Founded in 1995 in a humble woodshop, Genuwine Cellars founders Robb Denomme and Lance Kingma (both alumni of the prestigious International Sommelier Guild) honed their craft and created what would eventually become a global leader in the design, manufacture and installation of custom wine cellars.
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
It was about seven years in and we did it for growth. We had covered every province in Canada and it seemed like our business wasn’t growing fast enough. I thought to myself, ‘the U.S. is right beside us — why don’t we look there?’ The first market we looked at and went into was New York City. Our business literally doubled within 12 to 18 months.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
We’ve been lucky, because word of mouth really helped us go global. A client we did a cellar for had a house in Toronto, but also a house in Hong Kong. He loved what we did so we got the second project. We had another client in Vancouver, who had a house in the Cayman Islands. Same thing. Then it just took off from there.
We build very high-end cellars for wealthy clients. The work we do speaks for itself and it’s the result of projects we’ve already done that leads to new customers.
Is there a specific story/anecdote from your company’s history that you would consider a critical moment for your export journey?
It was definitely the 2008 crash and recession. It was a huge negative, but for us it turned out to be immensely positive too. For years, our business grew and grew and I was never forced to worry about money; never had to deal with banks. There was a point where we felt invincible. And when the crash happened, in the first six months, business just stopped. We had no cash flow and I had to quickly figure something out. It came down to balancing costs, inventory and staff — I had to learn how to balance everything and that was new to me. We have a complicated business because we are a turn-key, one-stop-shop.
I actually had to pay attention to making money. It was a great education and a turning point for Genuwine. Now it’s about profit margins and efficiency and I’ve learned that you have to put some food away for the drought years. The crash was a great lesson learned.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
I don’t treat anyone or anywhere in the world differently. Regardless if you are in Dubai or Winnipeg, we treat every client exactly the same. We’ve crossed enough “Ts” and dotted enough “Is” that it’s covered us around the globe.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
International opportunities have allowed us to tackle projects that are so mind blowing that it has escalated the game back home. Canadians have lots of money – they just don’t spend it like people in other parts of the world unless they see something they really like.
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your sales/operations in Canada?
I’ve really not had bad experiences, except logistics. We’ve had containers stuck awaiting inspection for six weeks and that throws off both budgets and schedules. But other than that, it’s been a pretty smooth journey.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
My advice to SMEs is to satisfy every client 110 per cent, because that will lead to more business. Don’t ever leave anyone short or even feeling 99 per cent satisfied. If you go over and above, your business will grow on it’s own.
Canadians are really nice people and we have a reputation for that around the globe. The rest of the world loves to deal with Canadians, so my advice is “kill them with kindness” and go beyond. When our team is on site we are a shining light and everyone knows we are a Canadian company — our uniforms have little Canadian flags on them — and people love us.
We help brand Canadian quality. Just like you want your Ferrari from Italy, you want your wine cellar coming from Canada, and that’s how we are trying to brand ourselves. If you want the best of the best, it’s coming from Canada.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
When we first started exporting it was really easy. No one did what we did and we had no competition. Then as a result of the crash, everyone was starving and tried to branch out into every industry. If you were an electrician, you got into plumbing. We had all these perceived competitors, but no one really knew what they were doing. As a result, we’ve had to take our marketing to another level to really get people to understand
what we do and how we are different. Again it’s using Canadian quality to our advantage and I can tell you, it’s something we are proud of.