Today it seems like we are hearing about a new breakthrough every day. It’s easy to get the idea that these breakthroughs are instantaneous bolts of clarity from very gifted people. Once in a while there is a sudden stroke of genius that leaves us all in awe. But most of the time the real breakthroughs are years in coming and the result of much cooperation and analysis.

Sure, there are the “Why don’t we just…” moments, but most practical and lasting breakthroughs require a team. Here’s what we experienced with several breakthroughs that occurred in our business.

  1. Other Industry Practices

We had a problem with keeping our advertising signs up on the supermarket shelves. The competition, or the cleaning people, would take them down regularly.  Sometimes we couldn’t even get our marketing materials to the shelf. They were thrown in the dumpster by our distributers. We were spread so thin we couldn’t cover all the stores with our own limited staff.

One day we noticed that some soup cans had an award medal affixed right to the can to communicate value to the shoppers. It took us 2 years to work out the mechanical issues necessary to put our award stickers on our bottles, on the bottling line. That meant that finally we had at least one piece of merchandising material that made it to the shelf every time and couldn’t be removed!

The fastest way out of the box is straight up. It’s there, at the 10,000 foot level, that you can see how others have solved similar challenges top yours!

  1. Starting at the End

We were suffering from success. Our products were selling so quickly off the shelf, we had a lot of run outs and out-of-stock situations. It was killing us. We weren’t getting reordered fast enough. Plus, we had to go through middle men to get to the retailers. So, the only way we could know about out-of-stocks, aside from being there, was to compare their shipment reports (AKA Depletion Reports). This was onerous and time consuming. By the time we discovered that a store ordered last month but not this month, we were discontinued from that store for lack of sales. Of course you can’t sell if you don’t get a reorder.

So we said, “What do we really want here?” And the answer was, “Early Warning!” and “Specific Addresses.” We wanted to get the reorder, even if the distributer’s salesperson did not  – before the store’s computer said that there were no sales for 30 days.

To do this required us to get into the software business and write a custom app that we could feed depletion data into and, by a process of exception reporting, quickly provide a list of the stores that ordered last month and did not this month. The early warning gave us time to make those stores a priority for reorders. This breakthrough gave our reps prioritized marching orders. But it took us 3 years to perfect the process.

By starting with the results of what we wanted, we were able to work backward to find the breakthrough!

  1. Know the Need

We had a problem with store owners and managers not giving us enough time to make a successful presentation. Our people were getting the bum’s rush by the buyers who wanted it fast, concise, and compelling.

We asked our people to better describe the problem and their frustrations. What we heard was that if buyers could just wait until we set up a display of our products and marketing materials, 75% of the time they would buy. So how could we reduce the presentation time?

One of our salespeople suggested that we should copy the Fuller Brush man and the Mary Kay ladies with their portable, suitcase-like display cases. We designed and produced what we called a Sell Case. Our sales increased by 50% because our people would just open the case and there would be all the bottles lined up with all the marketing materials all in place, all at once. Presto! Instant Presentation!

By letting your people “Know-the-Need” instead putting them on a “Need to Know” basis, you will be more likely to break through your challenges!

  1. Sleep on It

It’s amazing, but the brain is working on your problems 24-7, even when you are asleep, or on vacation. Sometimes we have a take-charge approach, going over and over the problem in our brains. This can actually prevent our brain from sorting things out.

We had a particularly difficult organizational challenge during a big growth spurt. All businesses face this when they shift gears between building up with a few big clients who are keeping the lights on, to building out and expanding to many big clients across the nation. Things were falling through the cracks and we were losing opportunities.

So we just said, “ OK! I guess we need to take a break!” and so we went a hiking vacation on Kauai, away from phone service, people, and business. It was heavenly, although we felt a little guilty. On the plane back we pulled out a piece of paper and completely reorganized our business using most of our existing people albeit in new rolls. Taking our minds off the problem allowed the solution to present itself. The reorganization resulted in our business expanding to become a top national brand!

Give your mental computer a break and let it work on the problem while you sleep. You’ll be surprised what flashes of insight you may get in the morning in the shower!

  1. Persist

Sometimes a breakthrough is the result of years of sticking to it. You may have to wait until the timing is just right. Even though you are locked and loaded with a breakthrough idea, others may not be ready to accept it. It’s times like these that determination pays off.

We had a great salesperson from Holland who used to amuse us with his accent and context. Every month Jack would go to see a major buyer and every month he would come back empty-handed. When we asked, “How did it go this month with the big buyer?” he would just shake his head and stomp off say, “She not shopping!” Month after month, that was his only answer, “She’s not shopping!”.

One month about a year later, Jack skipped into our office waving a purchase order from the big buyer for 2,000 cases shouting, “She’s buy – ing!” Jack’s persistence paid off, because when she was ready, he was there! Over time, he had developed a relationship with her, so when she was ready to buy, he was top on her list.

Breakthroughs are a two-way street. There’s your breakthrough and then there’s the market’s readiness to acknowledge and embrace it.

The Future

Today we have a pretty incredible resource to solve problems and achieve breakthroughs through  crowd sourcing. Instead of just asking your own people and associates for ideas, you can now share your challenges with the world and get the best ideas available. Just the international brainstorming alone can lead to many breakthroughs.

Once primarily viewed as a source for funding, crowd sourcingtoday is now a source for everything. How do you use it? Go here to learn more They are focusing all year on breakthroughs. Your next big break through might come from Norway, Nigeria, or even Nepal! You never know…

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

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 to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. 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 built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact