Wine shop toasts cooperation
ASPEN Theres a time in every business owners life when he must decide who will carry the torch after retirement.And for Gary Plumley, who has owned Grape & Grain for more than three decades, that time came last year.You get to the point when you realize you arent going to live forever or work as hard, the 68-year-old wine and liquor store owner said last week.So after some careful thought, Plumley turned to his devoted employees and offered them a deal of a lifetime buy the business from him over time in the form of a cooperative.Typically a standard deal for large companies or farms, co-ops are rarely found in retail operations. In October 2006, Grape & Grain became one of the first small retail business co-ops in the United States. Its also the only locally owned liquor store in Aspen.Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and democratically governed by their employees. Some 300 worker co-ops throughout the U.S. provide their employees with both jobs and ownership allowing them to directly benefit from the financial success of the business.Grape & Grain co-owners Jonathan Chaplin, 31; Johnny Ivansco, 44; Jason Sterner, 36, and Plumley have equal voting rights and share in the profits of the business.
This is my deal and I wanted to see it go on, Plumley said. I thought it was a good idea to involve the employees.Plumley started the process of making his employees business partners last spring. They bought into the company in the form of a downpayment and are investing annually to gain more interest.Typically in co-ops, workers are allowed to buy an equity share in the business the cost of which is usually deducted from their paychecks in small amounts each month.Gary is still the majority owner but every year we are purchasing it, said Chaplin, who had previously worked for Plumley before becoming a sales rep for liquor distributors.Gary has taken [the business] 30 years and we want to take it another 30, Chaplin said. Gary has a grand plan of how he wants the store to continue.For the next few years, Plumley will groom his young business partners on how the store operates and the intricacies of the wine business. He plans to retire when he turns 75.I could have made a lot more money by selling it but these guys were really good employees, Plumley said. The only advantage to me is that I probably pay Uncle Sam less taxes.Section 1042 of the U.S. tax code provides tax incentives to owners of businesses that sell their companies to the workers in the form of a co-op. By selling to his workers as a co-op, Plumley can defer capital gains made from the sale of the company.Plumleys partners might be able teach him a few things as well. Plumley admits he has the old dog syndrome, learning no new tricks over the years. That perhaps explains why he still uses the original cash register when he opened the store in 1975 and uses the same piece of paper to record sales for the past 32 years.Plumley attributes the business longevity to staying consistent and customer-service driven. Although he said hes always had to overcome the misconception that the store carries only high-end wines.Its true that it does carry some unique and expensive wines Grape & Grain has more than 700 labels in its inventory. But 60 of them are under $10, giving it one of the most expansive inexpensive wine selections in Aspen. They are able to keep the costs low by buying in quantity and keeping the mark-up low.We work our distributors into the ground [to keep wine inexpensive], Chaplin said.Buying a bottle of wine at Grape & Grain is not as intimidating as many people would think. As soon as a customer walks in the door whether he or she is a savvy consumer or a novice the staff will select the perfect bottle. For example, Grape & Grain carries Protocolo, a Spanish red for $5.79. But it also sells Termanthia, a $300 bottle from the same vineyard.We love turning people onto wines, whether its a $6 bottle or a $600 bottle, Chaplin said, adding the staff tastes just about every wine sold there. Well drink 3,000 to 5,000 wines a year.Ivansco, who has worked at Grape & Grain since 1998, said he and his business partners also frequent area restaurants to see what they are pouring.What restaurants are serving perpetuates our business, Ivansco said, adding the business is driven solely by the consumer. And the staff routinely visit other regions like Europe, Italy and Spain to better understand the wine-making process.That really opens your eyes to whats out there, Ivansco said, adding the hot sellers right now are reds from Spain and pinot noirs from the United States.Plumley predicts that the next up and coming region that will gain popularity among wine drinkers is Central Europe Hungary, Slovania and Croatia.Plumley started the Food & Wine Classic 25 years ago, seven years after opening Grape & Grain on the corner of Galena Street and Cooper Avenue. He stayed there for 18 years before moving to 319 E. Hopkins, in an area now known as Restaurant Row.
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