Cycles Gladiator was one of the brands I acquired when I founded Wine Hooligans. It is a brand that had great success in the early part of the 2000’s, growing production to over 300,000 cases. The “girl on the bike” seemed destined to be one of iconic brands in the wine industry. However, like many wine brands, Cycles hit some bumps in the road (affecting those bicycle tires), with pricing issues, label changes and wine quality. Essentially, the quality went down, the price went up, and the original iconic label was changed in a manner that made it, well, not very iconic. The end result was the loss of the majority of its volume over a ten year period. Many, if not most, people had given up on the brand.
The owners put the brand up for sale in an attempt to salvage whatever value the brand may have had. It came up on my radar a little over three years ago. I was originally intrigued with the idea of resurrecting a brand. I asked myself if the brand, regardless of current success, had, or could, develop the attributes that I require to become part of Wine Hooligans portfolio.
I decided that it “might” have the necessary attributes to become a Wine Hooligans brand if I could bring back the original winemaker, Adam LaZarre, to provide authenticity to the brand’s story and quality to the brand’s wines. Additionally, I had to make a subjective call on how damaged the brand was in the minds of consumers. It was already clear to me that the brand was in limbo in the minds of distributors and retailers, which meant it wasn’t going to be easy to “resurrect” the brand, even with Adam back in control of winemaking.
My final decision came down to believing that the original label, which is a reproduction of a late 19th century French bicycle company’s logo, was so iconic in not only the wine industry, but across the world in homes and businesses, that I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to try to capitalize on such a ubiquitous consumer product icon.
I ultimately did buy the brand, re-hired Adam LaZarre, returned the label to its original form and produced several vintages of outstanding wines praised by critics for their outstanding value and quality. The mentions and awards in wine publications and competitions are too numerous to mention. Take my word for it - Cycles is great wine for the price (about $12).
So, is it time for me to hang a banner in my office, “Mission Accomplished”? Has the brand regained its former volume levels? Did I see an opportunity where other people didn’t?
Momentum is an attribute I did not take into account when I was forecasting how long it would take to regain the trust of the consumers. We experienced a ton of negative momentum associated with the brand at the time it was purchased. Negative momentum is like air - you can’t see it, but it’s there. It is very difficult to quantify the effect of this negative momentum and relate it to brand volume and growth. We have struggled to turn things around on the brand, and produce the type of results we expected when we first purchased Cycles Gladiator.
These are the times in business where you have to ask yourself, “Do you Believe?”. Do you believe you made the right assumptions when you acquired the brand? Even though you made mistakes, do you believe the reasons why you purchased the brand and the changes you made to the brand are going to eventually resonate with the consumer and win the day? Do you believe it is simply a matter of time until the brand succeeds?
The answer is, I don’t really know. Here is what I do know: we are making excellent wines year after year, with a label that has all the aforementioned iconic presence. I do know that consumers and critics love the wine when they try it. I do know that everyone in Wine Hooligans believes the brand will be successful for all the reasons we predicted those three long years ago.
If you’re interested in taking this journey with me and peeking behind the curtain to see if we can make Cycles Gladiator successful again, I will be posting updates over the upcoming months and, probably years, on our progress… both good and bad. And hey, go out and buy a bottle if you get a chance!