When you are from an industry, it’s easy and natural to follow best practices, established policies, and time-honored conventions. Being from outside the industry, it seemed logical to seek advice from the people actually doing the physical work. This turned out to be an advantage when we starting Barefoot Wines.

If you want to be disruptive, talk to everybody who touches your product. You will soon discover things that folks who have been in the industry for years, and even generations, have overlooked.

Often times in established industries, the top decision makers are isolated and insulated from their workers. They are more concerned with justifying the way things have been done in the past. Even if the workers have a big problems with those practices, chances are they are never heard them at the C-Suite level. Their complaints, suggestions and insights are usually lost in the top down structure of the company itself. Besides, what do they know? They should stop complaining and just do what they are told, right?

Wrong! Their insights are golden! As naive outsiders, we didn’t know any other way but to approach the wine business from the ground up. We started by asking a Bottling Line Manager what our label should look like. This is a guy in overalls, sporting a heavy tool belt, with grit from a full day of working on a humongous bottling machine that needed repairs and adjustments every 20 minutes!

He said, “Well, I’m no expert, but I can tell you that most of the wines we bottle have labels with lots of white space around their logos. They’re easy to read and they don’t have a bunch of curly cues.”  By using his suggestions, we designed a label that today is the fastest selling in the wine industry!

Later when we got into interstate sales, we would hear our brokers and distributers say, “Your product is just not selling in certain stores!” and, “You can’t expect to be a big hit everywhere.” And then they would always add, “Maybe you should reduce your price and send more marketing materials.”

Eventually we decided to check for ourselves on those stores where our product was “not moving.” One such store was part of big chain where our product was moving well, just not this particular store.

When we got to the store and made friends with the clerk, he showed us it wasn’t even on the shelf and our shelf space was taken by a competitor. But why? We went in the back room and discovered that the wrong type of wine had been delivered. It was ours all right, but not the type they had ordered. And it had just been sitting there – for months!

When we went to our local distributer’s Sales Manager he passed the blame on to the “those warehouse guys.” When we went to the Warehouse Manager, he blamed Eddie the Forklift Operator who picks out the goods for delivery.

We came back at midnight when Eddie’s shift began. “So, what’s up with the wrong product delivery, Eddie?” we asked. “It’s so dark in here and the labels are so small it’s a wonder that anything get delivered right,” he snapped. “Well, should we make our labels bigger?” we asked. “No,” he said, “Just put each type in a different colored box!” We did just that! It reduced our missed deliveries, and increased our sales all over the country. Plus, now the clerks loved to stack “those colorful boxes.”

Our business thrived on the insights of people in “low” places. Yours can too! Learn to make friends in “low” places, and pay close attention to what they have to say.

Who Are We.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse in 1986, to the board room of E&J Gallo, where they successfully sold their brand in 2005. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful and help corporations achieve entrepreneurial cultures to engage and empower their people.

Currently they travel the world keynoting at universities, corporations, conferences and symposiums. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals; along with being FOX News Radio Network’s Workplace Culture Experts. They are also the recipients of the 2014 Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker Award from the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bradley University. Visit their popular brand building site at www.thebrandauthority.net. To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact info@thebarefootspirit.com.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders