We had a friend who was a very talented singer and songwriter. He was convinced that if he could just get discovered (like in the movies), he’d have it made. He used to tell us, “It’s like one, two three! I play, Mr. Big sees me, and bam! I’m a hit!”
We wish it was that simple. But the fact is it’s a grind! A long grind for most successful brands. With lots of work. Work you never signed up for. Work that is surprising, and has nothing to do with your product or service.
In most cases, the true work required to build your brand doesn’t even show itself during the first few years. It may be there, but you may be in denial. You may think it’s the kind of work somebody else should do. Or worse, you kid yourself into thinking some one else is doing it.
The grind is the nitty-gritty of getting the word out, the drudgery of distribution, and the long wait for the right timing! The grind can take years. And interestingly, success requires the stamina, tenacity, and patience to get through it. Finally you get to a critical mass when things start to move again, and at an increasing rate. But as we have said in the past, you have to push on the Queen Mary for quite a long time before it finally budges. Then, with consistent and determined pressure, it will begin to move away from the pier. Eventually you overcome the momentum and it moves out into the harbor. What if you gave up back at the pier?
Getting The Word Out. Advertising is expensive and most of it is wasted. Advertisers will tell you that you have to advertise consistently over an extended period of time before you can see any “traction.” When you were small, you advertised by word-of-mouth and referrals, but now that you’ve expanded, major buyers are telling you that they won’t take your product unless you advertise big time. So now, that you are in multiple states you find that you have to be very careful about expanding further since you can’t afford the advertising. Also now that you are playing with the big boys, you have to match them dollar-for-dollar just to gain access to the market – and you simply can’t out spend them. This is the grind.
Distribution. Many brands prove their concept but fail to expand successfully. This is often because the brand builders underestimate the time, money, and effort it takes to get their product to market and keep it there. They underestimate the cost of sales which can skyrocket when you try to provide customer service over a broader territory and expanded customer base. When you were selling it all yourself, you discounted your own work, but now that you have paid salespeople you know only too well the real costs involved. These costs are so high you are forced to expand slower that you would like just to be able to afford to grow! This is the grind!
Timing. You always hear about the brand that had just the right timing for the market, the trends, or the times. But you never hear about the brand that was there for years until finally the times were right. Many great brands run out of steam before the times are right for them. What makes the difference? It’s the tenacity, faith, and patience of the brand builders. These brand builders continued to grind away until the obstacles are finally removed. Many disrupting brands must prove to the gatekeepers that an unknown brand will make them money. This can take years. This too is the grind.
The grind grinds both ways. You grind it and it grinds you. It grinds your money, your energy, and your very faith in your brand. But at the other end of the grind come the breakthrough and you can have a good laugh when folks say your brand was just timed right, just took off, or you were just lucky!!
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