During December, my lovely wife Anneke completed her responsibilities to her previous company and joined the full time team at Vrede en Lust as head of direct sales. Prior to this she was helping us and doing her other job since September. She is thus responsible for the cellar-door experience, direct wine sales to local and overseas clients, as well as special projects such as the Mopani Rag charity fundraising initiative and our wine-club.
That is great because Anneke does a wonderful job, is passionate about what she does and it allows me to focus more on the trade business as well as exports. She is building up her team at present and her standards are very high! Anneke’s friendly, outgoing personality and high level of energy has been a catalyst for the growth in our direct business.
Anneke is actually a lawyer by training, but was involved in the property business for the past few years, where she founded and built up a successful project management company. Her former company works with long distance clients during the design, tender, building, landscaping and interior decoration of up-market homes in the valley. She was responsible for customer acquisition and left the business with a two-year funnel – rare in the current economy.
The transition to being a much more involved family business has been fantastic for Vrede en Lust. We have had a succession of record months since September and our revenue and volume growth has been excellent.
The growth in our direct business leads to growth in our trade business as our brand develops and more clients order our wines in restaurants or select our wines in retail stores. In November we sold 45,000 bottles of wines in total – our best month ever by some margin!
To what extent is Vrede en Lust a family business? My brother Etienne runs the physical farming side. That involves 3 farms covering 320 Ha (800 acres) and 120 Ha (300 acres) under vine. His wife Tracey looks after the interests of our staff and the HR side of things. My focus is the overall sales and marketing responsibility as well as finance & administration.
During the peak Christmas holiday period my daughters Jessica and Sarah worked in the cellar-door – learning the ropes under huge pressure and helping Anneke & Elzanne Geldenhuys deal with the busiest period of our year. I meant to take a photograph for the blog, but could never get them all to stand in one place for long enough!
My business career was spent in the corporate world and the move to a family business has had its share of challenges. All of the resource, systems and technology you are used to are gone! You have to adapt to a completely different world in order to be successful. In the end, it comes down to passion. When you share a passion and a vision of the future, the business moves to the next level.
In the wine business the vast majority of businesses are family owned businesses. A lot of them are family managed as well. Quite a few of the ‘trophy’ type properties are not family run though. Their owners run larger, successful corporations and indulge in the wine industry as a sort of hobby. Some of these businesses are very successful because their owners have huge budgets, lots of connections and can invest more than the competition.
A very significant number of the very successful wineries are family owned and managed. The reason they end up doing so well is because the owners are close to the ground, spend all of their time in the business, know the industry and have the bulk of their wealth tied up in the business. They need to be successful in order to survive! These businesses typically have very flat structures and everyone has to do every type of job in times of crises.
Going into 2009, the world is a different place and moving into territory unknown to all of us. At Vrede en Lust we are prepared for a tough year in a tough global economy. Hopefully lots of people will continue to enjoy wine for its many benefits including its great capacity to lighten the mood! We expect to see a shift to more home wine consumption and a focus on better value for money vs. the status purchases that one often sees in restaurants.
It is my sense that at Vrede en Lust we are well positioned and that we will have a very good year focused on the basics – quality of product, uniqueness of customer experience, the right people in the right jobs and heaps & heaps of commitment and passion!!
All of the best for the year ahead!