Business Experts Offer Good Advice to Wine the Experience

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     Photo: David Croxford


By the time the makeover roadmap was in place, it was the end of September and WTX was gearing up for the holidays. Sales had been modest all year, but WTX was hit hard financially by a few “really bad months” in the summer, which meant the Balls were strapped for cash and other resources to implement changes suggested by the makeover team.

Still, Shannon aggressively pursued several large hotel accounts using some of the strategies and tips provided by Jee. In the end, bigger wine distributors beat his pricing by as much as $1 per bottle, he says. He also followed up on corporate leads, sent out promotional flyers and reviewed his pricing and costs, as suggested by Kawasaki. Shannon also followed Hammond’s advice and took his wine experience on the road by participating in several private functions and hosting more events at the store.

The Balls have also taken small steps to improve their store’s appearance by incorporating new artwork and tidying up their retail section.

Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

From the start, Gilbert, the lead consultant who was tasked with fitting the consultants’ individual recommendations into a cohesive plan that would benefit WTX’s short-term and long-term goals, noted, “This process will result in one of four things happening: WTX will take and implement all of these good ideas and their business will flourish; they’ll bring in a partner or create a joint venture with an existing company to drive more sales; they’ll sell the business; or close up shop.”

In the end, the consultants’ collective recommendations allowed the Balls to see what was required to take their business to the next level. It was a reality check that Shannon says was a bit overwhelming.

“I don’t want to keep operating just flat,” Shannon says. “I’m not trying to make this my 40-year hobby. I want to run a successful business and some of (the consultants’) ideas helped illuminate what we needed to do to grow.”

By late December, the Balls knew something big needed to happen for them to stay in business, so they approached several companies about forming a partnership or purchasing the business.

“We were significantly down from 2009 despite a busy holiday season,” John says. “We were hoping 2010 was going to be a better year and we could finally break through, but with the economy down and sales down, unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.”

Gilbert, who has more than 20 years of business consulting experience and specializes in family businesses, says, “It’s not easy to walk away, especially since most small-business owners are so closely tied to the business. It takes a lot of sophistication and maturity to realize when it’s time to cut your losses before things get worse, and, in reality, a lot of business owners don’t fit the bill. Sometimes, the best decision for the business is to close the business.”

The biggest challenges, John says, were the lack of time and resources. “If we had $25,000 or $50,000 and one more year to implement the changes and we could watch the negative number deplete and turn into a positive, we might have had a different outcome,” he says.

The consultants agreed that most of the obstacles the Balls encountered over the past six years are not unique. Gilbert says the most important lesson he’s learned as an entrepreneur is that it’s a lot easier to start a business than it is to keep it going, which is why business owners need to form long-term plans detailing how they’re going to repay loans, make payroll, cover all of their other expenses – even when sales are down – and hopefully still grow the business.

“The best entrepreneurs are the ones who can learn from their mistakes,” Gilbert says. “Owning a business isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people, but sometimes it takes a couple of tries before you get it right.”


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