It’s easy to be so close to a problem that an out-of-the-box solution is hard to visualize. We have found that by closely examining the problem from all sides and comparing it to other challenges you face, you are more likely to discover the “elegant” solution – a simple solution that solves multiple problems. We have all been brainwashed over the years by our education, professional practices, and experience to think that certain types of problems can only be solved in certain prescribed ways: legal – get a lawyer; poor sales – advertise more; negotiation – meet in the middle, and so on.
What guiding principles did we use at Barefoot Cellars to arrive at out-of-the-boxes solutions to conventional problems? Here’s an example of a seemingly insurmountable problem we faced and how we solved it:
Many folks think that getting a trademark is protection in itself. It is not. Many folks think the government enforces the trademark. It does not. When you have an international brand, you must have trademarks all over the world. And, more importantly, you have to exercise constant vigilance that your “marks” are not being infringed upon. If you allow someone to copy your mark, you can lose it in that jurisdiction. Your rights can be enforced in a civil or administrative court, but that means you have to pay lawyers to write cease and desist letters, make threats, and file lawsuits. It can lead to a legal battle that can last years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. After a prolonged period of time, it usually comes down to whoever has the most money wins.
Well, we didn’t have much money when a large distiller in a big European country copied our mark on one of their products. When we first asked them to stop and cited our EU trademark, they implied that we didn’t have a prayer, citing their huge budget and in-house legal department. They said we couldn’t sustain a protracted lawsuit in a foreign country. Even though our trademark counsel advised we likely would eventually win, they were right! So we were forced to take an entirely different approach.
We wrote a letter to all the retail buyers that carried both the infringer’s products and our products. The letter stated the infringement, showed our trade marks, and advised the buyers of confusion in the marketplace where both products were sold. We stated that we were not responsible for the quality of the infringer’s product. No buyer wants his customers to complain about being confused. No buyer will knowingly carry an illegally infringing product in his stores.
But we didn’t send the letters out just yet. Instead, we sent copies of the letters to the Chairman of the infringer’s Board with a note that read, “These letters are scheduled to go out today at 5PM PST.” The Chairman called us within an hour!
By identifying all who benefited by trademark compliance, and by realizing that, after all, even the infringing party did not want to cause problems for his buyers, we were able to quickly solve the problem outside of the legal process and without further fees. Sometimes you have to take the ten-thousand foot view to see other facets to your problem, who else is affected, and discover new ways of resolution. Being undercapitalized forced us to seek a more imaginative and frugal solution, once again proving that money does not solve all problems.
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