Successful brand building requires a good plan, a great product, excellent positioning, and a good value, but the most essential ingredient is time. Sometimes it seems like your growth is gaining steam, then, for apparently no reason, it stymies. Sometimes it’s beyond your control and sometimes it’s in your own backyard.
When your brand building efforts slow to a crawl and run into that preverbal brick wall, it can take years to get back on track. The reasons may vary from case to case and from year to year, but here are 7 roadblocks we encountered building the now famous Barefoot Wine brand:
- Limited Supply. In 1995, there was a shortage of wine in California and our brand was a California wine. This resulted in our former winemaker advising our salespeople to “slow down on sales and we just might make it through this shortage.” His replacement was more imaginative and sourced wines from other parts of the world where there was an oversupply. Sure it was costly and curbed our growth rate but it kept the brand on the shelf.
- Poor Hiring. In the early days we lacked experience in hiring and we limped along with our original team hoping they would take us across the finish line. They couldn’t. We had to get a new team who could deal with expanded markets incorporating a national mindset.
- Doubting Buyers. Many of the big decision makers were skeptical about putting our brand in their stores. They felt that it was too radical and they feared they would get “stuck” with a slow mover. It took us years to demonstrate that competing retailers were successfully selling our brand.
- Faulty Plan. Initially we thought that a cute label, compelling catch phrase, hot price and superior quality would be enough to grow sales, and thereby the brand. Ultimately we discovered that consumer brand success was less about product and package and more about service and vigilance.
- Poor Service. Early on we expanded into territories that we could not service properly. We believed, at the time, that our brokers and distributers would make the sales, get the reorders, and put up the marketing materials. Soon, we realized that we needed our own representatives in every market because nobody was going to take care of our branded products like we could.
- Lack of Cash. We had to slow down our expansion in order to increase sales and profits in our existing territories until we could afford the investment required to open and maintain new territories. Sometimes this took years. We learned how to use a cost accountant to project investment, metrics, and returns on each new expansion. Sometimes we had to forgo important territories that were too costly to start up and concentrate on more efficient territories.
- Too Competitive. At first we introduced our brand into the large markets that sold many of our competing brands and seemed to have the most end users. But then we realized that we were better able to succeed in the smaller markets that the big competitors ignored. The buyers there were happy to get the attention.
Every brand in every category has its own challenges. Waiting for them to be solved, learning the lessons you need to know, and earning enough to afford to expand, can all take tons of time. Brand builders must be prepared for the long haul, exhibit faith in their ultimate success, and have the tenacity to stay in the game. Sometimes it’s just a grind. Hang in there!
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