The Origins of Barefoot Wine

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Today, Barefoot Wine is an iconic household name, but founders Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan had no lineage in the wine industry when they started the company. At the time, one of Bonnie’s clients was owed $300,000 for grapes provided on a handshake deal. Michael went to track down the payment and discovered the debtor’s winery had folded. So, instead of escalating the dispute, Bonnie and Michael took payment in the form of wine. The deal was contingent on their ability to brand and market the wine themselves—something they knew nothing about. However, Bonnie and Michael designed a brand with the input of the common man and produced a product that kept people coming back.

Listen to the Market

When Bonnie and Michael started pushing cases, they overcame significant hurdles by listening to the market. Their initial strategy did not go according to plan, but Bonnie and Michael detached themselves from the brand to achieve a sense of clarity and equilibrium in their deal negotiations. Instead of sending pallets to supermarkets, they started hand-delivering cases to mom and pop shops in the area. Instead of spending millions on commercial advertising, they built a brand through community outreach and pioneered ‘worthy cause marketing.’ Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of falling in love with their products; Bonnie and Michael took feedback with a sense of objectivity and delivered much more than the market had asked for.

Leverage Strategic Partnerships

Who are your strategic allies? Who gets rich when you get rich? Those are the questions you should think about when you wake up in the morning. Barefoot entered a massive distribution deal with Trader Joe’s, they incentivized their employees to align their goals and grow the company organically, and they joined forces with E&J Gallo to take the company to an entirely new level. Bonnie and Michael even found a trusted partner to give them industry financing without a need for venture capital or investors. Strategic partnerships are the lifeblood of Barefoot, and they continue to propel the brand forward.

Learn about their new audiobook, The Barefoot Spirit and if you are interested in hearing more from Bonnie and Michael, listen to my podcast episode, The Deals That Made Barefoot Wine a Household Name, with Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan.

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.

If you want to find out how deal-ready you are, take the Deal- Ready Assessment today!

Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, deal-maker, and business consultant with more than 35 years of professional negotiating experience as a successful entrepreneur and attorney.


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