Simon Stock is the owner and founder of Vinoflow, a crossflow filtration service which purifies and clarifies wine for New Zealand’s winemaking industry. Simon was a winemaker for Sugar Loaf Wines before turning Vinoflow into a full-time operation in 2009. The business is based in Blenheim, Marlborough.
Business Type: Winemaking
Number of employees: 3
Current Business Situation: Year-on-year growth and rapid expansion with future product diversification
Relationship with The Icehouse: Taking Your Business Forward Alumni and Asset Insurance Partners scholarship recipient
‘Simon is passionate about wine and moreover serving people to get the right result. Vinoflow embodies this and we look forward to a successful and bright 2021.’ Tania Goodyer, co-owner.
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?
The idea came from my full-time winemaking days. We’re the last process in the winemaking chain – before the wine gets sent for bottling. We didn’t have anyone in ‘the valley’ who was doing this sort of thing, so I thought, ‘I’m just going to do it!’
My wife and I mortgaged up the house, bought a filter, crunched some numbers to make sure we could pay for it, and things have just snowballed from then.
News travels very fast in the wine industry, and in a matter of two to three weeks I had people ringing me up and knocking on my door asking for help – friends and contacts who I’d known for years.
Things quickly got to a point where I had to give up my full-time role and focus entirely on Vinoflow. We now have three permanent people at Vinoflow. My wife runs the administration side of things – we work really well together. It’s a good fit as she understands the wine business. We also have another full-time member of staff on the team.
Why did you choose your type of business?
I’ve been in the industry for more than 25 years, so doing something in the same field was the obvious thing.
The filtration process involves cleaning up the wines and sending them out nicely so they don’t get bashed and thrashed and can get bottled. Initially, the concept was to filter just for the winemaker I was working for at the time – Sugar Loaf Wines. The owners said, ‘You buy the machine and we’ll put all our wine through you.’
We also won a couple of smaller clients at that time, which was fantastic, but getting that first larger contract helped us get going. I was still in full-time employment in 2009 and it was then that I knew that I needed to give Vinoflow my full attention. Now we work with Saint Clair and Pegasus Bay and several other prestigious makers.
How have you and your business been impacted by COVID-19?
In early 2020, we took the plunge and bought a $250,000 filtration machine to meet our expansion plans. It was coming from Germany and thanks to COVID-19 it basically sat on the water for months on end. The supplier kept ringing us asking if we still wanted it and we had to reassure them. That safely arrived in June 2020, but it was quite stressful at the time!
We’re a service provider in the greater Marlborough region and New Zealand for premium and high-end wines – looking after them for the winemaker. Clients can be a lot smaller compared to the big commercial makers and some of them have been hit hard – especially the ones whose bread and butter is the restaurant trade and export to Australia and the USA.
As those restaurants have struggled, naturally those export opportunities have dried up, too. Thankfully the majority of our clients are big enough to find other outlets to sell their wine (such as supermarkets), and they haven’t been affected as much.
What are currently your biggest challenges?
Probably working in the South Island and living in the North! I spend Monday to Friday in Blenheim and go home to Manawatu at the weekends. I do a lot of travelling but I enjoy it. Not everyone is cut-out for it, but it’s a lifestyle choice and I’ve been doing that journey for more than five years now. I’m used to it.
You have to move quickly as an entrepreneur and be open-minded when it comes to finding new opportunities and going in new directions. We have a major staffing shortage for the next harvest in Marlborough, so I’m helping local vineyards with a big recruitment drive; finding pickers and providing them with the necessary staff they need to meet the demand – and that will be another string to our bow.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
We correctly forecast when our next growth phase might be coming. That coincided with our insurance was coming up for renewal. I was chatting to Stephen Doecke at Asset Insurance Partners and he mentioned The Icehouse and the Taking Your Business Forward programme (TYBF).
Asset is also based in Marlborough and an Icehouse partner, so I knew it would be a good fit for me, and I didn’t need much convincing. I was on the first TYBF in July 2020 and it was great. The greatest few weeks I’ve had in business, in fact – learning new things, talking to new people and just jumping right in.
One of the big takeaways was around managing your financials; cash flows and so on, and even the understanding the importance of having a good relationship with your accountant.
A big challenge for Vinoflow is how to grow the business and sales at scale, and meet the extra capacity we’ve got now. We delivered projections on what we wanted to achieve year-on-year for the next four to five years and how to achieve that growth, which was great.
We also tackled health and wellbeing, which is huge because sometimes in business you put that to the back and don’t focus on it as much as you should. So, all in all, TYBF helped tackle some of the toughest challenges we’re facing.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
Too many things to mention! I have started implementing my 90-Day Plan, which you get at the end of TYBF. This is valuable because it keeps you accountable and hungry to continue the process of self-improvement.
I’m keen to do more with The Icehouse when the opportunity arises. I loved the programme – especially around planning and knowing what to address in terms of importance. You learn to rank and break down the urgent things to run your business more efficiently. Things you might believe are important actually aren’t, and you can waste a lot of time chasing your tail.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are considering the Taking Your Business Forward programme?
TYBF shows how important it is to work on the business and not in it, so I am really focusing on that – and that’s what I tell people. It’s easy to get stuck in the daily firefights when you should be focusing on the bigger picture and working out what you need to do to grow and make more sales.
Entrepreneurs tend to be quite closed-off and don’t share or ask for much when they start a company, so running a business can be a lonely business. It’s fine to ask for help.
Follow the link for more information about Vinoflow and its range of wine filtration services.