Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Earl Sullivan, founder of Telaya Wine Co., located in Garden City, Idaho, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are a local, family-owned winery located in the Snake River AVA. We sell most of our wine through our tasting room and club. We have those customers in 28 states across the country. We make old-world-styled wines from vineyards in Idaho and Washington. Just recently, our Syrah was listed by the Seattle Times as the 2nd best wine in the Pacific Northwest for 2021.
Tell us about yourself
My wife and I started this business as a way to re-engage with our family. Previously, I worked as the COO of a global pharmaceutical company and traveled 270 days a year. We had two small children, and we determined that if we kept us at the current pace (my wife is a Veterinary Surgeon), we would end up divorced, with two brats, or I was going to have a heart attack. So we set out three requirements for a new career. 1. Had to be intellectually stimulating (we both had good jobs, we didn't need another job), 2. It had to teach our kids the work ethic I learned growing up working on our family farm. 3. It had to be something that we could do together. We didn't seek out wine, it found us, and it fit all of the categories that we wanted for our new life. The thing that motivates me each day is my family and my work family. I work each day to be the leader/father/mentor that each of them deserves.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We have had a tremendous number of accolades. We have multiple 90 point wines. Our 2018 Syrah was voted #2 wine by Seattle Times for wines in the Pacific Northwest and also won the Cascadia International Wine Competition. We have been winery of the year for Idaho and have won multiple Gold and Platinum medals. However, the biggest accomplishment that we get is that both our kids have a strong work ethic and that Aha moment that people have with our wines where they realize they like wine or that Idaho can make world-class wines.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
We struggle with a lot of different issues. First, financing in the wine industry is very difficult due to the cash flow of wineries. Second, is the inability to shut the business off. I work day to day with my wife, and we talk about the company all day, every day. Finally, make sure that we keep the brand at the front end of the hospitality curve for our industry.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Make sure it is something that you absolutely love. If it isn't, it will be a burden.
- Make sure you look at the long game and not the short term. Make decisions for long-term success.
- Make sure that you have a clear plan and plan the entire year as best you can so that as things come up, you can pivot easily.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
One of the different areas in our winery is how we treat our team. Each of our staff is salaried. I don't want anyone to come in and see that we are slow and worry that they will be cut and have trouble with their rent or mortgage. We have charity budgets, education budgets, healthcare budgets, and we take them on two trips a year (I just got back from 10 days in Belize on Tuesday).
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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