Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Elephant in the Friend Camp

Driving through Virginia wine country with a fellow professional, our conversation turned to friends and how they may feel awkward and even hostile toward a new business.  My driving partner is Cindy Rynning. By day, she’s an Early Childhood Special Education teacher from one of my newest favourite cities, Chicago, by night, she’s blogging all things wine at Grape Experiences.

Cindy has a wine path for her future self and with an Advanced WSET certificate and a carefully nurtured wine network she’s begun the journey on the wine-coloured road.  As Cindy pointed out to me though, some friends can’t necessarily see that new path. She recently experienced the “awkward friend behavior” when a close friend did not show up at one of her events with no explanation.

As for us, my business partner GUY was surprised when a few friends began acting strangely once we took on a more public posture via social media.  GUY said of the experience, “One buddy got me alone and asked with a sneer, ‘Isn’t it embarrassing putting yourself out there like that?’”  GUY was particularly surprised when a friend asked him how social media worked, “I invited him to follow PROTOCOL on Facebook to watch us grow and their reply stung when they shot back, ‘I find social media disturbing and I don’t want any part of it, don’t count on me to support your business.’”

Don’t get me wrong, the response toward our efforts at opening our business have been overwhelmingly positive.  But it’s hard to turn away from those few splinters of discontent once they work their way in.  So we got to wondering about the source of the disconnect. Why would a close friend whose company is normally warm present the cold shoulder once we’re open for business?  And what is the reason a friend may feel reluctant to participate?  We believe the onus remains with us, as business owners, to find out.

Is my business my friends’ business?

Do we make our friends uncomfortable just by having a business? Perhaps they’re concerned we’ll begin hawking wares each time we see each other? Indeed we’re careful not to ask for financial support, a big part of our business model was to start this business with our own money.   And we’re also careful about how we ask people to purchase wine from us.  We can extend an invitation, but a purchasing decision must be the customer’s own decision, whatever that may be.

We’ve all heard the phrase knowledge is power, so applying this with something as easy as a conversation may very well be the answer. What we’ve come to realize is that it’s extremely important for our friends to know our story. It’s in this way that they become fully aware of what we do.  We’ve found that sharing stories about our customer experiences (always maintaining client confidentially of course) by talking about an exciting purchase or a trip to an auction house showcases this perfectly.  And this storytelling flows both ways, we always find out what our friends do so that there is a chance for reciprocity, thus extending our reach and establishing a network.

Knowledge is Power

And as Cindy and I continued our discussion of wine and friends we came to a realization: friends need not purchase a darn thing, what’s more important is their emotional support. And it’s up to us to nurture this by communicating effectively as to what it is we do and our ultimate goal. Once empowered with this knowledge, we’ve given our social network of friends the means to feel comfortable about us and how our business may fit into their lives.

Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio


Here’s What I’ll Give You for $1,000 a Night

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) posted a story earlier in the year titled, “What $1000 a Night Gets You.” This piece highlights how clients with sufficient means are willing to pay for intimate and exclusive service at boutique hotels.  Keep in mind $1,000 is the cost for a basic room in this new breed of lodging.  That price doesn’t include the myriad of extra fees and charges that is sure to accompany this type of hotel experience.

Sure the high prices are shocking to most (including us) but the ratio of high prices and small-scale allow these hotels to deliver an exquisite level of service.  And believe me, there is a market of people with the funds and desire to pursue these hotels.

On a recent PROTOCOL business trip I stayed at a decidedly less expensive “working class” hotel and was roused by my 7:00 am wake up call.  A cheerful woman’s voice informed me that breakfast is in the lobby, reminded me that there’s is a complimentary newspaper by my door and asked me if I needed a weather report.  But wait a minute!  What’s this?  This is a real person talking to me, not the recording I’ve become accustomed to in other similar hotels.  That alone was enough to wake me from my road warrior stupor.

