'Inventory is key ...'
Kirsten Hamilton, CPA, CGMA
Vice president of finance for Freixenet USA/Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma, Calif.
Born into wine country: I grew up in the northern part of Napa Valley. Between business and tourism, the wine industry surrounded me. I received my bachelor's from the University of San Francisco, but rather than work for a big firm in the city, I opted to go back to a small-town CPA firm that was embedded within this industry. Approximately 80% of our clients were involved in the wine industry, from the small garage winemaker to the large producers. That gave me a well-rounded background in regard to financials and tax.
Tracking metrics: I have two definitive metrics that I need to track, and they go side-by-side. We don't have a product where, when we run out, we can just order up some new inventory. It takes time, and so inventory is key. I track to ensure that our shipment needs are fulfilled by our inventory needs and whether we have the product to fulfill customer demand, especially during key cycles of the year. Alongside that is the cost of goods sold. I need to stay on top of that with regard to production. The cost of goods sold tracking starts in year 1 when the grapes go from fruit to juice, with a final cost potentially taking multiple years to be accumulated and applied to a vintage. Staying on top of accurate costing is key to making sure you don't have any surprises when it comes to your business plan.
Listen to the customer: We listen to everything that comes through, whether that's when our product goes out via wholesale, direct to consumer, or whether the consumer is out in the retail room. If we get a direct complaint or a direct compliment, we follow up and try to address all of those. There are a variety of requests from people asking for product details or if we can simply sell in their area. We definitely try to accommodate everybody.
A strategic role: My role is key because I need to understand all of the various departments so that I can work with them to pull together a strategic plan, alongside our U.S. business president. That's key, especially in the wine industry, because of the inventory issue. Since there is an aging component to the inventory, we need to know two to three years out that we're going to have mature product to fulfill the sales and marketing plans. I've got to understand the business from grape to bottle to distribution point in order to create a strategy. By really understanding each department, I can then visualize what they're going through; therefore, I can contribute so much more. Through this partnership, the departments can also feel they have someone else to bounce ideas off of as well.