Colorado Springs, Colorado
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Owners Joe Saliba and Mark Ruybalid are upcycling wine bottles into slick drinkware.
"We're definitely on a pattern for growth," says Ruybalid. But, he adds, "this business has more benefits than just making money. We feel like we're truly doing something for the environment."
Wine Punts transforms everyday wine bottles into custom drinking glasses, carafes, candles and more. The bottles are mostly locally sourced through partnerships with restaurants, bars and other businesses; Wine Punts is heading toward recycling its 2 millionth bottle.
While Wine Punts uses a proprietary process, the first step is simply sorting and cleaning the bottles. "We're all just a bunch of bottle washers," Ruybalid jokes.
Saliba came up with the idea for the business after hearing from a friend about seeing glasses made from wine bottles in Utah. "I thought it would be neat to make one," he says. "I like working with my hands."
It took Saliba weeks to make one, using equipment in his dad's garage. "As soon as I made it and I had the finished product, I thought somebody would buy this, it's pretty neat."
At the same time, Saliba was taking a business class as a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. So he funneled his idea into an assignment to write a business plan. "I remember when I was going through the presentation in class, everyone was just glued. You knew they were zoned in."
With a small loan from his grandfather, he launched a website. "I got a first order; it was like eight glasses," Saliba says. "I had only made one or two, so I had to figure out how to make them a little faster." He turned to his tool-savvy father for advice; they figured out a way to accelerate the process, "and it's just kind of grown from there. . . . Now we can make thousands in a day."
The business moved from his dad's garage to a plant south of downtown Colorado Springs. The plant is across the street from the Springs Rescue Mission, and Wine Punts has hired several people from among the homeless and down-on-their-luck people utilizing the Rescue Mission's services. "We try to give people a hand up rather than a handout," Ruybalid says.
Revenue grew steadily from $3,000 the first year to close to $600,000 a year, where it "sort of plateaued for a few years," Saliba says. That's when he brought in Ruybalid, who he's known since their days at UCCS, and another partner, Donnie Wisenbaker. With fresh insight and ideas from them, Saliba says, the business took off again and this year is on track to make $750,000 to $1 million in sales. (The three are also partners in another business, Pikes Peak Energy LLC.)
Wine Punts (the name comes from the indentations on the bottom of traditional wine bottles) ships its products across the globe. Customers include major retailers, including Williams Sonoma -- a customer Saliba didn't have to work to land.
"They just called out of the blue," he says. "I was like, 'Who are you?'"
But Wine Punts doesn’t just handle thousand-plus glass orders; it also caters to individual consumers who might want just a set of four. One market: "wedding type stuff," Ruybalid says. "People want commemorative glassware." So the bride and groom, for example, might save a handful of bottles from their wedding and Wine Punts can transform them into lasting mementos etched with the wedding date or a family crest.
And those mementos will be lasting ones. "The process that we put our glasses through, we actually change the property through the cutting and finishing," Ruybalid says. "By the time our product is finished and shipped, it's actually a little sturdier than your typical wine bottle."
"I wish they would break a little faster," Saliba jokes.
Challenges: "The challenges were scaling up to meet demand," Saliba says. He would address one link in the production chain, then have to tackle another. One weak link with the plant was that initially there wasn't enough power to run the kilns that "cook" the glassware. "So we had to expand that and put capital into that."
Opportunities: "I think the next step is multiple locations," Ruybalid says. "There are bottles everywhere. So multiple sites. I don't like the idea of having one massive plant. I like the idea of having little boutique plants, including in bigger cities."
One likely location: Southern California. "That's probably our top pick," Saliba says. "We've also talked about doing one in Denver."
Wine Punts also can continue to grow through an expanding variety of products. "There's no shortage of products that we can throw out there," Ruybalid says. "We have a lot of cool ones kind of sitting in the hopper that'll we just gradually release and continue to grow the business." While the glassware typically uses the bottom half of the bottles, the tops can be made into wind chimes, light fixtures and more.
Needs: "You can always use capital," Saliba says. "That helps you grow" -- and could be key to establishing multiple locations.
"A need that supports us," he says, "is that everyone takes that approach [to recycling]. It should be a habit. Hopefully when everyone in this country has a Wine Punt in their hand, it reminds them that yeah, we can recycle, we can reuse something."