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From Where I Stand: Ed Barr Offers an Insider Perspective from a Different Perspective

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Wine industry supplier Ed Barr shares his take on today’s wine troubles.

 

Ed Barr

Ed Barr, president and CEO of not one, but three, equipment and machinery solutions companies serving the wine industry, has watched the industry’s successes and struggles for a quarter of a century.

In 1999, he purchased P&L Specialties, which designs and builds high-performance crushpad equipment for the premium wine industry. Working in tandem with barrel cleaning systems provider Tom Beard Company (which Barr purchased in 2010) and used equipment marketplace Revolution Equipment Sales (founded by Barr in 2014), his companies are able to deliver wineries more impactful industry solutions. 

Because of his long tenure of industry support, we asked him to share his perspective on today’s wine world. 

 

How did you get started in the wine industry?

I entered the industry in 1999 with the purchase of P&L Specialties. I was fortunate enough to purchase the Tom Beard Company in 2010 and start Revolution Equipment Sales in 2014. 

Who is your client niche?

P&L Specialties manufactures grape reception equipment for wineries of all sizes. The Tom Beard Company serves wineries of all sizes with their barrel and bin washing solutions, and Revolution Equipment Sales has a broad set of clients in the winery space.  In essence, the three entities are dedicated to the overall wine industry.          

How long is your sales / production cycle?

For P&L Specialties and Tom Beard Company, the cycle is about 3 to 6 months on average; large projects can take a year. On the other hand, Revolution Equipment’s cycle is fast. We list it and it can sell on the same day.  

What is your biggest challenge inside your company?

Managing the operations of the business is a challenge. The procurement supply chain has been difficult for the past 4 years and the myriad governmental regulations and customer reporting systems are difficult to navigate.      

What is your biggest challenge inside the wine industry?

Finding ways to have customers commit to projects sooner than later.  Because our production capacity is limited by employee count and facility size, only a certain amount of work can be accomplished in a timeframe. When customers wait until April to order items they want designed and built by August, it’s a very difficult process to get accomplished.  Some customers have funding cycles that force them into this position while others are waiting for commitments from custom crush or yield guesses.   

What is your employee training process like?

It’s a combination of formal training and on the job learning. We try to invest every penny we can in our employees. Without them, we are not viable as a business.  

How is your employee retention?

Excellent, most of our team members are 10+ year veterans. Our philosophy has been to be generous, kind and appreciative to our team.   

How important is continued customer outreach/communication? How do you facilitate that?

It’s incredibly important to communicate and maintain relationships. People move through the industry and end up working at new places often. If you have developed a relationship based on trust and integrity, then they will contact you at their new place. We use many ways to communicate including direct emails, social media, print ads, reaching out to say “Hi,” and always answering our emails.   

Why did you develop the used equipment company?

Revolution Equipment was born out of necessity. P&L Specialties and Tom Beard were being asked to buy back used pieces of equipment so they could be replaced with the latest and greatest. It became obvious that this itself was its own business and I firmly believed that we could add value to the process by being the best at it. Being the best means adding value and trust to the transaction of buying used equipment.  Trust is built on only representing reputable excellent condition items and checking them out before you sell them. It is like a certified pre-owned car purchase; it lends confidence to the transaction. The key is knowing what you are doing and having a full-service arm to ensure you can repair or upgrade what you sell.     

Is there stigma to buying used equipment?

I don’t see a stigma if it is done properly, I see real value. Revolution was built on providing value not just selling anything that is “used.”  There is a ton of junk out there that’s unsupported or the maker is out of business or it was a one-off garage build. If you do business with reputable suppliers who have decades old businesses, you can be assured they will be around. We have all seen the others come and go.          

What do you wish your customers knew about or would do more of?

How hard many reputable vendors work to really serve their customers. Walk around a tradeshow such as WIN Expo, and you will see booth after booth of customers talking with vendors they have known for decades. Those vendors have delivered, year after year, on their reputation and promises. You can always find a cheaper whatever but you will never be disappointed buying a quality item from a reputable vendor.      

How would you say you have the finger on the pulse of the wine Industry?

I am very aware of the capital spending trends and see year from year how the industry must tighten its belt to make business work. I also see the price points change and the pressure to perform.    

How do you react to the changes in the market? 

As best we can. We must increase or decrease staffing accordingly and innovate new products that are needed. It is a challenge — but it’s also the fun part. 

How has your business evolved prior to now?

It has evolved in the products and services it offers but never on the commitment to quality, service and value. 

Can you recall the last “normal” time / period in the wine production market?

2015 to 2019.

What can you say to those worried about the current instability?

It is a very scary time for the small businesses that are niche suppliers to the industry. We are all holding our breath, as we have had to raise prices due to material costs and labor pressure, which has eroded our margins to a very difficult place. 

Some will not make it. Frankly, I am worried about those that do not, especially those that are niche suppliers, meaning there is no alternative. If they disappear, it will have a real impact on the industry. Eventually someone will replace them, but it could take a decade.  This is especially true of engineered or custom-designed items. Once that talent is gone…it is gone.   

What advice do you have for wineries / wine producers in uncertain times like this?

I would advise them to do their best to identify their needs for large capital items such as tanks, barrel racks, catwalks, pumps, crush pad equipment, refrigeration or any other specialty item, and begin that conversation with their supplier of choice. This helps those suppliers to plan for the future and gives them some sort of view into the future.   

What do you wish you would have done differently?

Learned to play guitar earlier in life and been a one hit wonder and live in Belltown on the royalties. 

Seriously, I wish I would have formed a group of small businesses serving the industry into a joint venture where size and diversity would have added a layer of protection for the business and customers.   

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