Gijs | From marketing manager to retail winery
By Eleni Meraki
I went to law school so I didn’t have to decide on one specific direction. I figured I could decide in a later stage of my life what I really wanted to do and a law degree would be a solid foundation. Ever since I remember I have been experimenting with entrepreneurship. During uni for example I had a business in creating furniture from traffic signs.
5 THINGS ABOUT
WINE TRUCK | GRAPEDISTRICT | 2 CHILDREN | LAW GRADUATE | TASTED >1000 WINES
LEAP OF FAITH
Working as a marketing manager at a multinational beer brand was absolutely great. As my entrepreneurial mind has always been part of me I knew that eventually I would have to do “something for myself”. There is simply little room for my creative ideas in a big corporate.
The idea of a retail winery started over the dinner table with a colleague and a friend while sharing our mutual interest and love for wine. We continued exploring the world of wine and started meeting frequently in our spare time. We saw the wine market growing and changing and we knew this was the right moment in our lives to make a jump.
We were making long working days so we couldn’t dedicate the right amount of time to our new business idea. We had to make a decision; going all-in or not at all. It was at a big wine fair in London a couple of weeks later when we decided to quit our jobs, all three of us at the same time. The Monday morning after the fair we all resigned.
We quit our jobs without having a fixed plan of what we would do with our idea. In my two months notice period I consulted my work network to explore and research the market. We wanted to change the communication around wine but had no clue how. At the brand I worked for everything always started with three questions; Who is the target audience? What do they want? How can we best serve them? This seems logical but in the wine industry this was the other way around. We wanted to break through the conventional choosing system. In a regular wine shop the wine is categorized by region and country, which doesn’t make any sense to a customer with little to no knowledge of wine.
We created 9 categories based on taste, instead of region, because even if you don’t know a lot about wine, you still know your taste. Customers are less interested in the region, they want a wine that meets their taste.
Opening two stores at once.
An expert friend from the retail business had given us the tip to launch the brand by opening two stores at once. The idea behind this was that if your concept doesn’t work on one location it doesn’t mean your concept failed. It could still be the location was wrong. If your concept doesn’t work on both locations though, you know your concept isn’t strong. We opened strategically on different locations – one store in the area where our target audience lives, and one store in a “hip and happening” area.
You get a lot of support when you start something for yourself and people are always willing to help. A design agency helped us designing our logo and house style - the colour coding we are now famous for. For them, it was an exciting small project and for us it was an opportunity to get a new design for a fraction of the price.
We gathered our savings and found three investors within our network that got a percentage of the business. The most important part was the beginning and that’s where we really needed the money. The first 1,5 year we had no salary and nothing to spend. Luckily we all had steady relationships with partners with good incomes. Our investors believed in us. We had a lot more to risk that they had with the small investment they gave.
Apart from the initial funding to set up the business, we never asked or accepted any additional funding from investors. We once had the opportunity to sell part of our company and grow faster but that is not our aim.
THE TOUGH TIMES
Wine does not have a high profit margin. We thought we would expand faster.
We don’t want to sell parts of the company and that slows our growth.
You have to do everything yourself and you end up spending a lot of time on details. This is still a struggle for us.
Finding the right personnel is very hard because our unconventional concept and way of working in the traditional wine industry.
5 INSIDER TIPS
It really helps to have a couple of years of experience in a (big) company so you can learn required skills and systems.
Networking is very important.
There is a pledge fund (in The Netherlands) from the government for young start-ups. You can get a loan from the bank with the back-up from the government.
First consult your own network when searching for investors.
Make a good business plan but be willing to adjust strategy along the way. But when changing your strategy stay true to your philosophy.