First Thursday Spotlight: Stonebridge Research - Delving into the data to build businesses

An interview with Barbara Insel, Founder, President & CEO

Stonebridge Research specializes in the wine industry but their services defy a simple description. So we talked to Barbara Insel, President and CEO for clarification. "We understand the business of wine and we believe that to build a business strategy and to run a business in this industry, you have to start with the facts and the data and then build a realistic strategy. We understand the market and we also understand numbers, finances and costs," she explained.

"We help people understand, grow and fix their businesses. The wine industry is in somewhat of a turmoil right now, and businesses need to rethink how they are approaching their business, having come out of several very good years.

"The reality is, it is much harder to sell wine than it is to make it. And it is very easy to spend a lot of money making it. In recent years, the local wine industry has acted on the assumption that, 'we just have to make good wine and there will be a market for it.' This just isn't true.

"There are several hundred thousand SKUs out there (units of products or labels) and there are several hundred thousand places that can sell wine. But there are only 500 to 700 real distributors.

"Sadly consumers don't really care that much where wine comes from, except for the most expensive wines. They care that it tastes good, is affordable and looks interesting. And I think many producers aren't quite ready to hear that. We continually talk to each other; we are such an inward-focused industry. We talk to each other, rather than listen to the consumers.

Stonebridge Services

"Stonebridge Research looks at a business as it really is, and figures out how to increase, not just sales but profits as well. We look realistically at the channels where things are selling and how those should be improved. We look at the structure of the business, help people understand their business and how to run it better. We do overall business and operations reviews. We take apart a business and help put it back together again, at least analytically.

"We do consumer analysis. We do pricing, packaging and label consumer reviews. This is often a revelation. We actually determined in survey after survey that consumers found California wines to be 'safe, boring and predictable.' Sometimes it is good to be safe but it is not always the best strategy.

"We do a lot of industry studies and market analysis. We take apart people's depletion data and sales data and look for patterns, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the things that fascinates me in this industry is that businesses often have contacts with thousands of customers in their direct sales database, and they know nothing about them.

"We have understood social media and email marketing to be just blasting people constantly.

"And I am getting sick of getting blasted on email. I'm getting sick of being blasted on Facebook. I'm sick of the spam! And I am pretty sure I am not alone. One of the basic things about proper marketing is targeting your customers and reaching out to the right customers with the right message.

Fact driven strategic advisors

"Basically, Stonebridge Research offers fact driven strategic advice. We are those odd people in the wine industry. We simply love data. Love numbers. We love information and delving into that information in order to make a business run better. We offer strategic business planning for better management of wine businesses," Barbara concluded.

Impressive client list

Esteemed clients include California Association of Winegrape Growers, Napa Valley Vintners, Kirkland and Ellis/Family Winemakers of California, Lodi Winegrape Commissions and Lodi Wine Growers, among others.

National experience

In addition, the principals of Stonebridge have previously advised Anheuser Busch, Blenheim Vineyards, The Governor of Virginia and the Virginia Wineries Association, New York Wine and Grape Foundation, Pennsylvania and Michigan Wineries Associations, Texas Winegrape Growers, the Grench Trade Mission, the Wine Institute and a variety of investors and proprietors of wine businesses. For more information, visit Contact Barbara Insel at 707/294-1430; email The offices are located at 550 Gateway Drive, Suite 100 in Napa, CA 94558.