By SCOTT STEEPLETON NEWS-PRESS CITY EDITOR
March 7, 2013 5:59 AM
When he returns to Santa Barbara for a speaking engagement this week, Barefoot Cellars co-founder Michael Houlihan will be treading familiar territory.
He attended City College 1965-67 and it was here, in the early stages of Barefoot, that Mr. Houlihan, who founded the brand with partner Bonnie Harvey, pounded the pavement making the sales.
Mr. Houlihan and Ms. Harvey will speak at the Scheinfeld Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at City College at 4:30 p.m. Friday, the first of 10 stops on a nationwide tour to get people fired up about starting a business and to promote their upcoming book, “Barefoot Spirt: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine,” which comes out in May.
Admission is free, but seats are limited. Attendees will get access to the eBook version of “The Barefoot Spirit.”
The wine’s roots date to 1965, when San Francisco writer and reporter Davis Bynum created Barefoot Bynum Burgundy at his home in the Bay Area. In 1986, Mr. Houlihan and Ms. Harvey came aboard and Barefoot Cellars was born – in their home.
From 1987 to 1995, Mr. Houlihan personally serviced every account in Santa Barbara.
In 2005, the brand was sold to E. & J. Gallo Winery, the world’s largest family-owned winery and the largest exporter of California wine.
In 2007, Barefoot and Surfrider teamed up to create the Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project, a nationwide initiative to keep our beaches “barefoot-friendly.” Each summer, the Project goes coast-to-coast, calling on community volunteers and local Surfrider members to come out and clean their shores.
Not bad for a couple who knew nothing about the business when they started out.
“It wasn’t easy, man,” Mr. Houlihan said in a phone interview Wednesday.
But it was clear from the beginning who would do what.
“Bonnie is very good with what I call minutiae,” Mr. Houlihan said with a chuckle. “But that covers things like money and legal and contracts. She also ran the bottling lines and was in charge of all promotion at the beginning. I am the swashbuckling sword-wielder. I do things like sales and marketing, long-term planning.”
“We respect each other for our different skill sets,” he added.
While the company has gone through lots of change, Ms. Harvey’s footprint is still the label iconography for Barefoot Cellars, which includes still and sparkling wines.
In the talks, as well as in their new book, the couple speaks to an audience much broader than people who want to get into the wine business.
“The three things you gotta know in any business is personnel management, distribution management and cash flow management,” said Mr. Houlihan, whose varied background includes productivity and process improvement.
“You have to know how to treat people so you can maintain and grow relationships. Also you have to know strategic allies. ‘Who’s going to make out if we make out?’ ”
He puts a premium on distribution management. After all, you could have the best idea for a product in the world, but if you can’t get it to customers, what good is it?
“Warehouses are full of good ideas that are sitting unsold. I’m sorry, but it’s more about distribution than the product or how good it is for the price.”
These days, Mr. Houlihan is a principal in the wine consulting business Houlihan and Jones, and he and Ms. Harvey produce free business blogs on two sites every week, www.barefootwinefounders.com andwww.thebrandauthority.net .
Their book is available for download at both sites.
While his work in the wine business these days is more focused on helping others make their brands successful, Mr. Houlihan says one thing about the industry that hasn’t changed – the regulation. Each state has its own rules when it comes to what you can sell, where you can sell it and how much you can sell it for.
“We’re the United States of America, but from an alcohol beverage standpoint, when you’re trying to sell wine interstate, it’s a loose confederation of independent countries held together by Oprah Winfrey and Ricky Lake,” he said.
“We’re selling ideas now, not wine.”
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