Early stage businesses have to go through some unexpected contortions, make some unanticipated sales, and welcome the help of unlikely allies – just to survive! Survivors will testify that keeping an open mind and not missing any opportunity to reduce the need for capital or get the word out are all essential. Basically, as the Beatles say, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Who those friends are, and how to find and engage them, are the lessons dramatized in Chapter Six of the business audio theatre, The Barefoot Spirit, aptly entitled, “Mama Mabel, Surfers, and Monks.” How unlikely a combo is that? But wait! There’s more, a lot more!
The scene opens with a string of identically dressed Japanese businessmen, complete with blue suits and grey ties filing into a tiny makeshift office in the attic of an old winery building on a rainy Saturday morning. They are led by a cowboy in muddy boots. What transpires in that tiny, leaking conference room is nothing short of miraculous for the fledgling Barefoot Wine company. It’s the true story of how the clash of the cultures is bridged by an international and timeless ploy, humor!
Fighting the headwinds of national competition and dysfunctional distribution in the USA, Barefoot is saved by unforeseen alliance with a Japanese supplier buying party supplies by the international-container load. Each load had everything you needed to party. They had chips, dips, hats, paper plates, and napkins, but needed a fun party wine beverage to go with it! Barefoot foot the bill! That business was in cash and lasted for many loads. Go figure.
Barefoot learned something important from the experience. Did we say it was in cash? Yes, most international sales are in cash. The perfect solution for a cash strapped company investing in growth at home. Thus started something they never saw coming: international trade.
It wasn’t long before their Danish CFO decided to try to get the largest supermarket in Denmark to take Barefoot. They did and boom! Multiple containers were sent to Denmark, of all places. The good news was that the business was in cash. The bad news was that it was overseas and virtually impossible to manage. Both international businesses faltered by events that could have been easily managed if the sales were inside the US. But it was a great patch on a bald tire of a budget. It got them through.
Meanwhile, back in the US, a fledgling retail company was starting out. Most of the industry did not take them seriously. They were sure it was a fad and would be a flash in the pan. Like Barefoot, they used humor and fun. Like Barefoot, they used color and a lively culture to attract shoppers bored with the standard corporate approach to retail. It was serendipity for the two oddballs to meet and do business, support each other, and help each other grow across the country. The unlikely “partners”? Barefoot Wines and Trader Joes!
When Michael was going to school in Santa Barbara, surfing was all but mandatory. So it wasn’t surprising that when an LA salesperson suggested he check out the Surfrider Foundation, Michael searched them out. He went looking for some kind of a big corporate office in the charming Southern California beach town of San Clemente. It wasn’t corporate and it wasn’t big. It was a butcher-papered windowed storefront in a strip mall. But, like Barefoot Wine, it was destined to become global.
The story of how this alliance began and how it blossomed is a lesson for any business looking to get the word out while saving the planet. It is a lesson on how you can use your passion to follow your opportunity! Don’t miss this long-lasting and tactical alliance between two “misfits” that changed the world!
Lake Tahoe to Mono Lake
What Barefoot called “worthy cause marketing” predated cause marketing and was somewhat different. Instead of announcing to the world your good deeds, you just did them quietly in the hopes that the already established network of nonprofit members would have a social reason to buy your products.
They did! And in Barefoot’s case, they became advocates for the brand. In fact, Barefoot was so successful supporting worthy causes like Keep Tahoe Blue and Save Mono Lake that they never depended on commercial advertising! Listen to how it all started and think about how you could apply these principles to get the word out in your own business.
Lafite vs, la Foot
Barefoot was trying all kinds of ways to get the word out. One ploy became the cute story for Thanksgiving in 1995. For years, Barefoot was laughingly referred to by the industry as “the Chateau la Feet” of California Wine. So, it wasn’t long before Barefoot had big foot printed tee shirts that celebrated that nomenclature. “Now,” they thought, “wouldn’t it be great if we just got the attention of the real Chateau Lafite Rothschild in France? That would really get the word out there,” they hoped.
Five years later they got their wish. A telephone call from a top New York attorney confirmed, “The Baron took umbrage!” and thus started a ground swell of support for the underdog, Barefoot Wine. And thus started an international story, carried by the Associated Press, Reuters, and others around the world. Enjoy the sarcasm and comedy as Barefoot agrees with the Baron, “Our wine is $6, his is $126. If there was confusion, we’d be ruined!”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Bonnie’s mother Mabel was doing all she could to support Michael and Bonnie in their new business. That included folding those tee shirts mentioned previously and packaging the marketing materials for the distributers across the country.
She needed help! She got it from an unlikely source: the local Thai Buddhist temple! The monks liked being around Mabel’s “life force” and would gladly help just to be near her. Find out how all this came about as you listen to the amazing surprises in this chapter.
But as you listen to these well-performed scenes, you can’t help but take away the message that solutions are all around you. If you believe there is a solution, take regular inventory, and keep your mind and eyes open for answers, you can use what you have to get what you need – especially if you keep your sense of humor and look for fellow travelers, no matter how unlikely they may seem!
Please be our guest to a free chapter and see if The Barefoot Spirit audiobook isn’t the perfect companion for your next road trip!
Who We Are
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 www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.
To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.