The ultra expensive boutique hotel goes considerably further to wow its clients with service.  The WSJ article tells tales of offering a personal concierge to perform your bidding and loaner Mercedes.  But the article in the WSJ about crazy expensive luxury hotels and my recent wake up call at the working class hotel got me thinking about how the key element of exceptional service is the same at both facilities: A Personal Touch

It’s that Black Door with all the Graffiti on it

Why do we respond positively to personalized service?  I believe the answer is deceptively simple, we appreciate being recognized for our individuality.  This point brings to mind an experience I had while traveling in Italy.  I walked the charming streets, surrounded by all the old world atmosphere that is Europe.  At one point I sauntered down a residential alley lined with well-appointed houses built from stone and highlighted by imposing front black doors.  All the doors were the same sturdy oak painted with a shiny black lacquer, save for one.

This standout door was long overdue for a paint job.  Over years of neglect, many passersby took the opportunity to carve into the fading paint.  It’s on this canvas that the bold made their mark, lovers declared their passion and adversaries staked their claim.  No doubt the other, well-kept houses on the street were better furnished, but it was this door that made a statement that spurned me into contemplation.  And I would give anything to see what was behind it.  I spent some time just staring at that door, thinking about the stories it would tell if it could speak.  I couldn’t keep myself from taking a picture before I wandered off and now we use that picture as a back drop to our blog page.

Give me a Service Modality, Vasily. One Service Modality only, please.

We believe it’s important for business to define their service modality.  That is to say, how do you service your clients?  Once marked, you’ll do well to stick to the plan.  Those businesses that fail at this step run the risk of trying to be all things to all people.  And for anyone who has ever tried this, you’ve learned it’s impossible.

The very same WSJ article we’ve discussed here provides us with a good example of a business stepping outside of its service modality.  One hotel underwent a umpty squat million dollar renovation, so to increase bookings, they tried offering reservations online. This did not work well.  New clients who booked online complained about the extra fees the hotel charges in addition to the room.  While at the same time loyal clients were annoyed with the reduction of availability and the inclusion of “bargain shoppers.”  In short the hotel’s established clients asked the management, “Why do you want to open the doors to anybody?”

The hotel responded brilliantly, one can still request a reservation on-line, but it’s not confirmed until a representative from the hotel calls to speak with the guest.  Again there’s that ever important personal touch.  And while this example may smack of elitism, a $1,000 per night hotel is the last place you’d want to be if you’re concerned about the substantial extra charges that are sure to be on the final bill.  It’s akin to ordering lobster at market price, if you gotta ask, go for the chicken.

Becoming Engaged

Ever watch an interviewer?  The majority are so focused on the next question they’re missing the potential right in front of them and forgetting a very basic tenet: Engagement.  Customers don’t buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical. The more we know our customers, the better we become at anticipating their needs. Regular communication is key to correctly servicing our clients. Engagement helps us to act differently than everyone else.  This engagement works both ways as customer feedback is vital to success.  Ultimately the end result of this customer interaction is loyalty.  And loyal customers make business great.


Tina & GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio

The Wine List—Are we just “peeing” the Highest?

“The problem of besting your friends at wine talk becomes increasingly difficult. It isn’t enough to drink wines—you must be able to talk about them, if not intelligently, at least at length.” Alexis Lichine

From time time immemorial we’ve held onto the notion of “going back home.” By any means possible we leave the proverbial nest, grow up elsewhere and inevitably we realize “home” was pretty damn good, we just needed the maturity to see it.

So possibly too for wine—the end all may not be about the newest, most esoteric wine, or outdoing each other by finding the craziest grape, thus “peeing” the highest, rather it’s just about appealing to our sensibilities, what makes us feel good, connected—home.

So what does home mean? Perhaps the grocery store? They certainly can be close to home but they lean toward too much typicity from the big conglomerates. So does that mean our wine lists should be anything but?

Lately in California there is a wine phenomena: many California restaurants hardly serve California wines—why? They’re too big, too tannic, too alcoholic, too much.

Raising the bar or lowering the limbo stick…

We have war mongering lurking in the wine list arena. Wine list descriptions such as “women winos”, “off-the-beaten-path”, “oldies but goodies”, “cheap but not gaudy” and “sexy winemakers” are penning their way onto lists.

At PROTOCOL, we have adopted an ethos of wine as lifestyle—the grape becomes part of our total lives. We’ve found the wine world is basically made up of two types of wine drinkers: those that “know” wine and want to delve further and those who want to know wine and would like a push.

