SO, HOW MUCH WINE CAN YOU SELL OUT OF A GARAGE?
Answer: Not a lot.
But that's what Ryan was doing.
He was making wine in his garage. He was selling a few hundred cases a year. Legally. His landlord let him have the garage bonded as a winery by the Feds so it was all above board and he was paying his excise tax.
And understand, this is the Napa Valley.
Stories like this one are not that unusual.
Here's the problem: even if it's really good wine, nobody gets rich on a few hundred cases of wine a year.
IN A WAY, RYAN WAS THAT FABLED GUY WHO WOULD PERFORM BRAIN SURGERY ON HIMSELF
He just had to figure out how to stay awake during the operation.
That is one of the classic definitions of an entrepreneur.
The driven guy with the hyphenated job title who does it all himself.
Winemaker, Chief Bottle Washer & Brain Surgeon.
However, it seems that Ryan was not the egomaniac who insists on staying the brain surgeon.
One day, at a wine event he was running, Ryan met Crystal.
Crystal is a dynamo.
When she met Ryan, her career was vibrant and vigorous. She was getting on jets and going places. She was moving and shaking and making stuff happen for big companies.
CRYSTAL AND RYAN ALSO KNEW THEY HAD A CONNECTION
But they didn't hook up right away.
After the event, the Napa winemaker and the corporate shaker went their separate ways.
But that didn't last long.
Geography couldn't keep them apart, and good wine brought them together.
Crystal became the yin to Ryan's yang.
They married, and she joined the winery in the garage.
Fast forward to today. It's no longer in a garage. It's in a huge cave.
With Crystal's help, Ryan gets to focus on the winemaking instead of the brain surgery, so to speak. He focuses on the science and the art of turning grapes into liquid poetry.
Meanwhile, Crystal works a different kind of science and art: that of winning friends and influencing people. She handles the sales and marketing.
AND IN THE PROCESS, SHE DEVELOPED ANOTHER KIND OF POETRY
She has created the entrepreneurial poetry of building a desirable cult brand.
Through a combination of evocative personal touch and scarcity, she has helped attract legions of dedicated followers.
She also made it happen by doing something that would scare the pants off of a lot of business owners.
While Ryan began making more wine, and the hundreds of cases turned into thousands, Crystal made that wine harder to get.
No more retail.
No more restaurants.
Sales direct to the customer only.
And preferably, through a club-membership model.
YES, MEMBERSHIP DOES HAVE ITS PRIVILEGES
Make a better product.
Make it harder to get.
Make it available on a monthly subscription.
And you know what happens?
By cutting out the middleman and selling the product for what it's worth at retail, you double your margin. And boy are these wines worth far more than the retail price. Phenomenal.
By making it rare, it's made more desirable. They don't even sell it on their own website for the most part. As Crystal likes to say, "It feels like you need to know somebody to get it."
By making it available on a club basis, the worth of each sale is far more than just a single accidental retail purchase.
And by winning friends and influencing people, you create a steadfast and enthusiastic group of supporters who are there for you. Your die-hard fans help keep you in business and love your product.
THIS IS A FAMILY BUSINESS WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE LIKE FAMILY
Yes, it sounds like a cliché.
A cliché that yours truly has railed against.
Fortunately, in this case, it's true in the best way possible.
This was very much in evidence in the wake of the Napa fires.
Crystal says that she handles all the customer service, which means she handles a whole lot of email.
With the fires, the amount of email was overwhelming, all of it inquiring about the health and welfare of the family.
Crystal, who typically expedites such things, said that it was taking her weeks to catch up and let everyone know they were OK.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS A LOVE FOR THE BUSINESS MADE INDEED MADE MANFIEST IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE
Talk to Ryan, and it's clear that he has a love for people, and for the science and the art of making wine.
He also has a word for the kinds of wines he likes to make: "Balanced."
In an age when it seems like vintners are trying desperately to show the world they can make wines that punch you in the face with a particular quality, he's making wines that invite you in and seduce you.
