“We don’t want to be the Friday or Saturday night wine,” Bob Bullock says. “We want to be the Sunday through Thursday night wine business.”
Eye of the Needle is selling six different wines in 159 locations, mostly in the Puget Sound area but also in six other states and Canada. The tasting room in Woodinville is open two days a week.
The brand has grown quickly because it’s a great value, says Lauren Bullock, but they put a lot of effort into presentation – both the label on the bottle and the vibe of their tasting room.
Getting help to ‘do it right’
Through it all, the Bullocks have worked with Jennifer Shelton, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
Working with Shelton, Bob Bullock says, “is gold. Pure gold.”
“Anytime there’s a question, if I call her and she doesn’t know, she’ll find someone who does,” he says. “If I want to send wine to China, she knows someone at the SBDC who can help. E-commerce? She has answer after answer after answer.”
The Washington SBDC provides no-cost, one-to-one advising to small business owners who want to start, grow or transition their business. The Washington SBDC network includes 28 business advisors and four international trade specialists. It receives support from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Washington State University and other institutions of higher education and economic development.
Roundabout route to winemaking
With Shelton’s help, in 2010 the Bullocks were able to get an SBA Patriot Loan through Banner Bank for equipment and working capital, and then they got a line of credit.
True, the Bullocks were new to winemaking, but they weren’t just starting out. Eye of the Needle was born of second chances.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Bob Bullock began distributing wine in western Washington in the early 1980s, which was an exciting time to be involved in Washington wine. But after about a decade he was looking for a change, and he ended up in the medical insurance industry in 1996.
In 2001, he suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side. His prognosis was uncertain, Lauren Bullock says, but he surprised his doctors by walking out of the hospital just eight weeks later. With a lot of work, he eventually was able to walk an entire marathon averaging 16-minute miles.
Recession opens a niche
Never one to get stuck in a rut, in 2006 Bob Bullock decided it was time for a change. He looked into a couple things, but finally decided he wanted to return to the wine business.
In 2008, he became an independent wine broker, once again working with premium Washington wineries. But the recession hit. Where others saw obstacles, the Bullocks saw an opportunity – premium wineries had surplus inventory just sitting in tanks but the market was strong for mid-range wines at an affordable price.
In late 2008, the Bullocks formed Pacific Wine Enterprises, LLC, and started doing business as Haystack Needle Winery, which later became Eye of the Needle.
As a negociant winery, Eye of the Needle buys grapes that it crushes and bottles, but more than three-fourths of its inventory is bought as finished wine from other suppliers. By buying finished wine, the Bullocks avoid the cost of owning winemaking equipment and are able to use their capital to buy the best wine they can get.
Then their artistry begins, as they begin blending tastes – and price points – to get a good wine at an excellent value.
“I tell our team to leave their egos at the door,” Bob Bullock says about the group that gathers for blending trials. “It’s not about our palates; it’s about a specific taste profile that defines what our customers are looking for.”
For more about Eye of the Needle, go to http://www.eyeoftheneedlewinery.com or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or, on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Haystack-Needle-Winery/124675424252919.