Restaurant outings make us feel good. The food menu appeals to our tastes, most of the ingredients are recognizable with a few outliers—excellent. Then there’s the wine list and it’s just as important. If I see a wine and I need to pull out the GPS that could be cool—because it’s part of our lifestyle but keeping in mind not for all. Wine should tell a story, connecting the liquid with the food menu, the smaller the restaurant, the smaller the list. And boundary-testing—the hallmark of wine lists must remain true to its founders, its staff, its customers. And maybe that’s it—staying true to ourselves, testing those boundaries—sounds like home.

Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio

Ranting Cape Monologue sans Cape

Hokey Pokey and a Dosey Doe

We take a step back, make that two, turn around a few times, then charge full steam ahead, into the fray, into today’s modern melee: Small Business Ownership. The challenge will make you long for the days of desk-work with a steady paycheck and benefits. Yet we start each day anew with a clear head and specific intensions, only to be spun around by a whirlwind of activity, steaming to the end of the day, reeling from the dizzying array of responsibilities.

Sometimes while driving to the Studio I find my mind buzzing with to-dos. It’s like a crazy game of card stacking where the goal is to continuously layer as many paper cards into one day as possible without the monstrosity collapsing. I’m so focused on the to-do list I sometimes stop breathing! Panting in the car, flying down the freeway, I force myself to close a steel door in my mind between this moment and the day’s minutaie. So I gaze out the window, enjoying my beautiful coastal commute, where each morning the sun and clouds battle for beach supremacy.

The real trouble with losing your grasp on time is that before you know it, days become weeks and weeks become months. Together we’ve learned it’s so ridiculously easy to mire ourselves in the daily work-load which has the real danger of becoming overwhelming. We love what we do and the trick to balancing it all is to truly stop and let the senses rule, to reconnect with the whole—ourselves. Tina made this point about losing time in a recent email to me. She wrote a stream of consciousness, encapsulating our 30-day ABC license posting period, where a month really did fly by like a day:

“ABC alcohol posting up! Ventura for a book signing. Back in San Diego. Meetings: contractor. Meetings: wine reps. Meetings: accountant. Meetings: etc. Brainstorming. “It will be bold, dramatic, heroic!…No capes!” No sleep. Happy times, good friends. Sink shopping. Water heater: what size, what’s cheaper? 200 glasses of wine on the wall, 200 glasses of wine take one down pass it around 199 glasses of wine on the wall. Study Study Study: next level mw. Cellar work: cold, yet comforting, nose is running. Wine auctions: my kingdom for another wine auction! Exciting party on the water. Contractor. HVAC. Lions, tigers and bears! If Irish and Jersey were sitting in a tree would they be drinking Bordeaux or Burgundy? Our first twitter: #winechat points our proclamation, so much fun and so fast want to do it again and again! #44 thrown in here somewhere. Last-minute clients. Getting good at this! #wbc12. Oregon, first time, gorgeous vineyards. 3 rental cars. where am I? Sommelier Tastings. Credit apps. Rep relationship meetings. Barrelly made it! First skype wine circle Virginia. Website: designers and programmers. Red couch, oh how we love you! Hot bottles. Art shows. On board. Professional photo shoot (maybe one picture will be good.) ABC conditions set (we can live with that.) 30 days gone by, alcohol posting down! Hit a wine shop just about to purchase about 8 bottles and I realize damnit! what am I doing? Holy shit! WE can buy and sell wine!”

Glutton for It…

“Why! Why? Why put yourself through this!” Fortunately the answer is easy: Regret–more specifically, the lack thereof. Not a day goes by that we regret our choice to walk this path. We are aware of its pitfalls: the work required, the inherent risks of a startup and the strain on our personal lives. But we are driven because we love it. And even better, we love to share our affair with wine and all that comes with it.

And so while we work, we occasionally take time to stop whenever we can and enjoy the moment in our nascency. There’s a real wonder at building something from nothing. Not long ago Tina and I shared an idea, that idea became a vision and that vision became reality. And here we are, at this moment in time, feeling how good it feels, to follow a dream…

Relax and Connect.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek

GUY and Tina, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio

%d bloggers like this: