Bill's Interview on Business Growth
To be successful, have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.
Williamson Wines team has grown to the point where they needed a new corporate headquarters but the work carried on there is one of customer service, of communicating with, informing and reacting to the need of customers spread across every state in the country.
In a recent interview Bill Williamson attributed the growth of the Williamson Wines organization to their success in two areas. Here is the interview.
Journalist: ~ Williamson Wines continues to grow even in the midst of adversity like Covid and shutdowns, what is your secret sauce?
Bill: ~ Our success comes from two early decisions first, to create wines that represent a true luxury brand and second, to share them with a select group of customers who recognize that brand as having value.
Journalist: ~ Where do you start to build a luxury wine brand?
Bill: ~ In the beginning my wife Dawn asked me how I knew we would make good wine. Glibly, I responded, it's simple, the process starts with the vineyard and extends through winemaking ending with the wine in a glass.
All we need do is to break that process down to the simplest set of steps possible and execute each in turn as perfectly as possible so at the end you will have a perfect wine, and that is exactly what we did. . . . more on creating a luxury brand . . .
Journalist: ~ How do you find customers who recognize value in your wines?
Bill: ~ Actually in retrospect it all seems so simple. We decided that we would not sell our wines through distributors, stores or restaurants.
All our wine industry friends told us this was lunacy but in fact our wines were all single-vineyard, single-varietal wines grown in small, ideally located vineyards and sustainably farmed for low-yields to produce high quality fruit.
We did not want to make a zillion cases of lowest-common-denominator wine. We wanted to make delicious, early-approachable wines of character, which meant that we needed to find discriminating wine-loving customers.
We opened a tasting room in Healdsburg and let people taste our wines along with a little bite of cheese with mustard or jam. People came by, tasted our wines, bought them and many joined our wine club. The rest is history.
Journalist: ~ Do you still have the original tasting room?
Bill: ~ Yes but we quickly outgrew our original tasting room at 134 Matheson so we took the building next door at 132 Matheson and cut a connecting doorway between them doubling the size. This remains as our "Original Tasting Room".
Soon we had outgrown them both so we opened another two blocks away at 18 Matheson and within two years we again needed to grow so added 14 Matheson and 20 Matheson and connected all three. This has become known as "Bill's Cellar"
Journalist: ~ Wow, all in the same town of Healdsburg. What's next for 2021?
Bill: ~ We just acquired our own office building at 824 Healdsburg Avenue to house our corporate headquarters.
In January 2021 our customer service team, financial team and operations management all relocated there from prior rented offices.
In 2022 we anticipate opening an additional culinary center at 235 Healdsburg Avenue called "Epicurean Kitchen".
Journalist: ~ Culinary Center? Tell me about the culinary center.
Bill: ~ In most countries wine is more than a beverage, it is a natural part of the meal. When wine and food are paired correctly the result is outstanding and we have developed an expert food and wine pairing team.
Every wine tasting at Williamson automatically includes food bites. Our full-time culinary team of professional chefs and support staff develops recipes for each new wine every three months. Now, with our release of over forty wines each year our recipe collection tops five hundred easy-to-make recipes that pair perfectly with our wines.
Journalist: ~ So you are producing more than forty wines each year and recipes to match. Why so many wines and why develop the recipes?
Bill: ~ Generally winemakers in a region make the major wines of the region. Winemakers in Burgundy make Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, winemakers in the Rhone make Grenache or Syrah, winemakers in Australia make Shiraz, winemakers in Dry Creek Valley make Zinfandel and winemakers in Napa make Cabernet, and remember, I said "generally".
I wanted to create wines that support foods. Today what may have been regional foods have become international. On our daily table we find recipes like Italian Lasagna, French Bouillabaisse, Spanish Paella or German Eisbein, etc. There are so many foods I needed to make a range of wines to complement the foods.
Again I applied a scientific methodology by making single varietal wines from each of our fifteen vineyards and then using those wines to create a range of complex, food-friendly wines blended along traditional historic guidelines.
Journalist: ~ What do you mean by "blended along traditional historic guidelines?
Bill: ~ Historically certain wines have been made in certain regions. Naturally local factors like the climate, soil etc., favored those wine varieties but so did the foods of the region.
Over centuries natural selection occurred. Local wines that support the local foods became the popular regional wines. Our research led us to the historic centers of these food and wine combinations, revealing the traditional wine blends of those areas.
Journalist: ~ Can you give me an example of this?
Bill ~ Take Bordeaux for example, the left bank wines are historically blends of, in descending order, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot , Cabernet Franc and some Petit Verdot.
Left bank Bordeaux wines pair with their favorite foods like steak with bordelaise sauce consisting of chopped shallots and spices reduced in dry red wine with bone marrow and demi-glace broth or a fish called lamprey stewed with cured ham, red wine, various fresh herbs, and vegetables such as leeks, onions, and garlic. These dishes would always be followed by a cheese plate and the wines of the region complement these dishes.
Journalist: ~ As a result of Covid many wineries now have a direct-to-consumer initiative acquiring customers through their tasting rooms and ambassador programs but their challenge is in wine club customer retention with the average Californian wine club membership being around fifteen months. You have been running a direct-to-consumer and wine club model for twenty years so what is your experience with this issue?
Bill ~ We have seen these figures but our experience has been vastly different with wine club members remaining for many, many years.
Perhaps it is because we offer such a wide variety of wines so there is something for every palate or taste.
Perhaps it is because we offer so many different club membership options where customers can customize their favorite wines for their shipments.
Perhaps it is the fact that (they tell us) our wines taste great.
Perhaps it is the recipe and wine combinations we create, the additional gourmet food condiments and spices we offer, the food and wine education we deliver or perhaps it is the numerous events, parties and wine and food oriented trips we host every year.
It might even have something to do with our free shipping option.
I suspect it is a combination of all of these offerings that provides our wine club member greater value than simply receiving a cardboard box full of wines.
Journalist: ~ I understand that you have done very little marketing. How does that work?
Bill ~ I adopted a somewhat philosophical approach to marketing because our personal mandate to make wine of quality automatically limited the quantity of wine we could make.
We realized there was no way we could sell wine to all the wine consumers in this country so why pursue classic marketing like magazine adds, etc. Rather, we focused on developing a set of complementary products, events and services to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers and simply end up with a group of very happy food and wine loving club members.
Our wine club members can select from almost fifty different club standards or design their own shipments. We are licensed to ship wine to virtually every state. Over the past twenty years we have developed shipping strategies to tackle everything from confusing regulations to unpredictable weather. We make sure our wine arrives in great condition and we insure every shipment with our "satisfaction or replace" policy.
Our easy-to-prepare recipe collection of five hundred recipes created by our culinary team, tested and published, many with accompanying videos, help customers choose a food for their wines or a wine for their foods.
Our free shipping option means that customers can plan next week's meals and order wines that pair with them for free delivery in time for dinner.
We host over 150 events annually in the form of parties, lunches, dinners, vineyard events and luxurious wine and food oriented travel events throughout Australia and Europe.
For collectors of fine wines we also produce our "Reserve" wines and our "Library" wines representing collections of the best-of-the-best of our wines.
Finally, we have been able to hold our wine prices at reasonable levels. The factors that influence wine pricing are cost (grapes + winemaking + packaging), quality, acceptance by consumers and availability.
We work hard to maintain a reasonable cost structure and do not rely on typically expensive marketing like heavy bottles or jazzy labels.
The acceptance of our wines by customers is evident by the fact that all older vintages are "sold out"!
The availability of our wines is extremely limited. Only made in small quantities due to our single-vineyard, low-yield focus, often a single wine club shipment will take all of a particular wine.
Journalist: ~ What would recommend to other wineries who would like to succeed they way you have?
Bill ~ I define success not as a station in life you arrive at but rather as the way you travel through life. It's not what you get from success, its what you become that is important; so focus your wine and work around something in your life that you love.
In our case my wife and I love food, wine and travel so our whole business model provides us with constant travel, food and wine in the company of others who love the same things.
Whatever you love and would like to fill your life should be the theme of your wine. For example, if you love dogs then perhaps your label and marketing messages should revolve around "Pooch wines" and "tail wagging good times" and perhaps your customer base will be filled with dog lovers and you should be happy with that.
The importance of focusing on something you love is to carry you through the tough times and to maintain a refined focus. We have seen other wineries try to copy our model only to abandon it after a short time because it got too tough or too expensive to continually invest in food, parties and travel. It got too much because it was a marketing tactic created by the brain rather than a lifestyle driver created by the heart.
Follow your passion and your dream will unfold.