4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Wine Shop

  • By Amanda Neville (as told to Eveline Chao)
  • December 11, 2013

Amanda Neville had been a business and brand strategist for nearly 15 years and loved every minute of it. But she also craved new challenges. She felt the urge to build not just teams, projects and companies, but something physical as well. Moreover, she was an activist in the past, and missed the community-building aspect of that.

One day in 2009, while standing in line at a sandwich shop, Amanda started chatting with another woman from their Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, DC. The woman mentioned that she frequently drove to Virginia to buy her wine because there weren't any nice wine stores nearby. A long-time wine lover herself, Amanda realized this may be the challenge she was seeking — to open a unique wine shop where shoppers could count on inspired decor, an intuitive organization and knowledgeable and approachable staff. And conveniently, her old college roommate Alan Greene had a retail and sales background — and 500 bottles of wine.

Amanda wound up leaving DC, but she and Alan opened a wine store, called Tipsy, in Brooklyn, New York. It’s more than fulfilled Amanda’s desire to build a new and different kind of business that allows her to market directly to a community. But despite their combined business smarts, the journey has been long, winding and full of unexpected bumps. Here, in her own words and fresh off the celebratory high of last month’s opening, are the top four lessons Amanda wishes she’d known about opening her business before she started.

1. Plan conservatively: Everything will take much, much longer than you think. When you’re opening a business for the first time, you’ll be doing so many small things that you’ve never done before — and because you’re doing them for the first time, they will take a lot longer than you’d expect.

For instance, even though I work on content for huge websites through my consultancy, I made a classic mistake and underestimated how long it would take me to write unique, short product descriptions for each wine — not to mention edit those provided by the distributors and winemakers. I’m still working on them!

Spending more time on tasks also means spending more money than expected. In your financial models, give yourself some leeway when estimating how long it will take to build up your customer base, and assume that purchases will be lower than you might think at first. Be very conservative in your planning, and make sure you have the cash to do what you need to do and to stay afloat when it takes longer than you expect.

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