Search Interviews:


Drew Hendricks 3:49

It was a whole nother level it took I’ve read the book, but then listening to the audio, it was a completely immersive experience it was about you’re brought into it like a movie.

Michael Houlihan 3:59

So we try to try to bring it to life. True.

Drew Hendricks 4:02

Absolutely. You succeeded.

Michael Houlihan 4:05

Thank you.

Jeremy Weisz 4:06

So Michael, this is where we stop talking and you talk the rest of the time and we want to hear from you. So I want to start with and we’ll we’ll dive into why you created the book, how you create the book and business audio theatre. But I want to start with taking us back to as you say in the sub title, which is, you know, the humble beginnings and take us back to a few of the hardest times in your journey. What time sticks out to you.

Michael Houlihan 4:37

Oh boy, well, they all stick out. You know, I’m laughing now But I was crying man. You know, it’s it’s really quite a challenge to jump into an industry that you know very little about, and I probably wouldn’t have chose to do that. But I had such an opportunity late in my life. app, I just couldn’t walk away from it. So my partner, Bonnie, who I’d only known for a year, came to me one day and she said, you know, she says, My client is a grape grower, and he’s owed for three years worth of crops from this winery that hasn’t paid him a dime. Maybe you can go talk to him. And she knew that I used to work for the federal government and as a business advisor, and what have you for HCD and SBA and what have you. And I thought, you know, gee, I just met this gal, and she’s got me out, you know, collecting money. You know, yeah, it was 300, large two, it wasn’t a small bill, even in those days. And I had to go to the winery, you know, hat in hand, and see what I could get. And as I got there, the guard at the door said, Well, I hope you’re not here to collect any money, because you got to take a ticket and wait, your turn, pal, just like the rest of us. I said, What are you talking about? He says, Oh, we just declared a chapter 11 Bankruptcy this morning. And I went, Oh, my God, you know, I’m not going to collect any money here. But I went through with the meeting anyway. And, you know, I, I mean, the meeting was made up of, of the secured stock or the secure debtors, they were now they were now on the board of directors of this bankrupt company. And I looked out the window, and I saw this row of tanks. And I just decided to, you know, break the ice. And I said, Well, what’s what’s in those tanks anyway? And they said, Well, that’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc and both wine 1000s and 1000s of gallons, I thought to myself, you know, that’s funny. Those are the same two varietals, that Bonnie’s client, the grower sold these guys. And they made wine out of it, and they can’t pay him. And then I looked out this other window, and boy, it looked like some kind of a handball court, you know, with a big chrome locomotive in it. And I said, What’s what the handball court and the chrome locomotive over here? And they said, Oh, no, that’s, that’s, that’s a bottling line. That’s a krones bottling line, it does 3000 cases a day. You know, it’s this, it’s that. And so, you know, we had broken the ice. And then as we’re talking, I realized that I’m not going to get paid any money for this. But then I get hit, like a chrome locomotive with this idea. And I said, Well, alright, so you guys can’t pay us any money. But what would you say to a trade? What if you gave us goods and services, which is bulk wine and bottling services in lieu of cash, and we scrubbed the debt, and so that, that really appealed to them because they wanted to use their line anyway. And it was a way for them to improve their cash position. And so here, you know, I gone in there to collect money for my girlfriend, for her client, and I walk out with a contract for $300,000 worth of goods and services. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, you know, if you have a label, you know, if you understand distribution, if you understand, you know, the state by state compliance laws, you know, if you can understand packaging and all this stuff, not not to mention a marketing program, and catchphrase and all that. And I thought, well, you know, what we got is better than a stick and I and how hard can that other stuff be?

Jeremy Weisz 8:32

Famous last words, right?

