Ronda Fraley is the Founder & Sommelier at The Wine Party Co., the go-to place for people who want to drink great wine and learn about it. She created a virtual wine course for beginners and recently launched her wine club featuring organic and boutique wines from around the world.
Her unusual background makes her uniquely qualified to break down what intimidates us about wine in an approachable class while serving up responsibly-made wines that her customers can feel good about. Her MBA is from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and she holds wine certifications from the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust where she is currently a Diploma Candidate. She started her career in Food & Beverage and later transitioned into Human Resources in the Casino Entertainment industry where she developed a knack for adult education, facilitation, and communication. She now has her sights set on growing her company where she gets to delight her customers, highlight organic winemaking, and support fellow small businesses and women in wine.
Learn more at www.thewinepartyco.com or @thewinepartyco on social.
Where did the idea for The Wine Party Co. come from?
Honestly, I had just bought my first house and I wanted a reason to invite my friends over for an elegant evening in so I thought, what about a wine tasting? I started to plan it and immediately felt overwhelmed—that’s when the lightbulb turned on for me. If I was feeling this way – and I know a lot about wine – then there’s probably a lot of people who would love to host wine night if it weren’t so daunting. So, I set out on a path to create ways to make wine approachable.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day starts with having a quiet moment with a cup of coffee, my Tone It Up workout (love them!), and getting ready for the day. Then I get to work which could be packing wine club boxes, talking to customers, working on marketing, or tasting new organic wines with distributors to discover new wines for my shop. After work, I make dinner and do something fun with my fiancé whether it’s a walk along the beach, checking out a new part of town, or going for a bike ride.
Every day is different but I stay on track by breaking down work into intervals. I’ll set a timer for 45 minutes and work solely on one task for that amount of time – and when I think of something else that I need or want to do, I’ll write it down and come back to it later.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Iteratively. I don’t think any of my ideas have been just right on the first try. I usually start with an idea, mind-map it, and then start creating prototypes until I get to a product that is even better than I initially imagined.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One of the big trends in wine is that millennials are drinking a lower volume of wine than previous generations. But they’re spending a little bit more to get higher quality wines.
When I first started out, I had so many people telling me how difficult it is to choose a high quality bottle of wine. I learned that people want an easy way to find wines that check all of their boxes—organic, delicious, well designed labels, and even those produced by winemakers they can feel good about. That’s when it dawned on me. I could curate those wines and deliver them so that my customers could drink exactly what they want without ever setting foot in the wine aisle that they feel is so overwhelming.
People have gone from drinking two-buck-chuck so seeking responsibly-made wines crafted by winemakers who value quality over mass production. That shift in consumer behavior has created an exciting opportunity for me. It’s the kind of wine I drink and the kind of wine I’m proud to deliver to my customers.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My number one habit is all about routine. I’ve created a healthy, productive routine and stuck to it—these days, I don’t allow myself to check my phone before I’ve completed my whole morning routine, workout and all. I have not missed a workout since and that has done wonders for my productivity! You get a lot of freedom and flexibility with an entrepreneurial lifestyle but adding structure and accountability for yourself can be a real game-changer.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would just remind her to enjoy every moment of the journey and worry less.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It’s never ok to piss off your customers. I’ve gotten so much advice about how I can test this and go live with that but it’s often times at the customer’s expense. It might be my hospitality background speaking but I believe the customer always comes first. Yes, even above profits. Because if you treat your customers right, you’ll have more profit in the long-run.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask for feedback. It’s easier to deliver value to your customers when you know what they want. For example, I came out with my wine club and I had a lot of people asking me how they could give just one shipment as a gift for friends, teachers, and even clients. So, I put the “Current Obsessions” on my gifting page and it’s been a hit.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The freemium model was a huge success for my virtual wine course and I would recommend the strategy to anyone. At the beginning, people were telling me that I was giving away too much for free—but I knew that a one hour webinar was only scratching the surface of wine. Add value, be generous, show people why they should trust you and then tell them where to go to get more of it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I initially wanted to offer a ready-to-host at home wine tasting experience that comes with curated wine and our tasting card set but it’s such a new concept that it was really hard to explain—my customers just didn’t understand it. But that was on me.
I’ll actually be re-releasing that product later this year but this time – after talking to a lot of potential customers and getting a lot of feedback – I have a clearer idea of what and how I need to communicate the concept. We’ll see if I get it right this time around!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create a tech solution to speed up and modernize – and maybe even centralize – the different business licenses and permits you need for operating a highly regulated business like wine or spirits. And then call me because I’ll be your first customer!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Can I say a good bottle of wine? Seriously though, my niche is wine and I have a tasting group that I meet up with each week. Here’s the important part: I believe it is really important to stay connected to your industry, what’s going on in the market, and consumer preferences. While we are having fun, I’m also gaining a lot of insight that I use for my business.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I feel like this sounds like a no-brainer but it’s not. If you think you have to pay someone $10k to get a good looking and functional website, you don’t. You can use Squarespace for $500 per year. That’s exactly what I do and I love being able to make changes, manage orders, and check your stats all in one place. Time and money saver.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares is an incredible book full of creative ideas to grow your business and I refer back to it so often. I highly recommend it!
What is your favorite quote?
“When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead.” Ernest Hemingway
- Constantly ask for feedback and use it to your advantage.
- Don’t be afraid to iterate because your first idea can always get better.
- Break up your day into 45 minute intervals or use a routine to stay focused.
- Find creative ways to get a good pulse on your customers and the market.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.