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profit margin error

Using long-range planning to price your wines is paramount to your business model, no matter what the political climate, and yet I have found that new importers often neglect this aspect. Most are very aware of getting the importer markup and margins right in the beginning, of course, but neglect to think long-term. It’s understandable. Those early days of logistics, compliance and business setup can be overwhelming.

Currently, the US Dollar has been getting weaker in the past few months, notably against the AUD and the Euro, after several years of favorable rates for imports into the U.S. This is what prompts me to address the subject of margins. In the U.S. there is a new administration and a president who says he wants a weak dollar to help US exports. However, a weak USD is exactly the opposite of what an importer wants. In addition to the state of affairs in the U.S., globally, Australia has a strong economy and instability within certain European Union member countries has created some fluctuation in the Euro. A looming Brexit has also taken its toll.

During the recession, imports of many wines slowed, especially those in the mid to upper tier, as disposable income became less available and importing of all wines became more expensive and therefore less viable. A significant factor was the very weak USD. During that time, the AUD was on a par with the USD, i.e. $1 AUD to $1 USD, and the Euro was in the 1.4-1.6 range. Are we heading into that realm again? I have no idea, but we appear to be on an upward trajectory and this could spell trouble for your imports if you haven’t planned accordingly. By that I mean built a cushion into your FX rate so that if you’re currently buying wines at 4 Euros a bottle, e.g., and the FX rate is 1.2, convert the wine to USD using a slightly higher ratio, such as 1.3 or 1.35 so that if rates go into that territory you’ll still have a reasonable markup and profit margin. In other words:

Purchase at 4 Euros = $4.80 at 1.2

  • This FX rate prices the wine on the shelf at approximately $16.99*

Purchase at 4 Euros = $5.20 at 1.3

  • This FX rate prices the wine on the shelf at approximately $18.99*

You have to decide whether your particular wine can sustain this type of increase in retail on the shelf and what the “sweet spot” price should be. Does it take it from a different category, for instance from < $10 to mid-tier pricing? Is it in line for that style, region, and quality and against your competition? Regardless of the FX rates and your normal markup, this is always a juggling act in the marketplace. The bottom line is that while it is optimal to offer wines that “over-deliver”, especially against such a crowded field, you can’t afford not to make a profit based on an unsustainable margin.

It is also important to note, that while you can and often should offer volume discounts and incentive programming to your distributor, once you set your wines at a standard lower price point it is much harder to increase them later, except as a natural cost-of-living adjustment or in instances where it is warranted and with notice. If you are able to build in a cushion, use that for early marketing. Later, if the foreign currency goes up you’ll still make a profit and if it stays the same or goes down, the money can again be used for promotion.

Can your supplier support a lower price to you in the event of an increasingly squeezed margin? This might be built into your initial contract or agreement with them. Before I transitioned into full-time consulting, teaching and writing and away from importing my own wines, we were deep into the worst of the recession and one of my wineries gave me a discount on each invoice of an additional 5% to offset the exchange rate as long as it maintained above a certain level. This was always noted on the purchase order.

The point is that nothing can eat away at margins and erode profits for your imported wine and spell disaster for your business than a strengthening foreign currency or a weakening U.S. dollar if you don’t factor this in from the beginning and keep your eye on the ball.


*retail around the country will differ for a variety of reasons, none of which are in your control, but this is used as an illustration of realistic examples of differences in FX rate.