Opening Your Own Olive Oil and Vinegar Store

Have you visited an olive oil and vinegar store and thought to yourself:
"This would be a great business to be in!"

Well it is and you can do it. There are several approaches to starting your own store:

Do it all yourself:

A scary proposition to say the least. Unless you have run a retail business before, chances are you don't have a clue where to find reliable and inexpensive sources of supply for product, bottles, tanks, and the myriad other things you need in order to start up your new operation.

Buy a Franchise:

If you are looking at this web page, you are already considering franchising. You might be thinking this is the way to go; you won't have to worry about branding, marketing, finding product, locating suppliers for bottles, tanks (called fustis), bottle stoppers (called closures), labels, etc. All this will be done for you. You will benefit from the experience of other franchisees, the franchiser, an existing business model... and all you have to do is pony up a quarter of a million dollars!

Use Full Service Distributors:

There are also companies that offer to provide you; oil, vinegar, bottles, tanks, and other products. One of the largest distributors claims to supply one hundred successful stores, does not require that you franchise with them, and has a very seductive message. But they do require that you sign an agreement to use them exclusively; you are not allowed to sell any other oils or vinegars except their own. You are not allowed to resell or open new branches without their approval. As an independent retailer, we have been able to build relationships with several local wineries in our area and we are selling our products to them wholesale, which is proving to be a very lucrative source of income for us. We would be restricted from doing so, were we under the trade agreement imposed by this large distributor. They require that you indicate on your bottles that they are the source of your products, thus diluting the exclusivity of your brand. However, they do what you may think is the hard part; locating suppliers of olive oil and vinegar, provide you tanks and bottles, etc. Actually locating suppliers is not the difficult aspect of starting your business. And the flexibility of independence allows you to distribute your products elsewhere in the future without restrictions.

Another Way:

I am here to tell you there is another way. I have opened and successfully created a profitable olive oil and vinegar business here in Santa Barbara all on my own; it can be done.

What I offer:

I do not franchise and I do not mandate you purchase products from me. I can, however,supply all of the information you would require concerning suppliers. I provide you with knowledge so you can be successful on your own. What is my reason to do this? I make money in 3 ways: I supply the stainless steel tanks to you, I work with you for a fee to help get you set up in business, and I offer you a few select products of excellent quality, that you cannot get anywhere else. I have helped over a dozen olive oil stores get started. I can provide references. I also manage a discussion group consisting of members from all the stores I have helped. We share information among ourselves and help each other out. If you work with me I can give you access to this discussion group.

Who I am:

I am Jim Kirkley. Before starting my oil and vinegar business, I worked as the Chief Technology Officer for a software company here in Santa Barbara. I also worked as that company's Chief Knowledge Officer, in charge of all their training programs. I have three passions in life: cooking great food, software programming, and teaching. I have excellent skills in all three of these areas. The website you are looking at was created and designed by me. I have taught at the college level for 5 years, I have worked for a boutique manufacturing and retail consulting firm based in Cambridge MA and have consulted with major companies like WalMart and Warner-Lambert. Look me up on Google... search for "Jim Kirkley CTO". As for cooking, well you just have to come by some time and I will make you dinner.

What I can do for you:

Provide guidance

I have gone through the process of opening my store in the toughest economic time since the Great Depression and I was profitable after a year of operation. I have dealt with the notoriously tough Santa Barbara County Health Department to get my store through the process of certification. I know what to do (and what not to do) and can help you streamline the process on your end. And, do not trivialize this; getting approvals from your local Health Department and Planning Department may be your biggest challenge. I can offer advice on where to get bottles (I get mine from China and order them 10,000 at a time.) I know how to deal with importing, customs, shipping and logistics companies, and customs brokers. I can help you design your bottle labels and get them manufactured. I designed our logo myself. I can help you get your name and product dress trademarked. I can help you get your domain name. I can help you design and install your website and get your search engine ratings high (this is a real science and not easy to do.) I can help you with social media marketing through Facebook, Twitter, and Constant Contact. I can help you select, install and support your Point of Sale system, your accounting system, and merchant services (credit card processing).

