Third Party Providers are Here…To Stay

Last month I had the privilege of addressing a group of control state regulators, industry attorneys and key industry executives that gathered just outside Washington, DC for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association’s (NABCA) Annual Legal Symposium. The topic of my panel was one that we have put significant focus on here at ShipCompliant and one that the wine industry has been struggling with for the past few years: Non-traditional wine businesses, otherwise known as Third Party Providers (TPPs).

For most small and medium sized wineries, the path to increased sales, increased margins and brand growth is direct-to-consumer sales. Yet, we recognize that the wine industry is at the tail end of the market expansion that resulted from state-based regulatory changes that came in the wake of the 2005 Granholm v. Heald US Supreme Court decision. When and if Pennsylvania and Massachusetts open their borders to direct to consumer shipping, all significant states will be open to producing wineries for direct-to-consumer sales.

WHAT NEXT?

We believe that after all the significant states open to direct-to-consumer sales, the next and most important opportunity for wineries to expand direct sales and attract new customers will result from the expansion of TPPs.

First, we want to be clear what we mean by a TPP. Flash and private sales sites, community buying operations, product advertising platforms, collective tasting rooms, multi-brand company websites, and other online wine marketers make up this category. This sector of the market has been limited, as many potential TPPs have stayed away from the wine industry because of regulatory uncertainty.

That uncertainty is diminishing and new opportunities are emerging.

NEW REGULATORY GUIDELINES ON THIRD PARTY PROVIDERS

The most important development that will lead to reduced uncertainty in the realm of online wine marketing was the issuance of guidelines in November on licensee (winery and retailer) and TPP interaction by the California ABC. This set of guidelines described the process by which funds need to be transferred and controlled, how wine offers must be structured, and how acceptance and fulfillment of orders must be undertaken in order for the collaboration between licensed wineries and importers and TPPs to be considered compliant with California ABC regulations and state laws.

In short, the CA ABC wants to ensure that the licensee is in full control of all aspects of each transaction, and that the licensee will ultimately be held accountable for any actions by the third party that is soliciting order requests on their behalf. It’s worth noting that this advisory is obviously California-specific. However, it serves as a great framework for other states to contemplate the issues of third-party marketing and hopefully each state will take a similarly collaborative approach.

While complex, this new set of guidelines by the California ABC does put in place a path to growth and innovation in the online wine marketing arena. This opening for Third Party Providers and online marketers could not have come at a better time. There are notable signs of recovery in the wine market. Additionally, the oversupply of grapes and bulk wine that has plagued the industry for the past few years appears to have dried up. The combination of fewer states left to open up for direct shipping and the need for small and medium sized wineries to continue to increase their customer base means that there is great potential for innovative marketing approaches.

A NEW SERIES OF BLOG POSTS ON THIRD PARTY PROVIDERS

We believe that great innovations in wine marketing will come via collaborative marketing efforts between TPPs and wineries that will help reach new and larger numbers of wine buyers. With this in mind, ShipCompliant is planning to publish a series of blog posts that focus specifically on the issues surrounding Third Party Providers and how licensed sellers can work with them efficiently, compliantly and profitably. We look forward to generating discussion on this important issue and further clarifying this new landscape for wine sales and marketing.

We’ll start the series with some of the questions that we addressed at the NABCA Legal Symposium, but also would love to hear what your biggest questions are. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please email us at blog (at) shipcompliant.com .