In Women We Trust is about what women do differently that produces trust between them. Here's an over-the-shoulder look at how one woman who took her business from a start up to 83 women working with her in 10 months. Her common sense approach to the personal touch, is what big business is trying to recapture.
I'm talking with Judi Finneran, owner of www.GotGreatWine.com and also the development director fo www.teamwomen.org.
MARY: Judi what’s your background that lead you to Get Great Wine and then networking through TeamWomen.com?
JUDI: From 1990 to 2004 I was in real estate in the San Diego area and was very successful, I was in the top 1% of realtors. In 2000 I started coaching real estate agents across North America on how to build more successful businesses. There I came to the realization that if real estate agents were excited about why they were selling real estate, instead of following all the rules, they were automatically more successful. People who weren't excited about what they were doing, or why they were doing it – they may have been doing everything right in the program, but they still weren’t having the results. At that point it came to me that it was more important for people to understand the “why” of what they were doing to be successful in anything they decided to do. I stopped doing real estate and became a life coach until I transferred over into my current business hosting wine tasting parties… I had some real successes in life coaching, but it was always trading hours for money. I wanted something that would bring in residual income. I started investigating the direct sales market to get that residual income and not put a cap on how much I earned.
MARY: How did hear about selling wine through a home party method?
JUDI: I was fortunate to meet the founders of the Direct Selling Women’s Alliance which is the only trade association there is for women in direct selling. I consulted with them on a number of projects and became interested in the direct selling model and then did an in-depth, 4 month study on direct sales – looking at products and compensation plans. Then I called a girl friend to ask her what she thought. She paused and said, “I have made a cardinal error, I assumed that because you were so successful that you wouldn’t be interested in doing direct sales…” Then she told me what she was doing. She came out of retirement and was working with 1-800 WINE SHOPS and taking them into a direct sales model. I was interested because what I learned through all my research is that you have to be passionate about what you’re selling and also have a product that is consumable and therefore set up for repeat business. Wine is pretty consumable. I told her to fax me over an application; I signed it and never looked back.
MARY: Take me through a typical home party experience from the time you get the call to follow up.
JUDI: I tell you, it’s the greatest job in the world. A client will call to schedule a tasting and pay $59 to reserve the date. This is unique in the home party plan. I don’t know of another group where the hostess pays to host a party. I do 25-30 tastings a month and there is no resistance and we have few cancellations since the hostess has put money on the line. We order the wine, 3 red and 3 white and it arrives about a week before the party. Meanwhile, our company sends invitations out to the hostess so that she can invite others to the party. An average party has 8 to 16 people there. We arrive 30 minutes before the party starts to chill the white and open the red to let it breathe. We introduce ourselves, talk a little about Wine Shop at Home and then the guests are able to taste the 6 wines that we bring. Our wines come mainly from boutique wineries, 95% are exclusive to Wine Shop at Home. We have a great time talking about the four S’s of wines, [see, swirl, smell and sip] the flavors… I give raffle tickets to those who guess the right flavors and aromas. At the end of the tasting they have the opportunity to order one or more bottles of wine. We also have a great wine club. They make great corporate gifts and we can customize a label. We take the orders and then we’re the first to leave. There’s no clean up or packing, you leave with nothing but orders. The next day we input the orders and the wine is shipped directly to the client. Which is another great thing, we don’t have to deliver anything. They get their orders in 3-4 days and then we do a thank you follow up with the hostess and make sure that they liked their wine, and that’s it.
MARY: It is the greatest job in the world.
JUDI: It is, I get paid to drink (laughs) not really. Actually I don’t drink anything at the parties.
MARY: How do you know which wines to bring in?
JUDI: They are pre-selected by the company. There is one job better than mine. Every Friday in the corporate office they have “Wine:30” where they taste the wines submitted to Wine Shop at Home. We are really the national exposure for these small vintners. They have very limited production, and they can’t market like the big companies because they don’t have enough. For example we had a Chardonnay where there were just 164 cases. So these small vintners are hoping their wine will be selected to go into the home sampler. It is a pre-set, 6 bottle sampler and as bottles sell out, they are replaced with new samples.
MARY: How do you stay in contact with your customers?
JUDI: We’re in the process of putting together a pretty intensive program. I do a monthly E-zine that I send to all my past clients. Then we have specials like Mother’s Day is coming up and I send and the gift idea to them. I really think follow up is key to maintaining your client base. It’s ten times easier in time and money to keep a current client happy than to find a new one.
MARY: When you first started out, how did you promote your business?
JUDI: That’s how the whole thing started with Team Women (www.teamwomen.com). When I was in real estate, I grew my business by going into my office and talking to 100 people a day. I’d lock myself in my office at 7 am and made calls to strangers for 5 hours until I reached 100 and it worked. There was no way I was going to do that again. I never had done any networking as a real estate agent. I had never been even to a Chamber event, I had no idea what happened there. So I went online and found different groups and started attending meetings but didn’t really find what I was looking for. I found Team Women as a small new group and asked if I could start a chapter in my area. She said yes and I had my first meeting with one other woman. I proclaimed myself president and the other gal the treasurer and we both vowed to bring one other person to the next meeting. So then there were four and then there were seven… and that’s the Team Women method and it’s the only chapter so far that has 30 women in it. [Team women has 700 members in less than a year] At the first meeting where Nancy showed me her jewelry and I introduced her to my wine tasting business, she said, “I have a friend who never knows what to get her husband for a birthday present, why don’t I suggest that she gives him a gift certificate for a wine tasting?” My very first meeting with one other woman and I booked a wine tasting. I opened other chapters and people are always shocked at what I do. Because the concept was so new, there were very few people doing it. Last year I was #1 in tastings, #1 in wine club enrollment in my company and when I look at my business and track it back, 90% came from Team Women members and referrals
MARY: That’s a great story. Do you do anything else besides Team Women? Any cold calling?
MARY: So networking is all you do?
JUDI: Yes! I call myself the networking princess and I want to grow up to be the networking queen. I really had no idea the power of networking. I encourage all my consultants working with me to join a Team Women group or any networking group, you will not believe the business that will come from it.
MARY: It does come back to having a great product too, which is unique and consumable.
JUDI: And at a very reasonable price point as well.
MARY: Without getting into details, what did you expect to do in business the first year and going forward?
JUDI: Because I jumped into the Wine Shop so quickly, I didn’t realize that I needed to do personal sales to get paid on my downline. I’m not really the party type, so I thought I’d just bring others on board who where and work with them. I had 22 consultants in the first two months. I went from no parties to booking the most parties in the country. I went from zero income to having 83 consultants working for me nationally in ten months. I have every Friday and Saturday night booked for the next three months.
MARY: If a consultant doesn’t have anyone else under her and she books 4 parties a month, what can she expect in income?
JUDI: With 4 tastings you can earn anywhere from $500-$1000 a month and a tasting is 90 minutes so that’s 6 hours for the month. [Judy does 25-30/do the math...] One of the great bonuses is our wine club. We get paid every month on that as well. Our average wine club member stays with the company for four years. For the end of my second year, the income goal I have set for myself is $395,000.
MARY: Wow. You Go Girl!
JUDI: That’s just my second year. I fully expect to build this to a $50,000 a month business.
MARY: So how much real time to you put into managing your group and your personal parties?
JUDI: I probably do more than most due to my coaching background. I have a topic for every day of the week. Monday is motivation, Tuesday is tasting tips… I send a short email out every morning to my group. I also have three optional phone calls for training weekly. Tell me Tuesday, Open Forum Friday and Saturday morning where I am available for any consultant to come on the conference call and ask me a question. This is also where people can share their success. We have also added an event coordinator to the Team. For example during Temecula’s Balloon & Wine Festival, the booth is $350-400. We pay for the booth up front and divide the booth time into shifts and offer our consultants the opportunity to work the shifts. All they need to do is walk in with their business cards and they get their leads.
MARY: How’s that working out?
JUDI: It’s going over great. We just did the Encinitas street fair and ended up with 56 people who wanted tastings, another 23 who said they maybe wanted tastings. 34 people were interested in the wine club, 27 were interested in being consultants. 13 people interested in corporate gifts and custom labels.
MARY: And you just happen to know that off the top of your head?
JUDI: (laughs) No, it was in this morning’s email so I’m reading it from that.
MARY: Where is this headquartered again?
JUDI: The original company is called The Wine Shop at Home and it’s located in San Ramon. They’ve been around for 10 years. The first eight were as 1-800-WineClub and they were very successful. They did fairs and events and enrolled wine club members. As wine became more popular the owners were being asked to come and give tastings and had more requests then they could handle. That’s when they decided to make it into a direct sales business.
MARY: I have to ask, what’s the gender break out. How many men are consultants?
JUDI: I’m guessing that 95% of the consultants are women, and more and more men are getting into it, which I think is great. Tastings are usually with couples and the men like talking to another man about wines. Kevin (her husband) and I were the first trial “couple” consultants. So many couples are doing this as a team effort.
MARY: How many actual hours do you put in each week? Do you have a sane schedule?
JUDI: I have a very sane schedule. Kevin does the order entry and preps me for the tastings. I only have my own tastings, networking and coaching duties.
MARY: Any downsides? Any complaints?
JUDI: The biggest complaint we get is “I can’t believe you ran out of that wine and I didn’t order enough yet.” That’s the problem with working with boutique vintners. When it’s gone, it’s gone. In operations, the system is still very manual and it’s going through the growing pains of automating the back end, but the new system should be in place by June. I’m just thankful to be with a company while it’s having these growing pains while it’s at the beginning of its growth cycle..
MARY: What else would you like the people reading this to know.
JUDI: If you are networking regularly, women instinctively want to support and help other women that they trust and respect. I’m finding that no matter what your price point is if you’re there and contributing to the group it will come back to you. When you have 20-30 business women sitting around a table, they like to share and tell what’s worked.
MARY: Switching gears, since we’re ultimately talking about creating a trust experience, what equates “trust” to you?
JUDI: That’s a great, great question and one the first things we tell women forming Team Women Chapters. We tell them the first thing you have to do attend. We ask this all the time, are you more excited to give a referral or get a referral? And almost universally, they are more excited to give a referral, so they can help someone. What happens is however is when they bring in a referral and the person they want to give it to isn’t there, they end up deflated and less likely to bring that person a referral again. Personally, my trust in her to be able to provide that service has gone down. If this is how she treats a person who is supporting her, how is she going to treat my clients or the referral? Some people think, “I’m only hurting myself if I’m not there.” Well, you’re not, you made a commitment to this group and they are counting on you to be there. I know when I was a real estate agent and I got a referral from someone, I felt I had to do double well for that person. I don’t their referral of me to be something that they aren’t proud of. The same goes for not following up on leads as soon as someone gives them to you. Or if you treat the lead rudely and that gets back to the person supplying their name, you most likely won’t get another referral from them.
MARY: That pretty much sums up how Word of Mouth works and we’ll close with that. Thank you Judi – or should I say, “Cheers!” for a great job of perfecting word of mouth selling.