In the course of building your brand, you will come up against more than one rude and adamant naysaying gatekeeper. We certainly did! Interestingly enough, they all eventually came back and bought! But they might not have if we had handled it differently.
Each situation is unique and requires a thoughtful response. Remember, your call or visit may have come in when they were just having a bad day. We know – we’ve been there:
Stood Up. When someone stands you up for an appointment, they owe you. Eventually, we felt rather hopeful when we got stood up. Call it crazy, but we thought that the buyer might give us a bit more consideration next time. And they usually did. Many times to make up for their rudeness, the buyer would give us an order!
Kicked Out. We once had a big store buyer who basically kicked us out and told us to never come back. In this case, we sold around those stores. We went to all his competition and made our product a big success. Two years later his replacement called and wanted to know why their chain wasn’t carrying our products. The new buyer felt left out.
Put Down. Some buyers made fun of us, saying we were selling a novelty brand that was flash in the pan and wouldn’t last. They said we were a joke! Ouch! But later, when they saw how popular our products were becoming, they not only brought us in, but said they “always knew it was going to be a big hit!” Everybody wants to be on the right side of history and quickly forgets how hard they fought it.
Stomped On. We had a distributor who was happy to take our brand because they could stop its growth. They were promoting another brand in our category. We were rather naive at the time and didn’t realize what was going on. When we complained about low sales, they told us to lower our prices and send more marketing materials. We gave them a temporary price reduction and sent several hundred dollars’ worth of marketing materials. When we show up unannounced, we discovered that they had swapped out our placements on the retailers’ shelves with the brand they wanted to promote. And our marketing materials were being literally stomped down to fit in the dumpster. Ironically, days later, their fair-haired boy dumped them and they had to sell, guess what, our products. Only now, they were worried that we would leave them for the past abuse – which gave us the advantage when we insisted on excellent customer service.
Lied To. After two years of presenting and conducting studies, one big buyer told us that he was finally ready to buy and we should get the purchase order the next Monday. When we went in to get the order, there was a new buyer sitting at his desk who said, “You’ve got to start all over with me!” He did not honor his predecessor’s promise and strung us out for two more years. Then, you guessed it, his successor wanted to know why they didn’t carry our products.
So, what’s the lesson here? When you feel like you’re being mistreated, don’t lash out in justified anger, don’t let it get to you, and don’t give up. Instead, remain calm, keep selling where you can, keep servicing what you sell, and wait! Know that things change. Your poise and grace in the face of adversity will be rewarded. Don’t burn any bridges you can’t cross. Eventually, you will be welcomed to cross them with open arms!
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