Talk to Crystal, and it's clear that she has a love for people and for sharing her husband's craft with them.
Talk to Crystal and Ryan together, and it's clear they have a love for each other. It's also clear that the business is a labor of that love. And it has balance.
Ryan has another word, this one for the reason why the business and the brand work.
THAT WORD IS: "RESPECT"
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I interviewed the two of them for the CoupleCo podcast.
And more than once in previous CoupleCo interviews, the husband has said, unsolicited and in no uncertain terms, the reason why the relationship and the business work is because of respect.
Ryan was just the most recent.
Also, something else happens when we're recording these podcasts: Honey and I get the best seats in the house.
We get to watch two people who never expected to be hearing the things they're hearing, about their business and their marriage, from each other.
It has been revealing.
It's also humbling. As Honey repeatedly says, "It makes me want to be a better couple."
And the thing about being a better couple in business together is it makes for a better business.
WHY IS A COUPLE LIKE CRYSTAL AND RYAN SO FASCINATING?
We've been pondering this.
And we think the answer is in something another one of the CoupleCo couples said in their interview: "It's not just your business. It's your whole life."
And the woman who said that is dead on.
It's one of the reasons we've found couplepreneurs so interesting to interview, and why so many people who aren't in business with a spouse are enjoying the test podcasts we've given them.
It's not just about being in business together. It's about risking everything.
In a culture where the marriage ideal is to live happily ever after? Running a business together throws all of that into question.
Because it IS your whole life.
IT'S ABOUT TWO PEOPLE WANTING TO MAKE THEIR LIFE EXACTLY THE WAY THEY WANT IT
And the odds seem enormous.
The deck is stacked in the other guy's favor.
And if a husband and wife business goes down in flames (or up in flames, as has been happening in Napa), what does that mean for life, the universe and everything?
Looking at Crystal and Ryan, and the fabulous business that has grown from a rental garage a decade ago, there's fortunately no need to answer that question.
They've survived the fires, this epic challenge, and their business is as strong as ever.
It's pretty cool.
If you want to know more about Crystal and Ryan's winery, visitwww.waughfamilywines.com .
And if you want to visit Napa right now, the place is open for business. Honey and I spent an astonishing week there.
While you can see what the fires have done, you can also see the majority of the place, which is untouched and glorious, a joyful and thriving place full of entrepreneurs like Ryan and Crystal who are happy to welcome you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
This week's visit to fire-ravaged Napa is an anti-climax. That is, if you're looking for evidence of what the fire has ravaged.
We've been here for just about 24 hours. The place does not stink of smoke. What little we've seen is very much a normal, everyday, business-as-usual rural town.
However, we did have a poignant experience last night that serves to remind one what a brand really is all about.
We've long banged the drum for the fact that a brand as not a logo, a color, a font, a tagline, a website, or any other manifestation that one usually associates with a brand.
Nope. A brand is Thing One: Your brand is the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
GET THAT PART RIGHT, AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW
Conversely, you can get the other stuff right--the logo, the color, the font, the tagline, the website--and if you haven't figured out Thing One, it's all for naught.
A great example is last night's foray into town.
We'd asked someone for a recommendation for a good, local's kind of joint. The kind of place where you meet the real people who make the community happen.
We took the recommendation, and followed it up--encouraged by the establishment's website. It delivered all kinds of glowing, simple language about how they're steeped in history, how they do so much so well, and how they're fun, friendly and down-to-earth.
The rightness of Thing One seemed to be in evidence.
MARKETING, MEET REALITY
The place had all the right accoutrements.
It was an old building with an old bar, lots of natural wood and plenty of historical funk.
That's where the authenticity ends.
Off the bartender's New York Giants jersey, The Fabulous Honey Parker says, "Wow, Giants? You a Giants fan?"
"What? Oh. No. We were told we had to wear football jerseys. Someone gave this to me."
As a Philly native and an Eagles fan, Honey faces a lifetime of disappointment. Being able to commiserate with a Giants fan over the latter's tragic record this season would have been a natural opening to conversation, rapport, service and eventually, a tips
It didn't work out.
We tried to have some conversation with the woman. She was borderline helpful and disinterested.
IN FACT, EVERYONE WORKING THERE SEEMED BORDERLINE HELPFUL AND DISINTERESTED
Everyone working there seemed to have other things on their mind.
There was someplace else they'd all rather be.
The house-brewed beer was mediocre. The menu was uninspiring.
This was not the local's joint that we had hoped for.
Nor was it the fun, friendly place the branding elements had promised.
They got the down-to-earth part right, if you take that to mean "ordinary."
But they had ultimately failed at Thing One.
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELTY DIFFERENT
Understand, this is Sunday night in Napa. Things are not exactly jumping.
We left exited the hall of disappointment and turned left.
Across the street was a block of restaurants.
We stumbled across one that looked different and better than the others. A tapas joint.
It was appointed in dark hardwoods with soft, amber lighting. It looked and felt comfortable. A few people were dining.
We stepped inside, ambled back to the bar and took a seat.
Our bartender was welcoming and gregarious.
He was ready and willing to make conversation--despite being the busiest guy in the place. He had other customers at the bar and was also the service bar for the wait staff.
IN THE KITCHEN, A CREW OF FOUR WAS SHUFFLING AND CLANGING AND MAKING STUFF HAPPEN
It was a well-practiced improvisational ballet of small-portion cuisinieres.
We knew we had found our place.
We asked questions. He made recommendations.
We asked about his story. We got details.
A fifth-generation Napa-ite, he is a career food service guy.
When he started quoting Bukowski, it was evident the party had started.
By the end of the evening, we had moved to the end of the bar. A couple from Chicago had sat down next to us.
THE BARTENDER HAD BECOME OUR MASTER OF CEREMONIES
He was making smart recommendations.
He was letting us taste unusual wines.
He was involved in the conversation just enough.
He was the Thing One incarnate.
And he was a raging profit center for that tapas restaurant.
He knows how to make his customer feel welcome, knows how to engage and entertain, and knows how to figure out what next.
He was tipped well.
SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED WHILE WE WERE THERE
The place became packed.
It was alive and jumping.
The waiters were always moving through the room.
The kitchen was in constant motion.
People were waiting for tables.
All this on the slow night in Napa.
And you know what this restaurant's website promises?
None of this.
THE WEBSITE MIGHT AS WELL BE A BUSINESS CARD THAT SAYS, "FOOD"
It makes very little in the way of promises.
It says very little about what they serve.
It says nothing about who started it and why.
It doesn't say, "We're a fun, friendly, down-to-earth place where you're going to have a great time with our bartender who's been in the business for 35 years."
The website is just not good. It is in no way a reflection of the Thing One that's going on in there.
But without the branding accoutrements that help make for a solid manifestation of the brand's message to the world, it still has a better and more competent brand than the place that has a good website and makes all kinds of promises that it can't live up to.
A BRAND BENEFITS FROM BETTER MARKETING
A good logo and an engaging website and marketing that gets attention and drives response--all of these things are good for business.
But without Thing One, without the foundation of a good, honest and authentic brand behind it all, those other things are for naught.
As David Ogilvy famously said, nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.
We left a place whose advertising was loaded with brand promise that it failed to live up to.
Going online and reading the reviews for that place, it's clear that our experience is not unusual.
WE THEN WENT TO A PLACE WITH NO BRAND PROMISE
It delivered beyond any reasonable expectation.
Going online and reading the reviews for that second place, it's also clear that our experience at that restaurant is not unusual.
The difference is that the general manager isn't having to routinely apologize to customers who've left lousy reviews--as happens at the first place.
It's possible that the first joint will never be ruined by the lack of brand integrity. This is a bar and restaurant in a tourist town in a location with a lot of foot traffic.
It may well survive.
But it will never be great.
It simply isn't all that interested in how the customer feels about the place.
Be Thing One. Everything else is just stuff.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.