10 Years in Business... how to mess up less...

Wow, doesn't time fly!

It's been 10 years since we left comfy, well paid jobs in the world of finance to take over the reigns of The Wine Buff on Oliver Plunkett Road in Letterkenny on Tuesday 28th August 2008.

If you never visited us in our original incarnation as The Wine Buff, here's a wee pic of where it all started off prior to our move to our current Canal Road premises...

Yup - outside obscured by a bus stop, several buses and zero parking...

Yup - outside obscured by a bus stop, several buses and zero parking...

It's fair to say there have been a few up's and downs over the years, and given that 10 years have gone by, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on lessons we've learned along the way.  

Rather than put together a long, rambling blog post that no-one will read, we thought it best to keep it short and sweet via the power of bullet (or is that numbered) points!... so.... without further a do...

1) Opening during a recession is a good thing.

Might sound counterintuitive, but if it weren't for the recession, rents and costs would have been prohibitively high, people would have dined out more (hence not needing wine for home) and less people would have told me it couldn't be done...

... I can be a lazy bugger at times, but the one thing that motivates me the most is when someone tells me I can't do something. LOTS of people told me we'd be out of business, and fast.

We got a lot of this...

We got a lot of this...

2) Having a mentor (even if it's online learning) is priceless.

It's always a good thing to keep learning, particularly from people who think differently. This in turn helps you to think differently.

Ok, so you might not know someone in the locality who you think fits the bill or who you'd be comfortable talking to, but that's where the joy of iOS apps, dvd's and youtube videos come in to play along with traditional books! There's no excuse any more for not having access to the greatest minds in the world and in many instances the knowledge is free.

Credit pre-2008 goes to Tony Robbins and his CD's for giving me the self belief to take the leap in to self employment (if you haven't listened to the Personal Power series of CD's - you really should). If I hadn't listened and applied the lessons I'd still be at a desk at a job I hated right now. (word of warning though - the style can be a little over-the-top for our likings, but the content is spot on... just sayin)...

Credit also goes to Gary Vaynerchuk who's combination of wine videos and marketing books helped me build a large customer base the cheap way. This approach is, by the way, also a very time consuming and difficult way, but much more sustainable, satisfying and enriching one. (ask me for more details if this interests you)!

Other great sources of knowledge were; "The E-Myth" Book, every book by Seth Godin (especially "Purple Cow"), "Who Moved My Cheese", and Jim7 Youtube Channel... plus loads more...

These 2!... Gary Vaynerchuk (left) Tony Robbins (right)

These 2!... Gary Vaynerchuk (left) Tony Robbins (right)

3) Believe in what you do.

You cannot fake interest in what you do over the long run. Either you will be found out, or you will be so exhausted from putting up a pretence that you'll burn out.

In the first 5 years of business I buried myself in wine. Drank it, read about it (see pics below of my Decanter magazine collection - a portion of it) and gave talks on it (over 100 in the first 5 years).

In the last few years I have been even more geeky about coffee. When I get home from work I'm either reading about it, buying more expensive coffee gadgetry (sorry wifey) or watching videos. I don't do it to get better (although that is a rather pleasant side effect) I do it because I love it. You will never be the best, or at least very good, unless you love what you're doing.

A small selection of the wine geekery...

A small selection of the wine geekery...

3) Hire staff who care about the success of the business (not just their own success).

It's pretty obvious that you should hire people who aren't lazy. It's equally obvious to hire people who care about their career progression. The problem comes when you stop there. You also need to be sure that staff care about the success of the business and those around them. 

Our hiring policy (facilitated by following up on employment references) has always been pretty good at weeding out those in the lazy category. That has rarely posed a problem. What's more difficult is finding out who's really on the side of the business and other employees as a whole. Get this wrong and you're in for a whole world of pain. Hoping that after a while the problem (or more so, they) will go away, will prove you to be sorely mistaken.

Employees who don't share the visions and principals of the business  (in our business; empathy, ownership, support mentality & teamwork) will turn your work days, and those of other employees, in to a fairly miserable existence, with the protagonists inserting their agendas and egos ahead of the atmosphere and success of everyone as a whole.

The solution is to emphasise that this is a key attribute during any interviews and that probation success is dependant on it. Don't let any actions that threaten the work atmosphere go unnoticed. I treat everyone with respect. If an employee doesn't do likewise. Show them the door.

Team building!!..

Team building!!..


4) Systems and Delegation

This one nearly all self employed people are TERRIBLE at.

Systems for everything take away unnecessary brain power and stress. They're not too difficult to implement.

Delegtion and letting go, on the other hand, now that's a tricky one. However, if the business is going to grow, and you don't want to be working several hundred hours a week, you need to trust others. As soon as you feel that you're not learning further on a particular task in work, it's likely that you need to pass that skill on to someone else to take on. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat!!...

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5) Training, training, training

In the coffee shop and wine retail business, there is little scope for improving wage levels. Sales levels, margins, overheads, etc all place limits on what is financially possible. However, this doesn't mean that you as an employer can hold your hand up and say that you can't do anything about it.

Employees can and should seek other forms of remuneration and there's none better than professional courses and other training. We NEVER turn down employee requests for paying for job relevant training provided that it can demonstrated that their skill levels will increase and that it will also benefit the business. You'll notice that our coffee shop wall is covered in (not inexpensive) training certificates. We have paid for them all, including, in some cases, flights and accommodation. When employees demonstrate a willingness to learn, you realise you have the right employees. If they don't want to learn, you probably don't.


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6) Stay Interested...

If you start to experience any measure of success and you start to feel like you've "cracked the code", you haven't! In our experience sales growth is typically always based on historical effort. ie put the effort in and 2-3 months later you'll see good sales growth.

This is positive in that if you are putting the work in and not seeing immediate results you don't need to panic. On the negative side, if you're seeing great sales growth, sitting on your arse will see a dip in about 2-3 months time!

In order to constantly keep interested, always rejig your product offering (nothing makes you more excited about products than new ones coming in), and also look for new and interesting projects and events. Events are key to our business growth. They take a lot of effort and can be stressful, but they are really fulfilling when you pull them off and they keep you on top of your game!


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7) Be thankful...

As one customer tells me every day - be thankful you have another day above the ground!

Appreciate the small things.

Ignore other people's goals and achievements, just focus on your own.



Get a small bit of exercise every day.

And stretch...especially once you breach the wrong side of 40.... :) :) :)

Richard Finney