Michael Houlihan 8:33

Yeah. And I mean, it was a wake up call for the first four or five years. And the thing is that Bonnie and I were both consultants in different realms of life. She helped people organize their offices and oversee their expenditures, and I help people expand their businesses and deal with a government because I had government background, you know, get loans and what have you split their property, think whatever they needed to do with the government, I was good with that. And so we combined our talents, and we went about this adventure, which was really an entrepreneurial adventure, you know, taking notes, and I think that that’s what saved us, you know, we basically didn’t make the same mistake more than twice, you know, we’d say, Hey, didn’t we do this before, you know? And so I guess one of the most humbling experiences is having that much equity in an industry and not knowing how to monetize it. And so I went out and I started asking everybody I could think of, you know, I mean, I’m not a professional in this industry. So I just did the common sense thing. I went out and I asked buyers, I asked clerks, I asked people that were driving truck, you know, ask people that have anything to do with the industry. What’s missing in the industry? What does the industry need? You know, what do you think the Best access to market is today. And they told me, they all told me I, I took lots of notes, and I wound up with a plan, which was, which was interesting. They were all very happy. And I tell my clients today, be sure to ask people in your industry in every level what they think most have never been asked, it’d be really happy to tell you what they really think. And these are the people you know, we say, make friends with people in low places, you know, dirt under the fingernails, they’re doing the real work. Well, a guy, a guy who runs a bottling line will tell you what sells and what doesn’t. Because he’s got a whole roomful of labels there and some of them are moving, and some of them aren’t. And the ones that aren’t, you don’t want to be that guy see. And so that that’s kind of the way that we learned, kind of marketing education, you know. So one of the guys I went to, which is interesting is played in the audio book by Ed Asner, who just passed away a great a great actor, you know, he did up and all of that other stuff as like a 50 year career. And he wanted to work with us. So I, you know, he’s a snarky guy anyway. And so the snarky is guy that I can think of that in my history was this guy who was the buyer for lucky star lucky stores in California, which was a big chain store at the time. They had about 400 stores, you know, 200, Northern California 207. And I thought, well, I’ll just go ask him, you know what he wants? And then we’ll design it for him. And I love it. That’s great. Yeah. And he was like, he was blown away that anybody from the wine industry would actually ask, you know, a guy in a warehouse who was a buyer, you know, what he wants? And he told me, what he told me was just crazy. You know, he says, Well, he says, You know, I don’t have all day who and you’re taking up my time, you’re not selling me anything. I’m not buying anything from you. So here it is. He says, Get out of pencil I did. And he says, Listen, he says, I want to salt and pepper, AK. I want it better than Bob. I want to cheaper and Bob, and I want you to put in a pit. You got that? And I’m writing this all down. And I don’t know what the hell it means. I’ve no idea. He says, Can you do that? And I said, Yeah, I can do it. And so I started out the door. And he goes one more thing Houlihan. He says that label, he says don’t make it a hill or a leap, or a valley, don’t put it in French don’t put a chateau our castle on it. He says, I’ve got too many of those I can. So he says make the name, the same as the logo and make it visible from four feet away so she can see it when she’s pushing her cart. And get the hell out of here. And so I am writing this stuff down, I get back to my car. And I’m going I don’t know, I think I just got a college education, you know, in wine merchandising.

So I had to go to my friend to translate it. And he said, Oh, yeah, he says salt and pepper. It says that’s red and white wine from the same label. He says, Bob, he says, You know, Bobby says that’s Robert Mondavi. And I’m thinking I got to be better and cheaper than Robert Mondavi is a good, good call. And I said, Pray tell me what is a pig. He says on pig, he says, that’s a big fat bottle of wine, the 1.5 You know, that’s the, that’s the Magnum, it’s twice the size of the 750, also known as a fifth. It’s a pig. And I went, Okay, once the 1.5 liter, he wants to read white and he wants it about the same price as the Mondavi red wine. So I knew where access to market was, and I’m telling you, most of my clients, they don’t, they think that the market is going to buy their idea. And, you know, I was a little bit like that myself for about five years, I was beating up the clients and saying, you know, you got to buy this, it’s a gold medal winner, you know, it’s this and that. And I had no idea that, that that pitch was not going to work. So I put it all together. Oh, by the way, we have a clip on that scene that I just that I just described, and your listeners will enjoy it from the Barefoot spirit or business audio theatre. So then in another clip right after that, which is that which is the really humiliating part of my journey. So I do it’s exactly like he says, You know, I put in a pig, you know, I got it. It’s about as good as Bob and it’s, it’s cheaper than Bob. And, you know, it’s a salt and pepper act, you know, red and white. And, you know, I put it down on his desk and he picks it up. He looks at it and he shakes his hand. He goes, Are you crazy? He says, I can’t sell this. He says nobody ever heard a Barefoot you know, I’m gonna put this in my stores. He says, you know, he he kind of looked at me like I was out of my mind. And I said, Well, you know, we bottle it all up for you. What am I going to do now? And he says, Well, he says, I guess you got to go sell it to every mom and pop in every corner grocery store and every independent because the big box stores and the chains are not going to touch it. Because nobody’s ever heard of Barefoot, you got to make it a household word. I said, you know, that’s gonna take years. He says, That’s right, you better get started.

Drew Hendricks 15:27

I love that. That audience that that audio part there, brought me back, I got my my start in the wine industry as a wine buyer in San Francisco in the early 90s. So that whole Ed Asner snarkiness just brought me right back to 30 years ago when we were when I was buying the wine and then with Wilford Wong and Ashbury market. It was it just painted such a vivid story of your challenges and how you overcame.

