History

Photographed by Kris Shirley-Endean
Photographed by Kris Shirley-Endean
Photographed by Kris Shirley-Endean

For many, many years Banks Channel was a division of American Premium Beverage (APB) a wine and beer distributor based in the Triad region of North Carolina. APB was founded in Winston Salem, NC in 1973 and the same three partners actively managed APB for thirty-four years, until APB was sold in November 2007.
 
The opportunity that led to the creation of Banks Channel came in the form of a Spanish sparkling wine brand: Freixenet. In the 1970's, the Freixenet winery was beginning to do business in the United States and in 1977 they chose to work with APB for distribution within the Triad region of NC. Freixenet also asked APB to assist them with distribution in the remainder of NC.
 
In 1977, APB was a very young distributor lacking both the infrastructure and the financial wherewithal to service the entire state of NC with the Freixenet brand. Based on Freixenet's request, one of the APB partners saw an opportunity to function as Freixenet's sales agent in NC, setting up a distributor network for Freixenet across the state.
 
This partner's idea was to provide local focus and understanding for Freixenet and to augment, but not replace the role of the supplier in managing the brand. Extreme care was employed in interviewing every North Carolina distributor in an effort to ensure that the Freixenet brand was appropriately represented in each distinct market in the state. Once a distributor network was established, APB assisted Freixenet in a number of different ways: communicating marketing programs to the NC distributors; inspecting the implementation of these programs throughout the state; collecting sales and other data from the NC distributors; and in centralizing all invoicing, payments and collections through Banks Channel.
 
This concept of "distributing through other distributors" was the beginning of the regional Banks Channel business proposition. This regional business expanded into South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Washington, DC over the next several years and included a small portfolio of primarily imported wines. This regional business was and is the genesis of the US import business that Banks Channel is building today.
 
Banks Channel's Atlantic Basin business began in 1982 and was, in many ways, an extension of what had been learned in the regional Banks Channel business. Banks Channel began to export California Coolers (a brand sold by APB) to Bermuda in 1984. While the export of this particular brand proved unsuccessful, it did provide an opportunity to explore the market in Bermuda and to become acquainted with every alcoholic beverage distributor there. Additionally, Banks Channel gained valuable insight into how suppliers manage brands by working with Brown-Forman (who had recently acquired California Coolers) on this Bermudan introduction.
 
The time spent in Bermuda, working on the launch of California Coolers, generated several observations about this very high-end tourist market that led to the creation of the Banks Channel Atlantic Basin business:
1. In general, European wineries dominated the wine business in Bermuda
2. There was no premium California varietal business in Bermuda, even though many American tourists visited Bermuda
3. Wine-by-the-glass was almost nonexistent in Bermuda
4. The most economical method to service key accounts in Bermuda was (and is) through the services of an existing alcoholic beverage distributor there
 
Banks Channel contacted Wine World Estates (now Treasury Wine Estates) and began a series of discussions about opportunities for Beringer in Bermuda. Beringer wines first shipped to Bermuda in 1986.  While the initial Beringer introduction in Bermuda proved somewhat difficult; Banks Channel representatives traveled there frequently from 1986 to 1989, assisting with the evolution of the Beringer brand. These initial years in Bermuda provided a sort of laboratory environment in which to develop different techniques for working with distributors and to begin to learn how to successfully sell wines and build brands in export markets.
 
Following several years of effort, the Beringer brand began to flourish in Bermuda. With this hard-won success, Banks Channel was ready to visit and investigate additional Atlantic Basin markets and to also work on building a strategic portfolio of brands to complement Beringer throughout the Atlantic Basin. Robert Bowman (Robert) began working for Banks Channel in the summer of 1999. The founding member of Banks Channel, John Fragakis (John) and Robert had known each other since 1987, when Robert was working as an Assistant Store Manager in a store where John was the sales person for APB. Over the years, the two of them developed a friendship centered around their joint love of both wine and the business of wine. In November 2001, John and Robert purchased Banks Channel, LLC in a spin-off from APB and began their partnership.
 
In 2006, after more than 20 years of Atlantic Basin travel, John decided to once again focus his energies on distribution opportunities in North Carolina.   John was the owner and President of a wine, beer and Red Bull distributor in NC for many years, before selling that business to Empire Distributors.  Today, John owns and manages a micro distillery in Winston Salem, NC.  While John is no longer involved at Banks Channel, his legacy will always be part of Banks Channel. 
 
In January, 2017 Robert merged his Atlantic Basin business with a very similar company based in Miami, World Equity Brand Builders (WEBB) creating WEBB Banks.  
 
Today, Banks Channel is 100% owned by Robert Bowman and operates primarily as a US Wine Importer. Moving forward, Banks Channel will continue to be very thorough and professional in all our business activities, using our past learnings to help us achieve future successes.