Sell You NSF Certified Fustis

Fusti is the plural word for tank or drum in Italian. We Americans incorrectly call them "fustis" (which is actually like saying "octopis" for the plural of octopus.) Fustis are only produced in Italy and there are only a few manufacturers. I am the North American distributor for Minox SRL, an Italian company that specializes in making tanks for olive oil, vinegar and wine. Early on, I worked with Minox to get their fustis certified by NSF. This is critical when you start working with your local Health Department. Because you are selling "food", you will be required to conform to the same regulations that govern restaurants and other food-service establishments. Your local Health Department will insist that everything that contacts, or potentially could contact food be "NSF Certified". You say: Wait a minute, I was in an olive oil store and they had tanks that were not from Minox and they were doing business without a problem, so what is the big deal here? You may be able to get by with a tank that is not NSF certified; certainly many stores have. But, there is nothing that stops the health officer from coming in and closing you down because your tanks are not NSF. I have seen it happen here in Santa Barbara County at another olive oil store and at a up-scale grocery store and both of them are not selling olive oil from tanks anymore. I was prevented from opening my store until I could prove to the health officer my tanks were food-safe. You may say: Well I can just pour from the bottle and not use tanks, or just have the tanks there for show. Yes you can, but there is nothing like the experience of tasting directly from the tank and customers really appreciate it. You will be loosing a big part of the caché that goes with the olive oil and vinegar tasting experience. We allow customers to bring back their bottle for a refill (at a discount). We also let them bring in their own containers to fill. These are both important parts of our business and growing all the time. You cut yourself out of a big revenue stream and limit the customer experience by not using tanks to fill bottles and for sampling.

Sell you great products

We have located sources of supply for aged balsamic vinegar, pomegranate vinegar, ginger-kiwi vinegar and others that we keep private. We will, however, sell you these products. We enjoy being in one of the premier locations for olive oil growing in the country: the Santa Ynez Valley and are hours away from other prime areas like Paso Robles and Temecula. California grows 99% of all olives in the United States. Small growers approach us all the time with their products and want to know if we will carry them in our store. Some we do and some we don't, but the point is we have access to the industry that is difficult to have anywhere else. We are members of the California Olive Oil Council and closely linked to influencers within the olive oil community localized here in California. We can provide you with local sources of excellent products that the large distributors cannot. Why? Simply because they are so large; they require huge quantities of oil and vinegar to support their customer base. They are forced to go outside the US for their products. Remember: olive oil is basically fruit juice. As such freshness is critical. Imported oils just cannot be as fresh regardless of the source. Fancy imported extra virgin olive oils from Italy that you see in grocery stores are frequently adulterated with other oils. Italy sells us oil that would fail European Union rules for extra virgin. I am not saying everything that is imported is bad, but much of it is. We deal with the small boutique growers; some of whom are so small that they do not even bottle their own product because it is too expensive for them. Instead they only sell in bulk. We can help you by identifying these great little growers and sell you their oils.


In summary, I can help you do all the things that franchisers and distributors do for you, and many of the things that they leave up to you to figure out. And, most importantly, I can help you with aspects of your new business that can be the most difficult, daunting, and frustrating if not done correctly from the beginning.

Terms and Conditions:

If you buy your fustis from me, I will give you a 10% discount for quantities of 6 or more and a 20% discount for quantities of 20 or more. In addition, I will give you 2 hours free consulting.

Our billing rate is $125/hour and you pay for only time used.  We will require payment at time of service and accept Visa and MasterCard for your convenience.

Our Wholesale Price List is available to qualified merchants.

Samples are available upon request.

If you are interested in talking further please call or email me.

Jim Kirkley
il Fustino
[email protected]