Michael Houlihan 15:55

Thank you. As a matter of fact, Wolfert was one of the first buyers in San Francisco, who said, you know, I know what this is. He says, Barefoot is a bridge, it’s going to get people who are drinking beer and martinis to drink wine in the first place. And I’m here with a big wine section. I’m trying to sell wine to people. They got to know what it looks like, what it tastes like, what the varietals are like, and they have it has to be at a price they can afford. And he says Bearfoots perfect for that. So Woolford was a big strategic ally for us on the front end of it. Oh, yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 16:31

Drew, did you get PTSD after when you’re listening to the audiobook or

Drew Hendricks 16:35

part? Yeah. It was he is acting and there was yeah, there was a little PTSD going on, for sure. For sure that, Michael, I really want to ask you like in the in the end it is I remember that scarcity of wine and how you found such a creative solution to sourcing it from Chile. Can you talk to us about that? Yeah, well,

Michael Houlihan 17:00

I’m sure a lot of people alive today don’t realize that there was a time when we ran out of wine in California. And that happened in 1995. And even into 96. It was a wine drought, if you will. And so there was enough wine, you know, for the for the more expensive wines that could pay, you know, the money for the bulk wine, or who were growing up themselves. But for players at the fighting variety level, who were basically buying, or in sourcing their wines through bolt. It was tough. So we had a situation where I had a wine maker, who basically Bonnie and I were on vacation, we’re over in cow Valley on Kawhi running around on the beach, having a great time. We’re only there for like two or three weeks we come back. There’s been no sales. But you know what? TF, you know, what is this? And the sales guys said, Well, you know, the winemaker told us to put the brakes on sales because we had to keep our head down. And if we did, we might get through this, that bug. And I said you never put the brakes on sales. I said those guys aren’t gonna sell as much as you want, no matter what you’re doing. So how can you dare tell him to slow down? And so Bonnie and I looked at each other and we used our favorite four letter word. Next, Kenny x t. You know, it’s it’s, it’s hopeful. It means something better is coming, right? And it’s it’s a positive step you can take so we said next, which means we need a new winemaker. So I went out looking for a new winemaker. And I called my friend Mark Lyon who was the winemaker down there at Sebastiani at the time. And I said, Mark, I said, I need a winemaker. You know, that’s creative. Again, handle this wine drought. You know, what do you got? He says, Well, he says a couple of weeks ago, a woman came in here a female winemaker, which was really rare in those days, let me tell you, and it’s all the rage today. But back then there was like four of them got the most in the whole industry. And so Jennifer wall, and he says, oh, yeah, I saw this woman came in, you know, but the Board of Directors thought she was too assertive. I said, get her over here. That’s the person I’m looking for. I want somebody that’s more assertive. And so she came over. We talked to her for five hours. And, you know, we wound up hiring her and in the process of the interview, I said, Well, what are you going to do about this drought? She said somewhere in the world, they got too much why? She’s right now. It’s, it’s in the Rhone Valley they got way too much wine for red wine. And in Chile, they got way too much white wine. I said Yeah, but their wines taste different. You know, what are the what are the buyers gonna put us on the shelf, you know, with the foreign wines? No, no, she says you’re established you know, Barefoot is you know, established as a California wine. And, you know, you can, you can go ahead and put a foreign product in here because what they’re buying is the price point and the fun label and, and the the taste profile. And I said, Well, you’re going to make this taste like our wine. She said, I’m going to match it. Well, this particular woman had studied biochem, and was pre med down at Santa Cruz at UC Santa Cruz. And so she didn’t just look at wines and say, Oh, this wines got a problem. She said, I know what’s wrong with this wine on a molecular level. And I know how to fix it. And fixing wines was a much, much tougher skill than making wines, especially when you were trying to make them taste like what you had in your Wine Library for the last five years. And so she did it. And she was our winemaker. And she wound up being one of the most awarded winemakers in the industry, and still is today. In fact, when we were acquired by EJ, they hired her. Of course, they did. And she was she just continued to just knock them out. So we got the reputation of being a value why, you know, gold medal winner at at the velocity price point. So, like the velocity price point today would be like, 999. But in those days, it was like 599. So yeah, that was quite a challenge overcoming that we overcame it. We went down to Chile, we went over to France, we made lifetime friends. You know, we bought from the farmers it was it was really a kind of a gas. We learned some interesting stuff. I’m sure that Drew would like to hear this. Like for instance, I said that South American wine, you know, it tastes like rotten socks. What the hell yeah, put down on the market. She says, Well, it’s their bentonite, you know, they’re not using American bentonite vise, we’re going to ship it down there. She says know, what we’re going to do is we’re going to, we’re going to jack up the so to so it doesn’t ferment. And we’re going to put it in a big bladder bag, and we can put the bladder bag in a container. And we’re going to bring grape juice that is preserved basically with so to in a container on a ship from Valparaiso Harbor, up to Oakland, we’re going to take that container, we’re going to take it up to hop one where they have a spinning cone filter that can take the esoteric out of it. And then we’ll inoculate it here. And we’ll go through the wine process here. And I’m telling you, that Sauvignon Blanc, it was hard to tell that it was in California. So when Yan Bach, so I learned a lot about winemaking, I didn’t want to but I did. And it’s you know, for your wine aficionado, listeners, they’ll get a big kick out of that.

