We often see aspiring brand builders fall so much in love with their concept, logo, label, and catchy phrases, that they forget the elephant in the room – distribution management. We did. When people commented on the success of our brand, they usually thought it was due to the cute foot on the label. It wasn’t.
We figured with a friendly foot on the label and a catchy slogan like “Get Barefoot and Have a Great Time!” how could we miss? We thought that a gold-medal-winning wine at a reasonable price that came in a memorable package would be enough to build the brand. It didn’t. True, you need all that to build a brand, but it takes more than that. Our success was a result of developing and following the four practices below:
1 Start Small. Make your mistakes in a small area so you can clean up your act before you take it on the road. Learn the lessons of distribution management in a confined region so that you understand what you are required to do to get your product to the shelf and more importantly, keep it there. Earn the reputation in your local market of being a “fast-mover” and an “up-and-comer.” You don’t want any failed markets to haunt you once you go on the road. Your reputation as “the next big thing” has to precede you as you cautiously expand.
2 Focus on Sales. Some inexperienced business owners start out with a focus on production and expect somehow that sales will just happen. They won’t. In fact, in the beginning, you may have to make most of the sales personally. Soon you will discover that you have to hire and train many people to watch the placements you have made, just so they don’t run out of stock. It seems crazy to think that retailers and distributers would allow a product that is selling well to run out. But that’s exactly what happens to new products with no history.
3 Get Displays. Shoppers generally don’t notice a new brand on the shelf. They have to stumble upon your brand and that is best done with displays. Whether they be large bay ends (aka end aisles) or modest side stack (aka waterfalls), retailers generally give you an opportunity to put up a sign (aka back card, case rider, or display piece). Of course, in order to get these kinds of placements, you will have to provide a quantity discount and be programmed into the stores schedule of rotation, which takes weeks of requests and negotiation. But it’s worth it to get as many displays as you can so your product will get noticed.
4 Be Tenacious. Within a few short years of starting Barefoot, it earned the industry nickname, “The brand that would not die.” Why? Because when someone took down our point of sale advertising materials or put the potato chips display in front of our products, our salesperson was there, that week, to fix it. Sure, that took a lot of people and we were really spread thin, but without that kind of consistent vigilance in the early days, the Barefoot brand would have faltered. We found soon enough that brand building in the retail marketplace required much more labor than production did.
So even with a great product, excellent price, cute label, and a clever slogan, consumer brand building requires years of physical, unrelenting, hands-on work in the marketplace to keep your brand in stock long enough to get the reputation and the traction needed to get consistent reorders. And then, after many years of hard work, you too can be an overnight success!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders