Resurrection Of A Brand... A Continuing Story

I wrote a blog (I still want to call it a column) on the resurrection of Cycles Gladiator back in April of this year.  I said I would occasionally update our progress whether good or bad.


The brand possesses one of the most recognizable icons in the wine world ( a late 19th century French bicycle company logo that has morphed into a very famous poster and consumer branding tool).  The brand needed many items fixed when I bought it three years ago.  Wine quality, packaging and brand identity had all taken a nosedive.  We have corrected those problems over the last three years, but getting distributors, retailers and restaurants excited about the brand after years of neglect is a momentum issue, not necessarily having anything to do with the product.

It became clear this summer the brand needed something additional to build interest in the market.  Although we made all the changes I talked about above, the most powerful component of the brand, the Icon, was still not being taken advantage of.  As everyone has experienced when shopping in a wine store, many people buy brands based on the look and feel of the label.  We haven’t been able to take advantage of this with our current Cycles Gladiator label.

My sales team and I had this discussion during the summer when we typically review the brands’ performances.  One of the guys on the sales team had been thinking about Cycles and what we could do to regain momentum the brand had years ago.  His idea……put Cycles pinot noir in a can!

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Not knowing anything about wine in cans, I was more than slightly skeptical.  I have bottled tens of millions of bottles of wine, and am very comfortable with the production, sales and marketing of that product.  Stepping into a new segment of the market with an unfamiliar production process seemed very risky.

However, not wanting to shut down an idea based on my own personal prejudices (and like most prejudices, it was based on ignorance), I told each sales team member to call a few of their distributors and see what their reaction was to Cycles in a can.  Much to my surprise, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  Many of the distributors wanted to place orders on the phone.  It is the most positive response I have ever had to a proposed product introduction.

After some discussion of pricing and costing, we decided at that meeting to jump feet first into the can business.  Our cumulative can experience was ZERO.  We were going to have to learn about the production process and the market on the fly.  The one stake I had in the ground (and it is an important one), was that distributors wanted the product.  The canned wine market has been growing and distributors wanted to be in it or expand their can portfolios. Consumers like single serve, portability and quality on the go. 


Most new projects can take a year to go from idea to product in the market in the wine business.  We had wine in cans 60 days from our sales meeting.  That takes winemaking talent, production flexibility and laser focus on the task.  We “canned” a modest initial run of the product and began shipping around the country two weeks ago.  The cans are just starting to show up on retailers’ shelves and even a few restaurants have made purchases.

Our hope is that the can segment of the wine industry will continue to grow and become a meaningful part of the overall wine sales in the country.  We hope to sell a lot of Cycles Gladiator cans and have a positive trickle-down effect on the entire brand.

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That hope feels a little like when you have your first son and wonder if he will be a Hall of Fame baseball player!  “New” creates excitement.  Excitement creates momentum.  The trick is to catch the momentum at the right time and ride it.  No one really knows if wine in cans is going to catch on, but early results are encouraging.  The Cycles Gladiator icon stands out like a beacon on this particular package.  We are going to find out if it’s meaningful for this branding experiment.

Stay tuned and watch for updates on our continuing journey to resurrect Cycles Gladiator.  And, oh yeah, buy a can of Cycles if you see it in your store!


The Curse and Blessing of the “Accountant” Stigma

Photo courtesy of  wordpress

Photo courtesy of wordpress

Although I have run wine companies for the past 16 years, I started my career as an accountant.  I passed the CPA exam in 1981 and worked at a CPA firm for the next six years.  I became involved with over 50 businesses during those years and was able to see the strengths and flaws of a wide variety of businesses both in terms industry and size.  I am thankful I got that opportunity to see a cross section of businesses that had varying levels of success in different industries.  It was great experience for a 22 year-old straight out of college, with no business experience or family background in business. I never needed to go to graduate school because I was living it every day at work.

The irony of those years is that I was always the outside CPA coming to a company to help solve a problem or audit financial statements.  My CPA firm was billing the client for my time, therefore I was a revenue generating unit for my firm.  This distinction was about to become very apparent to me over the next 15 years of my career.

At the end of six years, I decided I did not want to be a CPA for the rest of my life, so I took a job as a Controller of a large multinational clothing manufacturer doing business around the world with thousands of employees.  I had moved from the outside CPA role to what effectively was the internal Chief Accounting Officer of a large company.  Effectively to all the other people in the company, I became the “accountant”. 

Photo courtesy of  Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I had moved from being a revenue producer for a CPA firm to an expense item for a company.  That is a HUGE dynamic shift in a career that I had no appreciation for at the time.  Let’s face it, when you are generating money for a company (I was the product being sold to the CPA client) you are forgiven many shortcomings.  As long as you produced enough revenue for the firm, you could basically conduct yourself as you saw fit.  That is a very dangerous environment to put a bunch of uber competitive 20 somethings into with little to no supervision.  It wasn’t “Lord Of The Flies”, but it was close.

I was in for a big adjustment when I became the “accountant”.  Now I was just another expense for the company, not a revenue producer.  That was shock enough, but I also encountered the “accountant stigma” for the first time.  It became quickly and painfully clear that no one outside of the accounting department had any idea what the department did outside of making their lives complicated with expense reports and other loathsome requirements and reports.  Accountants were viewed as paper pushers, not connected to the realities of the business and certainly no appreciation of the people who actually generated revenue.  You are a necessary evil who the company needs to do business, but you are clearly a second class citizen.  Think green eyeshade and pocket protector.  As I said, that’s a HUGE shift to experience.

Through the years, I moved up the corporate organization chain in several companies for the next fifteen years.  Every time I got a little further away from the accountant stigma, but it was always there. Since I have been in the wine business, I have been in charge of the entire business, including the revenue producers, i.e. sales team.  I no longer have the accountant stigma, but all my sales guys know I was and to a degree still do have my roots in the accounting department.

In fact, I am now more grateful than ever I began my life as an accountant.  It provided me with skills that are useful as the CEO of Wine Hooligans and I use everyday.  The best way I can describe it is that accounting is not a function, it is a language.  It is the language of business.  Sometimes people use that language loosely, and sometimes with great precision.  Most people in a company don’t speak that language and are intimidated by it.  They hire outsiders to interpret for them.  I have always been able to speak the language, and it has benefited me greatly in running companies.  It’s a good skill for a hooligan!

Photo courtesy of  James The Scribe

Photo courtesy of James The Scribe

So, I always tell young people in college that they would benefit greatly by taking a few accounting classes and learn the basics of speaking the language of business.  They probably won’t be accountants, but they won’t be afraid of a financial statement.  Who knows, they might even like the people in the accounting department at their future companies…nah, probably not. 


Iphone Facial Recognition

Photo courtesy of  The New Yorker

Photo courtesy of The New Yorker

It’s finally happened.  Technology officially scares me.  Apple announced the IPhone X (must be important, it has Super Bowl numbering) which will have facial recognition to identity the phone’s owner. Why anyone needs facial recognition is beyond me, but I also asked the same question in 2007 about the introduction of the first IPhone. Little did I realize that the introduction of the IPhone would change the way humans interact with each other. Outside of the automobile, I’m not sure there is a product that has changed interaction between people more than the IPhone and the various apps we all use. Is it possible a Tweet could set off WWIII? Jesus, that was supposed to happen via a Bond villain, not a poorly spelled 128 character message composed by a former real estate developer!

The automobile made it easier to connect with people in the physical world, the IPhone makes it easier to live life in the “cone of silence” of the cyber world. Don’t believe me? Go to any coffee shop and stand in line. Look around and see how many people are looking at their phone. Now look and see how many people are having conversations. Usually it’s 100% on their phone. Youdon’t even have to interact with the barista. Just open your app, order your drink, hit pay, pick it up and leave the shop. No human interaction necessary.

Photo courtesy of  Pinterest

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Facial recognition doesn’t change any of that, but it was a trigger for me to think about how much the world has changed since I was a young boy. Coffee shops were for beatniks to recite poetry and sing folk songs. You got your coffee for $.25 cents at the doughnut shop in the morning with a gooey glazed doughnut. If you didn’t say hello to people in the doughnut shop, they thought you were rude. If you say hello to someone at the coffee shop today, they may have you arrested for a hate crime.

$4.00 coffee drinks, social media, 24/7 news cycles. Everything and anything available now and delivered to your doorstep the next day. The more connected we become to our phones and the infinite world of the internet, the more we are detached from friends, family and the physical world around us. Will Alexa one day tell us what it is ordering, rather than wait for us to ask?

Photo courtesy of  CNET

Photo courtesy of CNET

I’m not sure where all of this takes us. Do we get more “stuff’ done?  Do those things have value?  Do we continue to become more isolated in our daily existence as human beings. Do self-driving cars, virtual reality and Amazon everything make our lives better?  I don’t have the answers (nor does anyone else), but I do like the fact I get daily pictures of my grandson via a Google private sharing file.

I wonder if my grandson will laugh at me being scared of technology. Am I a 21’st century Luddite, or just a 58 year old dude with a lot of miles on him? Or maybe I just don’t want my face along with everything else about me in a government data base somewhere. Probably too late.

This blog entry is dedicated to my mom and dad, Milford and Helen Carroll. They are reunited in the next life, and they never owned a cell phone. They are happy.