Drew Hendricks 22:54

That’s a fascinating story. One innovative solution.

Jeremy Weisz 22:59

That’s, it’s amazing. And one of the things I want to talk about to Michael is, you know, and you talk about this in the book is the just the sheer grit, right. And you embodied grit in so many ways throughout this journey. But there was one particular scene and Juno’s, it I’m talking about, I think it was in South Carolina.

Michael Houlihan 23:21

Oh, yeah, well, and there’s a clip in the book about this, too. But I’ll give you a short soliloquy. It doesn’t matter if you’re the president and CEO. What matters is whether or not the guy who is in control of the store, lets your product into the store. That’s what matters. Okay. And so it took me a long time to understand that I thought, oh, you know, gold medal winner 599. You know, this is this is a slam dunk. And you know, what they want a lot of them, a lot of them want attention, a lot of them want service, a lot of them want to feel important. And so if the president CEO comes over, and makes the pitch personally, they feel like, Oh, this guy is going to show up again, or at least he’s going to hold his distributors responsible, you know, for spoils and all the problems that retailers have. And so it’s important to a retailer to have, you know, the person behind the product. So this particular day, I parked my car, on the other side of this parking lot, which is what you’re supposed to do, because if you park up front, you’re done because those spaces are are for customers, and the buyer knows that and he thinks that you’re selfish and thoughtless about his business when God buy anything from you, right? So you’re shot before you walk in the door. So on the other side of the lot, which is about 100 yards from the door, and this is South Carolina in the summertime, and it’s like really hot and sweaty down there in the summertime. I’m telling you, you know, you got to change your shirt a couple times a day when it’s not raining. Well, this particular day, you know, They, there was a cloudburst right over my head. And I had in my hand, a bank card because I have learned that the way to sell this product was to show the retailer what kind of support you had to help him move it out of his store. Because now the retailer’s mentality was very simple. I spent all this money for this place, I got security, I got janitor, I got people working here, you know, I got insurance, you’re going to give me something that’s going to be a barking dog and sit on my floor, I got a dust, I’m only going to put stuff here that’s going to move because I’ve got to make money with this huge investment. And it took me years to figure that out. But what I just gave you there is a little a little picture of retailer. And so I was going to show him this big sign we made which was like four foot by four foot, or maybe five by five, it had a big foot on it, but just a giant foot, that’s all. Okay, so the idea was put that up in the store. And people would go what you know what’s with the foot, right? And you know that and then we’d go back there, and there would be a stack of Barefoot Wine there. And I was gonna pitch him on that, but no, this big thunderstorm happens. And this rain comes down in buckets, and it fills my pockets and my socks. I mean, I’ve never seen rain like this, it’s like, and then the wind picks up when the wind picks up, I’m holding on to the sign. And it’s like a square rigger now see, because it’s blowing me around the parking lot. And I can’t let go cuz I know it’s gonna wind up in another southern state. And so I finally get in. And when I get in, they stop cash registers everything. And I’m dripping up in the front. And I’ve got to sign that by now. It’s like beat up. And I hear over the microphone, wet mop up front, just like that, you know, like you hear in a big, you know, grocery stores, when somebody spills something. And this guy is just really kind of like, clean cut look and southern guy comes up and he says, he says, Now boy, he says, I know you got something to sell me and I know you want to sell it real bad. Well, he bought he was he was the buyer. He was a local buyer for Piggly Wiggly. And he bought it. And as a result of our success there in Columbus, North Carolina, they went into all the Piggly Wigglies, which later were acquired by another company. But I mean, they had like 400 stores, you know, so and it was throughout the South. So it was it was a big hit. But it was drenching here. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 27:45

Love it, Michael. Yeah, you’ve done so many innovative things, including putting the footsteps to the wine on the floor. And I know, Joe and I were talking before we hit record here. And he had some questions about the business theater.

Drew Hendricks 28:02

Yes. Tell me about how how did that idea come about? It means we always struggle with conveying stories and helping businesses tell their stories. This is so innovative.

