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Master of Manufacturing: Wine-Fridge Maker Chills While Navigating COVID-19

Newly ensconced in Nevada, CEO India Hynes is searching for new opportunities for Vinotemp.

This is the latest in our “Masters of Manufacturing” series, presented in partnership with The Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Each month we share insights and ideas from innovative, growth-minded manufacturing CEOs from across the nation as they navigate this tricky time in history.

Vinotemp isn’t waiting for the coronavirus flood to recede before betting on the new lay of the land after the pandemic. CEO India Hynes is revving up production of the company’s wine-cooling systems and other equipment at a $2-million refurbished building in her new home state of Nevada, aggressively seeking extra business from retail outlets whose buyers are stuck at home receiving phone calls these days, and is even considering an ambitious diversification strategy.

“People have been hoarding and storing things these days, so there’s an opportunity for us – a good time to brand us into things that are outside wine,” said Hynes, who is the daughter of founder Francis Ravel. Vinotemp already added some residential kitchen appliances to its line last year.

“Everyone has been buying our freezers during the pandemic. And I’m kind of looking at it and saying, ‘Maybe we need to get into more other kinds of appliances’ and outside wine. I want to be a female-led company that can compete with the Samsungs and LGs of this world, with ovens and dishwashers. I’m kind of excited.”

Hynes is nothing if not dynamic. She built her father’s company where he started it, in Compton, California, in 1985. Ravel made his own wine and then began producing wine cabinets and cooling systems. By the 1990s, he was creating the Wine-Mate cooling system, the only United Laboratories-approved wine-cooling system at the time.

Even as she grew the company over the last several years, however, Hynes was tiring of doing business in California. She bristled at what she believed were excessive taxation, punitive labor laws and business costs that no longer could be justified. Hynes believed that she had to move out of state to become profitable or shut down Vinotemp altogether.

She investigated Las Vegas, where Hynes and her husband already owned property. She found an abandoned Kmart in suburban Henderson, Nevada, that Vinotemp could convert to a manufacturing, distribution and service facility. Cooperative local authorities made it an easy call.

But Hynes wanted some key employees in California to make the move with Vinotemp. She helped a handful of core staffers with down payments on homes in Nevada. “I needed them or I wasn’t going to do the hard work of moving,” she said. “It really is like a family.”

Since making the move in July, Vinotemp has picked up where it left off in the lower-cost, lower-hassle business climate of Nevada, with growing annual revenues in the eight figures. Vinotemp’s new 118,000-square-foot facility houses the nation’s biggest provider of wine cabinet and cooling solutions.

COVID-19 provided a stark challenge to Vinotemp as to most of America’s other manufacturers. Because the company provides refrigeration equipment, it was deemed an “essential” manufacturer. Employees agreed to continue working with appropriate protective equipment and distancing protocols as well as scheduling flexibility.

Fortunately, Vinotemp had changed its software backbone to NetSuites before the pandemic, and the cloud-based accounting system helped enable remote work by the company’s white-collar staff. Meanwhile, Hynes isn’t ashamed to say that she’s being opportunistic in the face of COVID-19.

For example, while she has given up on trade shows for the forseeable future, Hynes spent $20,000 to buy a list of potential sales leads “and I’m going to hit up wine people around the country, since people are home. I’m looking at it as an opportunity.” She also recently obtained an agreement from a buyer from Ace Hardware to sell Vinotemp equipment and closed in on a similar deal with someone from Williams-Sonoma stores.

“It’s because these buyers suddenly are stuck at home with a lot of time on their hands,” Hynes said. “Now we’re getting attention from them. These are opportunities that are falling into our laps that wouldn’t have without what everybody is going through.”

But the global pandemic has posed some challenges. Vinotemp imports its actual appliances from China, while its wood cabinets are made in the United States – actually, back in California, where her company once owned the operation that still makes the cabinets. While she’s concerned about relying on a Chinese source of supply in a new era where that might be a vulnerability, and where consumers might sour on the arrangement, Hynes isn’t convinced that trying to make more components in America would be the right move, either.

“Look at how [governments] shut down everything here in the United States,” she said. “If we were getting the appliances made here and then they were shut down in a future pandemic, that would be awful. We would be pushing ‘made in America’ and then that could be the first thing they’d close as ‘non-essential.’ That would be pretty awful.”


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