Realistic Optimist


Photo Courtesy of  NY Daily News

Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News

I don’t like blind optimism.  It seems phony to me, boarding on “cultish”.  It’s great to be optimistic,  I just need it to be based on something tangible.  I can be the most optimistic person in the world and it’s not going to help me dunk a basketball at 58 (or any age for that matter).

Unfortunately this attitude, no matter how logical, can get you in trouble in both your personal and professional life.

Photo Courtesy of  Amazon  

Photo Courtesy of Amazon 

We live in a society that doesn’t usually have the patience or desire to deeply understand anything.  We elected a guy President of the United States based on “Make America Great Again”.  What does that even mean?  When questioned about how America was going to be great again, there was precious little detail and a lot of, “It will be beautiful, you will love it” in response to any request for details.  I am pretty sure the people that voted for Trump were optimistic that the “beautiful” would be provided once he was in the office.  I am 100% certain there was nothing tangible to support that optimism. 

Can you possibly imagine the peril you would have been in at a Trump campaign rally stop, if you were able to ask for tangible reasons how he was going to Make America Great Again?  Yikes.  Talk about being branded a non team player.  You probably would have been tarred and feathered by the rally attendees and run over by the Trump Train of Optimism.   So much for critical thought.

Photo Courtesy of  AMC  

Photo Courtesy of AMC 

Although more subtle, companies participate in the blind optimism game also.  If you have worked for any length of time, you have had a few experiences at companies that ask the employees for optimism based on nothing more than what the owner or senior management wants to be true.  Much like a Trump rally, if you ask for tangible reasons why an idea will work, you will be singled out.  You won’t be run over by an optimism train, but you will be whispered about as a non team player.  Someone who can’t get behind an idea or program.  The irony is that the idea or program should have been challenged, debated and vetted before it was rolled out to the entire company.

Photo Courtesy of  BetMinded

Photo Courtesy of BetMinded

As I said, it’s good and even necessary to be an optimist.  However I don’t want to waste my optimism on blind faith.  I want some reality injected into my optimism in the form of facts.  And if you think that is actually a form of pessimism, you would be wrong.  Even with all the facts you can acquire, there are things in life and business that simply require optimism.  You will still have to push “all chips in” at some point with relentless optimism.  I want my optimism applied to worthy projects. That’s my definition of a “Realistic Optimist”.




Photo Courtesy of  Tails from the Barstool

Photo Courtesy of Tails from the Barstool

Everyone enjoys summer.  Long days, vacations, easy living.  However, most people in the wine business secretly love it when summer ends and we enter SOND.  SOND is the acronym for September, October, November, December.  It’s not as if there is no wine sold during the summer months, but let’s face it, summer belongs to the beer and cocktail drinkers. We in the wine world will graciously give the summer to our beer and spirits brothers and sisters, while we secretly hope that rosé continues to grow and become a summer drink of choice.

Jerry Lewis, Photo Courtesy of  Pinterest

Jerry Lewis, Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

Back to SOND….Labor Day weekend officially ends summer.  Most of the kids are back at school (I mourn the death of Jerry Lewis.  I always knew summer was over when I would watch his telethon as he smoked 20 packs of cigarettes, while wearing a tuxedo he looked like he slept in....Did anyone else have this childhood experience, or am I just a freak?), people are beginning to nest for the fall and the weather has just a hint of coolness.

All of these events mean sales are going to kick back into gear for wine.  Average monthly case shipments in SOND can be double what they were in the month of July. OMG I loathe July.  God created July to torture people in the wine industry.  I could go on vacation the entire month of July and I don’t think it would make any difference to the business.  You can only yell at your sales team so many times, and then you have to accept the fact that July is July (do you think they want me to go away for the entire month of July? Yes they do).  The first two weeks of August seem like an extension of July, and you wonder if anyone will ever order wine again.  Then magically, the last two weeks of August show life!  Distributors come out of hibernation, orders come in and Labor Day sounds the bell for SOND.

Photo Courtesy of  Shipping Davis

Photo Courtesy of Shipping Davis

The last four months of the year (SOND), are simultaneously the most exciting and terrifying months of the year.  Typically you have spent the first six months of the year building accounts, expanding channel distribution and planning programming to position your brands for a successful SOND.  You survived July, although it rocked your belief in what you’re doing.  Now it’s game time.

SOND has approximately 75 shipping days.  75 days determine if you are running into the next year with momentum, or do you have to lick your wounds, go back to the drawing board and see what you need to correct or fine tune for the next year.

Photo Courtesy of  Shutter Stock  

Photo Courtesy of Shutter Stock 

Someday when I am retired, I am going to take an extended vacation for those 75 days in SOND and wish the next generation good luck.  Never mind, I probably will always worry about sales right up to the time they wheel me out of the office… is a glamorous business.