Michael Houlihan 28:12

Well, you know, Bonnie and I built the Barefoot brand and it became, you know, a best seller. You know, coast to coast. I think we’re in like 4000 stores, there’s something crazy like that. And, you know, it doesn’t seem like much compared to what E and J Gallo is done with it these days. But for, you know, just a couple, you know, independent getting started, you know, to get up to 600,000 cases a year was a big deal. But along the way, you know, we because we were independence, we didn’t think like corporations think so. And corporations, they basically are operating on the need to know basis, you know, they don’t want to tell you they got a problem because you might you know, head for the exit door or look for another job right or think that your security is at stake. But at Barefoot, we would tell people what our problems were who worked for us and ask them for help. And we figured, well, you know, they got a financial interest in our company. And, you know, they, they worked here, they know it better than anybody else. And so, we have a meeting every quarter, and we bring in the salespeople. Now in our company, we believe that we only had two divisions, we had sales and sales support. That was it. So if you weren’t in sales, you know, you were in sales support. It didn’t matter whether you know, you were the the president of the company, or the winemaker or the accountant, you are working for sales see, because without sales, there was no money to pay checks, and we would go bankrupt just like that. We knew it. But you see, when companies get big, they kind of forget that and they operate on the idea that they’re going to get paid whether or not their sales say so today I work for somebody And companies and I tried to explain that. It sounds obvious, but you know, it’s a big wake up call for a lot of companies. But in the meantime, we’re back there, you know, it’s this idea of, you know, know the need instead of need the need to know. So it’s exactly the opposite. So we’re telling people our problems. So we do it by every quarter, we bring in our salespeople, and they show up on the screen. And they say, you know, I’m down here in Florida, you know, I got good news and bad news, you know, okay, well, what’s the good news to me? Oh, the good news is that we just got into Publix, you know, they got 600 stores, everybody, you know, starts throwing things around, and they’re cheering and carrying on. He goes, You have a little little what’s the bad news? Well, the bad news is they’re only going to put us into, you know, a limited number of stores, we have a limited number of months to sell a certain amount of product. And if we don’t, we’ll never get into the chain, because this is a test. Oh, wow. You know, well, and then there’s the really bad news. What’s the really bad news? So they put us on the bottom shelf? Because we got to earn our way to the top. Okay, so one person says, Oh, I guess I guess we’ll just have to go after the foot traffic, you know, so everybody laughs You know, Barefoot foot traffic. It’s Cornwall humor. And so then the next thing somebody else says, you know, that’s not so crazy. Why don’t we come up with some decals of footprints. And we can lay him down. And this is before they were charging for floorspace for point of sale material. And let’s lead people step by step from the front door all the way to the wine aisle, and then down the line wine aisle and turn them to where our product was on the bottom, they’d already be looking down to see where the feet go. And they’d see Barefoot down there. We have our side. And we thought, you know, that’s kind of crazy. But we did it. We did it. We how we did it all over Chicago. We did it in every state. In the United States. We did these footprints. And we got away with it for about four years before the before the store started to realize, well, we’ve got a valuable asset here. We should be selling it, say. And then they oversold it, and then it disappeared. But you’ll go into some stores like Benny’s in Chicago. And sure enough, the Barefoot footprints will be there. Well, that idea was from our 78 year old receptionist Charlene. Now, did she need to know that problem? I mean, she wasn’t qualified to make decisions, you know, in marketing or sales. But we included her and because we did, we got that great idea. So to answer your question, Drew, these ideas that we got, they came from our own people. They came from the people that worked for our distributorship. And a lot of them came from the people in the stores, you know, the clerks and whatnot, they would say, hey, you know, you guys should do this. And we would do it. And then we would go back and thank him and tell him how many stores we were doing it in and all that.

Jeremy Weisz 33:00

I want to go ahead, Drew?

Drew Hendricks 33:03

No, I’m saying it’s so great that you have that collaborative spirit and be able to listen to everyone without having a sort of hierarchy where you have to go up the chain of command, you can just enact change so much quicker. Oh, yeah.

Michael Houlihan 33:15

And I think that that’s really what saved Barefoot because, you know, the big boys were after us the you know, they would take our little reorder Scan Tickets down, because they knew it was too much trouble for the clerk. If he couldn’t scan it, he wouldn’t reorder it, which is very clever, or a turned upside down, the clerk would see it but it wouldn’t register because he would always stroke it from one side to the other. Or they would you know, they do things to us to try to because they saw that Barefoot was exploding and they wanted to kill it. They were afraid that this would really you know, catch hold in the country. And so what saved us is if we won a wine contest, say in Los Angeles, within two days, we had our stickers on every bottle in Los Angeles and every store that said that we were the winner of the LA wine fair.

Drew Hendricks 34:11

That’s amazing. And did the bear fitters go put those stickers on?

Michael Houlihan 34:13

Everybody did we all stopped and we went, Hey, let’s, you know, I know you’re selling in Minnesota, but get on a plane and put stickers on the bottles. That’s it. That’s what you had to do. You know, it’s like it’s the romance of the wine business has more to do with consumption and growing and tarar. But if you want to talk about the business of the wine business, it really comes down to merchandising, what do you look like in the store? Can your customer see you? Are you out of stock? All those kinds of issues that are very unglamorous you know, I say in the book, you know, I could have been selling hammers.

Drew Hendricks 34:50

The one thing about merchandising that you know, the you tell the story about the needs to be viewable from four feet away today with a lot of y and e-commerce. The label needs to be recognizable in that little, like, 100 pixel image that you see on the on the screen with all the bottles coming down. So that’s that still rings true.

