Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Battle of Evermore, and of Small Business.

"Queen of Light took her bow, And then she turned to go,

The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom, And walked the night alone.

Oh, dance in the dark of night, Sing to the morning light.

The dark Lord rides in force tonight, And time will tell us all.

This blog post has been brewing in my head for at least the past eight weeks. The only thing that has changed during this time, is the placement of the goal posts that I thought I was kicking toward, in September. Life's like that. Even the best laid plans go astray. Tonight, and through to the wee hours of the morning, while listening to Led Zeppelin's  Battle of Evermore, I pondered many things, especially the word 'battle'.

In October, I drove, or was driven, over three thousand kilometres in distance. Toward the end of the month, it became a battle. Being surrounded by death or the dying of some of those I love and admire most, became a battle. Working so much still, knowing how tough it is to sell even a good competitive wine, let alone have all the energy necessary to run a family and two businesses, became a battle. There were days when I felt like I could sleep forever, and many more nights where I couldn't sleep at all. Existence became a battle. I'm picking up, if only because the pressure from most fronts has dropped, for now anyway.

The tough part was not being in a battle, it was not knowing how long those current battles would last. It's hard to keep going when you are worn out on every level. And unfortunately, a lot of small business owners are. Thus, I pose to you, just how important really is it for small businesses to remain viable in your neighbourhood, state and country?

As I drove to Melbourne, in the early days of October, I set myself some goals - for Karra Yerta Wines, Collective Barossa, my family and myself. They seemed to be the correct ones to aim for at the time. Five days later, on my return home, they were still the best options. I had been grieving heavily (that story will come in due course), and my heart and soul were drained. As I stopped at small country towns, and not so small ones, I took note of whether McDonalds, Woolworths, Coles and the like, were there. Watched for wind farms. Paid attention to well, things.... Lots of things.
Life. I paid attention to my life, society, my place in it, my future and the future of all of us. I pondered deeply, about much.

I also gently spoke with other small business owners of many different kinds of retail outlets. They all said it had been a tough winter season. Lots of them were battling to pay the bills, as I was. Overheads in the wine industry, let alone the retail industry, are high. Even though I know what profit is, I am yet to see any, and that is fine as long as you have some idea how long the battle will last, for it is only then that you know the correct time to implement your Exit Strategy. One of my dearest friends, who is so gravely ill at the moment, and for whom I am already grieving, taught me the importance of an exit strategy and I am forever grateful to him.

I am also grateful to the many people who have helped me promote or sell our wines in the past month. Our 'Special Clearance Sale' ends on November 20. I need to sell lots of wine ("lots" to me is less than a few hundred cases) to have cash flow and reduce my overheads to remain viable with Karra Yerta and Collective Barossa.

Another thing I am grateful for is the never ending support from James, Steven (Kurtz Family Vineyards) and Mark (Gumpara Wines). Steven and Mark's commitment to selling their wines through (and serving behind the counter of) Collective Barossa, has been remarkable. Almost two years on, we have become an even tighter machine and work together so well. The respect we have for each other is incredible. It's another reason for me to keep going when I am so tired, when I can no longer speak a fluent sentence from sheer exhaustion of too many phone calls and too much talking. I love my quiet time at home, more than most people, I am sure. But for all the hard work, I still love my job. I love the people I work with, and I love meeting the amazing people that walk through the doors. These are the things that keep one going through the battle. These are also the things that change the positions of my goal posts.
Life's like that. Even the best laid plans go astray........

So, in finishing off this rather heartfelt rant, I ask you all to consider supporting as many small businesses as you can. Once they close the doors, the chance of them reopening is probably non-existent. Drive past the big boys and just sometimes, drop into a small family business instead. A winery, a bottle-shop, a book shop, a gift shop, a restaurant, a cafe'. These are the people who through their own passion or stupidity (sometimes I wonder which of these two categories I fall under - maybe both!) decide they want to work long days, for perhaps no monetary payment, to follow their dreams.

I like small business, I like living in the country, and I love living in Australia. Let's all try to help Aussie small businesses survive in the future. The choice is ours! It really is that simple.

Cheers for now,



Kyle Crick said...

yes, Yes, & YES !


Thanks, Kyle, and I do hope that people will continue to support YOUR small family business, too ( www.mogovillagecellars.com )

Red said...

Interesting and concerning to read Marie.

Between Halliday, The Winefront, and a number of bloggers, I've only ever read fantastic reviews of your wines. While I think everyone understands what a tough period it has been for wineries over the past few years, I might have assumed that those reviews would have ensured that sales for Karra Yerta wines would've been better than most.

How much do you find a good review from a Halliday or Winefront helps?


Hi Red,
Thanks for your comments. To be honest, good/great/fantastic reviews really only help to establish your credibility.

Sometimes sales pick up once a fabulous review has been published but most times, unless you are out there, on the street, pumping it, sales are slow (I speak of my own experiences, not on behalf of other wineries.)

As a person that works behind the counter of Collective Barossa most days that we are open, answers emails, formats documents, designs labels, arranges labelling etc, runs the social media/sales/marketing/bookwork (with the assistance of a fantastic book-keeper!)for Collective Barossa AND Karra Yerta Wines, I depend on sales via the internet or customers off the street.

I'm not complaining, but pointing out that I can only spread myself so thin when not being able to afford to pay assistants to help as much as I would like (as yet). I cannot get out on the road and do as many tastings as I would like, nor push our wines as much as I would like to, to retailers or distributors. I am also hesitant to deal with just anyone as sometimes it is hard to get your payment in your hands. Ninety day terms can drag out to ten months and that too, is financially crushing.

In a nutshell, no, reviews generally don't sell enough of your wine but the biggest hurdle a small producer faces is that there is quite simply SO much great wine out there. To build a mailing list of regular buyers takes time, and wine-making is an expensive game, so to keep afloat in the interim can be tricky.

I truly believe that most little people (less than 10,000 cases a year) in the wine industry are in it for the passion, not the profit. (FYI we usually make around 400 cases annually). Unless you are getting $50 - $100 a bottle and making and selling lots, profit must surely be a difficult thing to attain! Just my thoughts.....


Bek Schapel said...

Great post Marie.


Thanks, Bek. Are you a small business owner?