Mar 21, 2023
This week’s Her Story, featuring Leslie Frelow of The Wine Concierge, highlights the importance of knowing your customer and how important it is to know your business expenses inside and out. We’re thrilled to highlight Leslie as a Woman of Impact during Women’s History Month with her mission to support aspiring Black winemakers. Read on to learn about Leslie’s pivot from owning a wine tour business to creating The Wine Concierge.
When George Floyd was murdered I decided to change the focus of my store to sell fine wines produced by women and minorities...
Why did you start your business? What motivated or inspired you?
I got started in Maryland in 2013 with a wine tour business. But when the pandemic started in 2020, I was no longer able to run tours. So I pivoted and started an online wine store and wine subscription. When George Floyd was murdered I decided to change the focus of my store to sell fine wines produced by women and minorities to respond to the interest of customers in supporting marginalized wine producers.
What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you started your business?
I wish I knew more about shipping regulations concerning alcohol. I would be lucky if shipping alcohol only varied from state to state. It varies based on if you are a retailer, a wine producer, and a winery. Better yet, it could vary within the state. I started selling wine during the pandemic when many states and large shippers did not enforce shipping regulations. The "powers that be" didn't discuss the regulations and provided very little guidance. As the impact of the pandemic lessened, shipping enforcement increased without warning or guidance. I was hit with fines and fees totaling over one thousand dollars.
What has been the most challenging thing about getting your business up and running?
Understanding the state wine compliance issues and being seen in a sea of online businesses.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of owning your own business?
Making that connection with my customers. Seeing their excitement of trying wines they didn't know existed.
Can you identify a moment in your business that was pivotal in your success? Have you had an “AHA!” moment(s)?
When I first started selling wine I thought I could sell wine to everyone who drinks wine. I didn't sell much wine that way. It was like shouting at a rock concert. No one hears you. I looked for similarities among my existing customers. I identified common problems, and solutions they were looking to solve. I focused on those characteristics when speaking to my customers. When I noticed people consistently responded, I knew I captured my customer. Being able to clearly state who my customer is has enabled me to position my business in a whole new light.
How long have you been in business and has your business changed since you started it?
I started in the wine tours business in 2013. Yes, people are more aware of where they source their wines and what is in the bottle.
I looked for similarities among my existing customers. I identified common problems, and solutions they were looking to solve. I focused on those characteristics when speaking to my customers. When I noticed people consistently responded, I knew I captured my customer. Being able to clearly state who my customer is has enabled me to position my business in a whole new light.
Do you have a mentor, formal or informal? What role have they played for you?
My peers in the wine community are my mentors.
What communities have been important for you as you grew/developed your business?
The small business owner community has been very inspirational in Austin, along with SBA and SCORE.
Do you have any advice for other women who are getting started in business?
Know your numbers! As a business owner, it’s so crucial to be clear about all of the costs that are part of running your business. In our case, we have to take into consideration the many levels of costs associated with shipping a bottle of wine. Most people only think about the cost of the wine and shipping costs. But you have to consider other costs such as packaging, staffing, collateral, software, etc. If you don't know the overhead costs, you will operate in a deficit and not realize it. I have a quarterly meeting with my bookkeeper to review these costs and other issues. It's my “coming to Jesus meeting” that helps me adjust expenses or level-set my profit projections. .
If a journalist were to write a headline about you/your business, what would it be?
"The Wine Concierge has the largest online wine collection of wines produced by women and minorities."
Are there any apps or business services that you just can’t live without that you would like to give a shout-out to?
Open Page CRM.
Is there a non-profit or other social/mission-oriented business that your business supports? Can you tell us about this?
Black Winemakers Scholarship Fund. The fund is for college Juniors and Seniors studying enology and viticulture..
Thank you, Leslie, for sharing your advice and journey with the WMarketplace!
SHOP tHE WINE CONCIERGE
Launched in 2020, TheWMarketplace is a nationwide e-commerce marketplace for women-owned businesses to sell their products and professional and personal services. Offering favorable terms to its sellers, it also is a supportive community of women entrepreneurs that have access to learning opportunities through the trademarked HER-Commerce™ programs. With over 500 women-owned businesses selling 4000+ products and services ranging from home goods to coaching, in over 35 states, TheWMarketplace empowers shoppers with a new way to find the communities they want to support, including Black-woman owned, Latina-owned, AAPI-owned, Veteran woman-owned, and more. The Her Story Q&A is one benefit TheWMarketplace provides to sellers.