On June 7, 2016, we celebrated our 25th year in business. It is hard to believe how fast time has gone by and it is fascinating to witness how much change the industry has gone through.
In 1991, New York’s Hudson Valley region was populated by many family-owned wine and spirits suppliers and distributors. In those days, the wine portfolio market was mainly dominated by Julio Gallo and Carlo Rossi jugs and old-fashioned names such as Andre champagne and Taylor ports. Then, when Southern Wines & Spirits entered upstate New York, huge changes came as big companies started an aggressive takeover of smaller wine and spirits suppliers.
No matter your industry, change is inevitable for any small business owner, and there are many lessons to learn along the way. Below are tips for dealing with challenges you may face as an entrepreneur:
Change with the times
As the face of the industry was changing, we realized that running a business the old-fashioned way could become a dangerous endeavor, ultimately leading to a loss of business. So we regrouped and began to explore our best bet for survival in the market. We started to specialize in rare and unique spirits and cordials. We completely did away with carrying mass-produced products as part of our inventory and we pivoted to suppliers that were dedicated to the highest quality products. We started to carry organic and biodynamic wines, sparkling wines and a number of GMO-free distilled spirits.
These weren’t the only lessons we had to learn. We also had to face big changes to our customers and our financial relationships.
Change with your customer base
As a small business owner, your customer base will change. They will get older, they might move or they might lose their job and not have money to spend at your business. During the recession, our customer base dropped more than 50 percent. We had to let employees go and bills began to accumulate.
When the recession ended, however, new people moved into our area. When we talked to these new people, we discovered they were open to trying unusual wines and spirits, so we began weekly wine tastings of lesser known brands. Today, our new inventory consists of a large variety of Eastern European wines and liquors, and we have a special selection of wines that are grown only in high altitudes exclusively made of organic grapes.
At least once a year, a small business owner must take time to think about how his or her customers are changing and think about how the business might be able to change, too.
Recognize your financial changes
Your financial needs and relationships will change over time, sometimes when you least expect it. Small business owners must think about what kind of finance they need and when they will need it. If you are going to need longer-term financing a year from now in order to expand, you have to plan for that now. If a new bank comes to town, get to know its bankers even if you don’t need them now. Take time to learn about alternative finance companies. Make sure your financial statements are in order and learn how to do financial projections.
Be on the lookout for new opportunities
Small businesses must always be on the lookout for the next opportunity for growth, even if it seems unusual. Many entrepreneurs are afraid of big retailers like Wal-Mart; they think it will kill their business. Instead of thinking what a larger retailer might do to intimidate your business, consider what you can offer that the other retailer does not. How can you convert some of those customers into your customers?
Finally, never take your long-standing customers for granted. If you want customers to become repeat customers, you must concentrate on a long-term relationship with them and not depend exclusively on one-time sales. Long-term relationships mean understanding your customers’ preferences, budget and lifestyle. Selling any product once is easy, but achieving a lasting relationship with a customer requires honesty and dedication to the business you are in. It is music to our ears when repeat customers enter the store and ask, “Have you received anything new today?”