Since it’s Halloween, we thought we’d share a scary brand story. For the first five years of our brand’s existence, we had to survive various attempts to kill it. Even after that, we had to be constantly vigilant to protect it from threats to its very life in every new market. It was pretty scary stuff for the young, unwary new brand owners we once were!
When it comes to consumer goods, there is only so much shelf space. It is a coveted commodity, fought over and, in some industries, sold to the highest bidder. Commissioned salespeople do not want to see a new brand show up in their territory because it will take away from the total shelf space available, and that affects their brand and their commissions.
New brands, scrutinized by the buyers to see how quickly they sell, can easily become victims. A month or two is all the time they have, before they face sudden death – discontinued, pretty much forever.
Barefoot survived some frightening times. If we hadn’t, there would be no Barefoot Wine today. Here are some of the booby traps and attacks many new brands will face:
Signs of Injury. Our signs were missing. Point of sale signs, such as tags on the neck of our bottles, signs on the shelf, or larger signs behind a floor display sometimes magically disappeared. Depending on how often our sales rep visited that store, this could go on for some time, significantly reducing sales and making our brand appear to be a slow mover to the buyer. That spells death of a brand.
Pull the Plug. Our reorder codes were removed. This was our lifeline to getting fresh product on the shelves. Looking up the brand’s code was often too much trouble for the night clerk who did the reordering, and it was easier to just let it run out of stock. This, of course, meant fewer sales and could lead to discontinuance – especially in a new test market.
Blood Stains. Sometimes our labels were splashed with red wine stains, which gave them an unclean look that nobody wanted to buy. This can happen when a bottle is broken in the case, maybe during shipping. If our rep didn’t catch it immediately, the one bad label in front would stop the sales of all the clean bottles lined up behind it.
Kidnapping. Our bottles were taken off the shelf and hidden elsewhere in the store or behind other brands. Sometimes they were moved to a dark, creepy corner of the store, where no one ventured but the spiders.
Bury the Body. Potato chips and other freestanding items were placed in front of our product on the shelf. Sometimes, stacks of a competitor’s products were placed in front of ours so ours were out of sight. The slowest sales we ever had were of the bottles that no one could see.
How did we defend our brand from an early and untimely death? We practiced constant vigilance, and became aware of the lurking goblins. We never allowed our young brand to go out into an unknown market without a chaperone, a commissioned representative who worked directly for us. There are many villains that can kill your brand, but having your own rep in every market will help scare most of them off.
We learned the hard way but finally got serious about protecting our brand in new markets. We had a sales rep wherever we had our product. Barefoot Wine is a survivor, and earned the reputation “The Brand that would not die.”
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