Construction, Food Service & Agriculture, and Small Business & Startups

Wine rack ire uncorks lucrative venture

Fed up with traditional builds, Jim Cash used construction background to create user-friendly wine racks.

July 7, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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Revel Wine Cellars
This wine cellar, which is located in Belmont, is an example of the craftsmanship and unique design that goes into Revel Custom Wine Cellars’ projects. Courtesy Ashley Avila

Michigan isn’t exactly a hot bed for the wine-collecting world, but a small company in Michigan has built a name for itself in custom wine cellars.

East Lansing-based Revel Custom Wine Cellars was created out of founder Jim Cash’s frustrations of traditional wine racks and the inability to see the labels. As an avid wine fan and collector, Cash hated the idea of having to take up to 12 bottles out of the rack to find the bottle he was looking for at the time. With his commercial construction background — a career he retired from in 2013 — he designed a rack that fit his desires. He started the company in 2009, but because of his position as a partner in a construction company, he couldn’t focus on both, and it only began to grow once he was retired.

“I never intended for it to be a business,” Cash said. “But once I finished, I had realized I created new products that could be combined and marketed for custom cellars. Then people saw them and thought it was good, cool and a viable idea.

“It’s a young company, but we’ve made tremendous strides of creating a brand and becoming a standard for wine cellars.”

Cash is the only member of the team based in Lansing, and the entire company is contract-based with no real employees. Each cellar is designed to a customer’s needs and then built piece-by-piece at Benchmark Wood Studio in Holland.

Revel Custom Wine Cellars has built more than 100 cellars for wine collectors all over the world. Cash also has designed cellars for restaurants and wineries.

As a collector, Cash had to build new proprietary furniture pieces, which allow a user to see the wine labels. Among the pieces include a Lazy Susan-esque piece for corners of wine cellars that holds multiple bottles and rotates for easy use.

The cellars can be built in any type of setting, and Cash told the story of an old house in Grand Rapids which had stone walls with a variety of plumbing and electrical obstacles. Cash built a room within a room to house the cellar, while adding a hidden door for access to the utilities.

“We come up with creative designs to take care of tricky situations,” he said.

Many of the cellars end up being designed into new home construction, he said.

Most of the cellars built by Revel Custom Wine Cellars are for serious collectors, and the average cellar is built to hold 1,500 bottles, but Cash said a number of the cellars have the capacity to hold up to 5,000 bottles. The smallest size cellar would be for no less than 250 bottles, but Revel Custom Wine Cellars does make standalone pieces, such as table that can hold 54 bottles.

Prices for the cellars vary, but an easy way to price out a cellar is about $45 to $50 per bottle, Cash said. The cost varies based on a number of factors, including the efficiency of a design and how the components line up in a space, but also the type of wood that might be used for construction. Mahogany generally is the gold standard for cellar design because of the characteristics it provides in stability and resistance, but he also uses a lot of walnut, as people love the way it looks. Walnut, however, is approximately 15 percent more expensive than mahogany.

Cash also can design more contemporary models of cellars using the same blueprint in non-wood finishes.

Because all cellars are custom, there is no off-the-shelf pricing. For most potential customers, Cash can give them a price based on room size and how many bottles could fit. He then sends similarly sized designs and the prices of those.

Revel Custom Wine Cellars isn’t a traditional company, and there are no technical employees. A contractor handles all the administrative work from New York, and Cash contracts out web services, accounting, legal and production. The company also is virtual and paperless, he said. His pieces are now in homes from Michigan to California to Texas to England.

Cash stopped counting how many cellars Revel Custom Wine Cellars made after he reached 100, but said he’s doing about 20 to 30 year.

“I feel like we’ve done a good job designing a product wine collectors want but aren’t available elsewhere,” he said. “It’s been an unlikely path. I don’t have design experience, and being in Michigan, it’s not the greatest place to start a business like this, and yet, here we are.”

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