When we began building the Barefoot Wine brand, we hired one of our first chain store managers to call on the big supermarket buyers in California. He was a tall Dutch guy named Jack Voss who kept us entertained with his charming accent and idioms that didn’t quite translate into English.
The buyers loved Jack, too. But he had a few accounts that we thought were just not yet convinced to bring in Barefoot. Years had gone by. We thought Jack could try harder. We kept bugging him with, “Did they buy yet?” and “When is she ever going to buy?” Jack would hear this nagging and knew it was coming from folks who didn’t quite understand the situation. He would stand up straight and announce in a loud tone of voice, “She’s not shopping!”
It took us a while to fully understand what Jack meant by that as well as the important implications to the growth of our brand. The buyer simply wasn’t shopping for anything new at that time, and hadn’t been for several years. Finally the day came when she was shopping! She brought in the product that had been presented to her like clockwork every month for years – Barefoot! What if Jack became discouraged and stopped? We were glad he didn’t, and in the process, we learned a few important lessons from this experience:
- Timing. Sometimes you can have the best price, best package, and best product – and you still can’t get into the store, simply because the timing isn’t right. Perhaps she only buys when another product fails. Perhaps it’s the wrong time of the year. Perhaps she has too much unsold inventory and has to move it out first.
- Persistence. Continuing to make the pitches, even when it appears they are futile, builds a familiarity with the brand in the eyes of the decision maker. She knows there is an alternative out there just waiting for a chance if she discontinues another brand.
- Dependability. Continuing to show up over and over again, without the satisfaction of a purchase order, speaks volumes to the prospect about your salesperson’s dependability and commitment to service.
When you are a new brand builder you are naturally anxious to make all the sales you can in the shortest period of time. But your buyer has a different set of guidelines based on need, service, and reliability. Your buyer is resistant to making a change and just the idea causes considerable anxiety.
As time went on we lightened up on Jack as we began to realize that he was building valuable relationships with prospects who hadn’t bought yet. In fact we had a saying, “There are no yes’s or no’s – just nows and laters!” With that attitude it’s clear that the only person who can say no is you!
We asked Jack what he talked about with the reluctant prospect, when he knew that she wasn’t shopping. He said he learned about her problems and who was “on the bubble,” an industry term for brands that were in danger of being discontinued for slow sales. In our industry, poor performing brands that were “on the bubble” in November had to show stellar sales over the holidays or the bubble would burst in January and the new “sets” (new brands, those staying and those leaving) would be announced by each chain and box store in February or March.
Jack always told us he was postponing Holiday celebration until March, and we finally figured out why. She was shopping!
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