Michael Houlihan 35:09

Oh, yeah, it is, you know, we grew up with technology we watched, you know, when we started Barefoot, you know, we had pushed button phones and, and stuff like that. And when we had computers that were huge, and when we finally sold Barefoot, you know, we even had all kinds of cool stuff. You know, but just the the advance of broadband people, people who are live today don’t realize what a huge difference broad med made, because now you can stream video to a phone or to a device. Again, that was just unheard of in the past. So everything that happened had to be you know, in paper, right? You had to like, you know, scotch tape, paper signs up. And you know, it’s funny today, those paper signs still work, because people are going, you know, this, this is more real, you know, it’s not just on my phone. Look at that. This guy, the clerk said that he’s tasted this himself, and he actually likes it.

Jeremy Weisz 36:10

Michael one of the things that really stuck out in your journey is, you’re one of the pioneers of worthy cause marketing in wine. Now, you know, everyone is about mission. They’re about mission driven social responsibility. You were doing that. Back when probably I don’t know if anyone was doing it, or most people were not doing it. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit about some of the causes that you you helped along the journey.

Michael Houlihan 36:39

Oh, I would love to. But first of all, your listeners might want to know how we came up with the idea. So it wasn’t, you know, and I think I think there’s a clip in the book about this. But so one day, I’m at the office, I get a telephone call. It’s a guy with a very thick Chinese accent, I can hardly understand him. But he’s saying, Oh, you’re Mr. Houlihan. He says, you’re very rich fella. You know, and I thought, jeez, you have the right number. You know, I don’t I don’t have any money. You know, I got people chasing me for money. He says I’m doing a fundraiser, you know, in Chinatown in San Francisco. I’m trying to create a park and After School Park for kids after school, you know, and you know, can you donate? We only need $50,000, you know, for swings, the slides and sandboxes and whatnot. And I said, you know, I don’t have any money to help you. I and I felt sorry for the guy. And I thought I said, But you know, what I do have is I have a lot of wine that I haven’t been able to sell. And I would be glad to give it to you, you know, for your fundraiser and maybe you know, you can use it, auction it off and buy some swings and slides or maybe the loosens have been love the right a bigger check, you know? And he goes, okay, okay. Okay, so he tastes the line. I don’t hear from him again. But I noticed that sales in the neighborhood of Chinatown are taken off, all the stores in the neighborhoods are taken off. And so we said, I wonder if that happened, because the people who attended the fundraiser, remembered our name, remembered our label, and went out and bought it when they saw it. And sure enough, we tried it in another neighborhood, you know, in Twin Peaks, they were doing some kind of a creek cleanup up there. And so we donated wine, you know, for an environmental cause. Sure enough, same thing happened. And we thought, gee, this is great. Because remember what the guy said, he says, it’s got to be a household word, you know, before I’ll bring it into the chain store. And we thought we had no money for advertising. So we thought, why don’t we use this as a form of advertising. And so we call it worthy cause marketing because we were marketing our product by supporting worthy causes. And so Bonnie and I were conservationists, you know, we’re she was born in Portland. I was born in San Francisco. So our whole life we watched our cities just to infield and, you know, the suburbs expand and the parks disappearing, you know, we saw was going on everything was getting concreted over in our lifetime. And so we became really ad advocates for conservation. And we’ve been looking for ways to kind of weave that into the business. So one day I was in LA, and this guy says, you know, you’re Barefoot, he says, Have you guys ever thought about, you know, Surfrider Foundation. I said, Who are those guys? He says, Oh, well, you know, there are surfers who are protecting the coast, they test the waters for bacteria. You know, they do all this stuff. They got lawyers, they got scientists, you know, and they’re raising funds to change laws and whatnot to protect the coasts in the ocean. I said, Sure. I’d love to talk to him. So go down there and I talked to them. There’s this there’s a scene in the book about this. And, you know, the guy the guy looks like a surfer. I mean, you know, he’s wearing Karachi sandals, you know, and, and, you know, he’s got a t shirt on and he’s got a surfboard up behind him and I think Head, I said is this is this is this Surfrider Foundation he has, you got it, he says International World Headquarters. And it was just a desk and him. And so we helped them raise money for their task force in LA, by educating our buyers about the dangers of the bacteria in the water. That was to to cities and other government agencies actually dumping into the very bay where their kids were playing in the water. And so the in our in our customer was basically a mom with two kids 37 years old. And she she was, you know, brought aware of this for the first time. And she donates, we raised money for them. And we thought, well, let’s do this across the country. So we did it for like save Delaware Bay, and you know, all kinds of different things up in the Rockies, and you name it up in Oregon, down down in Florida. And as a result, the members of that nonprofit organization, now had a social reason to buy our product, it wasn’t a mercantile reason. Now, we’re the cause marketing, the way we’re doing it is different. We didn’t just sell a pair of shoes and given parachutes to some people in Africa, okay. We didn’t have a pink bow on our bottle that said, Oh, we’re supporting the American Cancer Society, you know, we’re good guys. No, we weren’t even talking to the general public, what we were doing was we were supporting the group in their fundraisers, actually hoping that their membership would buy our brand. So we weren’t after the general public, we were after the membership of the nonprofit, it’s a subtle little difference. But the thing is, they’re organized. They’re organized, you know, they’ve got websites they’ve got, they’re communicating with each other. And if we can, if we can convince them that we care about their cause, which we did, and they’re going to choose a wine as our price point, they’re more likely to choose the one that is being produced by one of their members. And so that’s, that’s how we did it. And we got to the point where we could we could afford commercial advertising. But we chose to go with were the cause of marketing, because it was so much more effective. You have to remember these causes are in the neighborhoods right around the stores where our products were and remember what the retailer wants. The retailer wants it to move, right? He doesn’t really care what it tastes like very much unless you’re Wilford Wong, and they’re trying to improve people’s wine knowledge. But most of the supermarket’s, they just want to move it. Say, so what’s going on in the neighborhood around that supermarket that we can get involved with and help in Chicago? It was Little Sisters of the Poor, I remember that.

