U of Lethbridge PhotoThis week we were the Executives in Residence at one of Canada’s premier universities, the University of Lethbridge, with campuses in Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge.  In addition to delivering keynotes to several hundred students, faculty, and business leaders, we are also speaking to individual marketing and business management classes about the lessons we learned building the Barefoot Wine brand.

One professor asked us to speak about how we conducted marketing research and acquired information before the launch of our product.

When Barefoot started, we didn’t have a preconceived idea about what we wanted to do. We knew only that it was going to be a wine product.  Barefoot Wines was the end result of our efforts to collect a long over-due debt for a grape farmer. Instead of cash, we did a trade for bulk wine and bottling services.

Now we just had to transform the raw materials into cash to pay the debt. But not so fast! This meant that we had to find a buyer for a finished, branded product. We had no idea what was needed or how it should look, but we knew that the chain stores were buying wine in huge quantities, so that was where we started.

We did something that in retrospect seems obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to any marketers with previously designed finished products. Rather than pitch the features and benefits of what we created, we asked the largest buyer in our region what he needed. What he told us was the key to accessing the market in the first place. Never mind the way the brand developed and succeeded. It had to get into the market first.

We acquired the critical marketing information we needed, not from pouring over piles of data, not from extensive focus groups, and not even from interviewing successful brand owners in our industry. We didn’t have the funds nor the time for that approach.

Instead we asked the consumers what they wanted, the warehouse workers how to assure correct deliveries, the clerks what products got the greatest reorders, and the bottling line managers what labels they bottled the most. We asked the retail buyers what price the market would bear for what kind of package and product. Then we worked backwards to develop our product, logo, and budget.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but due to our time pressure and being industry outsiders, we actually collected better, more current, and more relevant marketing information than if we had approached the challenge in a more traditional way.

In fact, the Barefoot brand concept could not have originated from within the wine industry at that time, nor could it have originated from any conventional approach to marketing research. It would have been prejudiced by the way questions were formulated and the way things had been done in the past.  In an effort to copy or compete with other successful brands in the space, Barefoot would have turned out just like them. Barefoot was out-of-the-box because it’s founders where never in the box and had the audacity to ask everyone who touched their product for advice. They collected marketing information from the people who physically dealt with products in their category every day. Most had never been asked before.

We laud the management and marketing curriculum at Lethbridge University because it incorporates the experiences and learnings of real-life successful entrepreneurs who overcame the toughest challenges in new and creative ways. We are honored to be a case study and adjunct to their commitment to create the next generation of business leaders.


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 www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact sales@thebarefootspirit.com.