Hands-on Bank­ing Sup­port Takes Win­ery Busi­ness to the Next Level

En­trepreneurs re­call BMO team at the vine­yard for first-hand re­search

BC Business Magazine - - The Informer -

Tra­di­tion­ally, en­trepreneurs in the agriculture in­dus­try have strug­gled to get on­go­ing help from fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, and the chal­lenges are in­ten­si­fied for those in the win­ery sec­tor. That’s been the case with Sean Salem and his wife Saeedeh Salem who’ve spent 13 years de­vel­op­ing La Stella Win­ery in Osoy­oos and Le Vieux Pin Win­ery in Oliver.

Although the Salems al­ways knew their ap­proach to wine mak­ing would even­tu­ally lead to fi­nan­cial suc­cess, it wasn’t un­til they es­tab­lished a re­la­tion­ship with BMO Bank of Mon­treal in 2014 that their ven­ture re­ally took off. “The hands-on sup­port we’ve re­ceived from BMO is un­be­liev­able,” says Sean.

“It’s as if they’re an ex­tended fam­ily who for the past three years has taken us on a won­der­ful jour­ney,” says Saeedeh.

The two en­trepreneurs were com­mit­ted to mak­ing a high-end, bou­tique prod­uct that would show­case Okana­gan wine around the world. “Typ­i­cally with winer­ies it takes years of in­vest­ment to build a brand, and while we ini­tially ob­tained fi­nanc­ing to launch our busi­ness, it was im­pos­si­ble to get fur­ther sup­port, even after we were es­tab­lished and be­gan ex­port­ing prod­uct to Europe in 2012,” says Sean. “And yet, fur­ther sup­port was cru­cial be­cause it would al­low us to meet grow­ing demand and be­come prof­itable.”

That all changed when the cou­ple’s fi­nan­cial man­ager in­tro­duced them to James Dusik, Vice-pres­i­dent Busi­ness Bank­ing at BMO Fi­nan­cial Group for the Kelowna, South Okana­gan and Koote­nay mar­kets. Saeedeh says: “Pre­vi­ously, banks would give us forms to fill out and that would be it. But James and his team ac­tu­ally came out to visit us, in­spected our vine­yards and talked with our man­agers and wine mak­ers.

“We were stunned by their care and at­ten­tion. And, after they learned ev­ery­thing about our pro­duc­tion to date, they gave us fi­nanc­ing and a line of credit.” The Salems would ex­pe­ri­ence the same de­gree of hands-on care with a BMO team headed by Todd Sch­nei­der, Pen­tic­ton-based Se­nior Re­la­tion­ship Man­ager.

The cou­ple was able to ex­pand their Le Vieux Pin pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity and, due to the short supply of grapes in the south Okana­gan, they then pur­chased three ad­di­tional vine­yards, ex­pand­ing their to­tal farmed-land base from 20 to 32 hectares. “The year after we got fi­nanc­ing from BMO we were prof­itable, and this year we ex­pect to pro­duce 8,000 cases of wine from each win­ery, which will meet our grow­ing demand in North Amer­ica and over­seas,” says Saeedeh.

When asked what he thinks com­pelled BMO to take such an ac­tive in­ter­est in their winer­ies when so many other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions did not, Sean says that BMO’S man­agers and staff “have a gen­uine de­sire to help busi­ness peo­ple. They’re gen­uinely cu­ri­ous about dif­fer­ent types of busi­ness and thor­oughly ed­u­cate them­selves in or­der to pro­vide ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions.”

He says: “Our wines are a suc­cess be­cause ev­ery as­pect of our work—from cul­ti­va­tion and har­vest to pro­duc­tion—is done by hand. I can’t ex­press how sat­is­fy­ing it is to have a fi­nan­cial part­ner like BMO that ex­hibits equal care in help­ing us achieve our busi­ness goals.”

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