Drew Hendricks 42:55

In. So that grassroots effort, it’s so powerful the way that just kind of bubbles up. What did wineries today with that mission driven kind of marketing system? What advice would you give a winery or craft producer today who wants to engage in this worthy cause type of marketing?

Michael Houlihan 43:11

Well, I would say if you’re going to donate wine, only do it at a fundraiser. And only do it under certain conditions. Like for one thing, make sure that your wine and your label is visible. So it’s not being used just as a commodity behind the bar, where people don’t even know where it’s coming from. In other words, don’t let the nonprofit say thank you very much, we’ll use it. So it’s not a gift you’re actually marketing, say. So then the other thing too, is you want to say listen, we’d like to ask you several things that I’m sure that you can say yes to that aren’t going to cost you anything. But you know, would you announce that we’re your sponsor for the event? And thank us at the end of the event, would you do that? Oh, yeah, we can do that. How about this? Would you let us write a blog post? You know, for your website, you know about why we support your cause. So we become engaged in there. And then how about this one? Can we use your goals and your logo and put them on our bottles or products or whatever, in the stores so that we can access a market that you can’t access, which is the supermarket shopper. So this is like this is like a new venue for them? And so by asking them those questions, and here’s the last one, can we put a sheet of paper down between the fork and the knife at the dinner, the $300 a plate dinner, that is the 10 stores that carry our product that are within 10 miles of where you’re setting. Say, and so the idea here is to really link and lever. So what happens with a lot of people in the wine business and other businesses and they mean well, is they think that half of them think well people are going to buy my product because I’m a good guy. And so they start buying to the general public about what a good guy there, okay, but the other ones that are really trying to get the members of the nonprofit’s to buy their products, they think that they can do it by just giving it away. And no, you got to get in there and work, you have to just like anything, you got to make sure that they know who donated and, you know, we would help them set up and break down from their events. You know, and they would, they would see us moving chairs around and they go those guys, who are those guys say. So that’s what my recommendation would be is, you know, it’s better. And also, it’s better to work locally, then nationally, you know, you start working nationally, you know, you’re going to be up against all the big companies. And not only that, but the big organizations are actually selling sponsorships, which startups and small craft breweries and whatnot, they can’t afford. So the idea is to work local, and support groups that are local, you know, and when I say local, I mean local to your brewery local to your winery, and local to the stores where your products are for sale. Because your job is to get people to walk in the door of that store and buy that product. And once once the retailer knows that, that’s what you’re doing, he’s gonna stack it to the moon.

Jeremy Weisz 46:19

It’s like, Oh, I love that. And, you know, it’s, it’s so creative by it’s just, you know, the creativity, but also just employing things that the way you frame it is these things don’t cost them any more money, right? Like things, they just announce things that you can do for them. And I love that creativity. As far as that goes. It’s It’s pretty amazing. The next, you know, I really want to talk and kind of circle back to Business, Audio Theatre, and the your kind of inception with that, and what’s going on with that currently, and why, you know, you could do a million different things right in the beverage space, the wine, anything you want to do. Talk about Business Audio Theatre, and what you’re doing now and in why business audio theatre?

