter won't interfere with the jobs you do in your original niche during the summer.