Yet another snowstorm did little to stifle either attendance or enthusiasm in yesterday’s Midwest Entrepreneurs class.
Our guest speaker, Susan Kaufman, Proprietor of Market Alley Wines spoke to students with great enthusiasm and pride about her nearly two year-old wine shop and lounge located in downtown Monmouth (http://marketalleywines.com/).
The first topic of Susan’s presentation echoed one of the issues noted on my last blog post regarding common themes emerging from student “Famous Entrepreneur” papers; the notion that successful entrepreneurs often work a variety of seemingly unrelated and trivial jobs before finding success in pursuit of their true passions. Susan, a journalist by training, spent roughly 25 years of her adult life working as, among other things, a corn detasseler, a lifeguard, an usher at Wrigley Field, a landscaper, a freelance writer, and a salesperson for a nursing home.
Eventually, Susan began to think about what she really wanted to do. She stepped back and looked at all that she had done and tried to figure out what it was that she really liked—and did not like—in her previous series of jobs. She realized, above all, that she was, as she put it, “a real people person.” She recounted also being inspired, at the time, by several Galesburg, IL retail businesses—Calico Cat and Mimi’s—that appeared to be run by “people persons” due to the fact that they were conspicuously concerned with getting to know their customers and remembering seemingly trivial details of their lives. As she said of Calico Cat: “They went out of their way to know you.”
So, Thing to Remember #1… With Susan Kaufman, we have “a real people person” who, after working at a string of unrelated and relatively uninspiring jobs, is inspired by other “people persons” running their businesses with a keen focus on customers; so keen as to conspicuously seek to get to know—and connect with—their customers.
Thing to Remember #2… Susan opened a business involving not only a personal passion—wine—but a passion involving a product and a consumption experience that she was convinced there was significant unmet demand for in the Monmouth region.
In this regard, Susan informed the class that she had become a “wine lover” after spending a summer in France. But love of a product—and a certain consumption experience of it—does not indicate that there is sufficient market demand for a business based on it; even if there is nothing like what you have in mind in the trade area. Evidence—hard, data-based evidence—of adequate demand for the business Susan eventually developed came from her reading of a study commissioned several years ago by the City of Monmouth which she referred to as The Buxton Report. This report indicated, among other things, that Monmouth-area residents spend very large sums of money on wine outside of Monmouth itself. This data, coupled with her love of both wine and consumption of it in a classy, fun environment, drove Susan to make the decision to open a wine shop and lounge in Monmouth.
But not just any wine shop and lounge…
Which brings us to Thing to Remember #3…
Susan Kaufman strives to make a Market Alley Wines a “destination.” By “destination,” I believe she means a retail store in a trade area where people from within as well as well beyond the area specifically seek out and go out of their way to experience. Such a store is “the place to go to” in the area to such an extent that it literally pulls people into the area just to go to that particular store. Susan’s stated inspiration to pursue “destination status” for her entrepreneurial venture was yet another successful Galesburg business; Innkeeper’s, an entrepreneurial coffee house and roastery (http://www.innkeepers-coffee.com/). As Susan put it, the owners of Innkeeper’s “built a destination” drawing people to the Galesburg Seminary Street business area and she wanted to do the same with her own business here in Monmouth.
Susan Kaufman, a “real people person” with a glowing passion for wine, has been pursuing “destination” status for Market Alley Wines for almost two years now. By all accounts, she is almost there. As she told the class, while she gets a surprising volume of business from local residents (and not just the Monmouth College faculty and students one would think), many customers travel from as far away as Macomb, the Quad Cities, and Burlington, IA to experience the wine and the atmosphere to be found at 59 Public Square in downtown Monmouth, Illinois; the street address for Market Alley Wines.