Michael Houlihan 47:13

Well, you know, after we built the brand, and then after we sold the brand, we wrote a book called The Barefoot Spirit. And it became a New York Times bestseller. It was a paperback. And, you know, we went on, you know, the author tour we authored, we went on tour around the United States, and also around the country, I mean, around the world. And we spoken 60 schools that teach entrepreneurship. And after about let’s see, about seven years ago, people started showing up wearing buds and earbuds, right? And it was all the rage about seven years ago. And about five years ago, everybody was wearing them, you know, and we started saying, What are you listening to? Is it hip hop? Is it rock? What are you listening to? And they’d say, no, no, I’m listening to Warren Piece of damn books so thick, you know, this gives me an opportunity to piecemeal it out. And I can I can read it when I listen to it when I want. There’s Oh, that’s interesting. What about you another guy I need say, Oh, he says, I’m listening to a podcast, you know, I figured I can better myself in my business, you know, and, and, you know, it’s free. And it’s all good content. And we started to realize that things were changing because of the technology. And we said, lets us do an audio book. So we went down, we went down to, to Amazon, to Audible. And we bought the top 10 Business audio books of the year from audio from from Audible, and we listened to them. And they were all great. We learned stuff from everyone. And it’s fantastic. It was a great experience. I highly recommend it because you can turn it on and off and you know, a lot of young people they like to speed it up. But what’s interesting about it was that they were all read to you. They were read to you by a narrator so if you didn’t like the narrator, you were stuck with him for seven hours. One day, we’re driving across the Arizona desert, you know, on 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, and here comes NPR National Public Radio and it’s guy into our private eye on Prairie Home Companion. And this is a 1945 style radio theater show where they have like five or six actors that play all these parts and they have all these sound effects you know that they’re making a door slamming car starting all this stuff and then they have music this live that’s like you know raising the tension you know, like the shark is coming bom bom bom bom and we looked at each other and we went this is a great way to teach Business in our body. And I because we were on the speaking tour, we had met so many other founders, and we listen to their stories. And you guys know this after you talk to 10 or 15 founders, you start to realize that there is these common principles that they all subscribe to. And you start to hear them the same principle applied in different verticals, you know, whether it’s the aircraft industry, the medical industry, you name it. And east, you wind up having more in common with these people. And so we started developing friends who are founders, and we were, you know, talking to them about what their biggest challenges were. And they said that their biggest challenge was finding the right people to work for them, holding on to those people so that after they trained them, they didn’t lose them, and engaging the right people so that they would suggest solutions and do more than just their paycheck. And we thought, you know, Business Audio Theatre, works so well for the Barefoot spirit, because we had made the Barefoot spirit. And the the audio book Producers Association of America, last year gave it a top five audio books of the year. So the business audio theatre that we made of our own book, and we thought, let’s do this for other people. And not let’s just do this for other people. But let’s do it as a kind of an HR tool, you know, a Human Resources tool. So you go to work for this company, right? Can you identify with the company? You know, you know, are they doing, they’re doing the right thing for the environment? You know, your kids are growing up in this environment? Are they doing the right thing for women? Are they doing the right thing for, you know, inclusion, all of those kinds of issues that are big issues today, this is an opportunity for founders to tell their own private personal story about how they started their company. And you know, they weren’t born with spoons in their mouth, these people had to shovel, you know, what in the whip for a long time, before they finally got traction, and they built this big $400 million company, where you now are a programmer making 200 $300,000 a year. So why do you stay there? Well, it’s because I was pulling for the hero who was the founder, when he was up against the situation in his garage, where the cops were knocking at the door, and he didn’t have the right license, and I’m pulling for him to get the loan, you know, from the bank, so that he can go ahead and do this, and I’m pulling for him to get this big buyer. Well, it’s pulling for thing is really identifying with, and that’s what we did with Business Audio Theatre, we thought this is a great way to get the listener, those kids with earbuds right? To identify with the founder as a kind of a hero. And to hear their story. And to realize that these people have been humiliated to and they’re not that different than you. And they’ve been up against a lot of problems in their life, and they had to overcome them. And you know, imaginatively, or, you know, maybe just by, you know, grit, sticking to it, you know, for 25 years, whatever. So, that is why we did it. And, you know, we’re offering that to other founders today.

Drew Hendricks 53:34

What a great service one of the things that radio theater, it really sticks in your mind and what it does is it really last long after you listen to it, one of the one of the theater pieces in your book, you you’re at the horse races, and I got asked the question, what was your backup plan of shabby shoes didn’t win?

Michael Houlihan 53:56

Well, that was a situation where we saw the buyer down on the finish line, and he asked us who we should who should get on and I said you know, Bonnie always pets on some, something that has to do with feet. Because we’re Barefoot. And so here there’s there’s 30 to one, you know, long shot here, you know, shabby shoes. He goes, I’m putting all my money on shabby shoes, you know, if you guys win, you know, I’m going to give you a mandatory stacks and all of my stores. He says if you lose, you know, you’re getting discontinued. So, you know, I didn’t know if he was telling me the truth or serious or whatever. But I never routed so hard for a nag in my whole life. And it was and we did get the stacks, but I mean, yeah, so stuff like that. It’s very human. It’s very, you know, real and it does stick with you. You know the thing about the imagination, and this is why I like radio. This is why I like podcasts. It’s because it’s experiential learning. You’re You’re involved. You know somebody He says, You know, Jim came into the office and pull up a chair, well, you have an image of what Jim looks like you pull it out of your head, you have a chair, you pull that out of your head from your memory, you have an idea of an office, you pull that out of your head, from your memory. Well, guess what? pulling all this stuff out of your head, the props that are needed to make that video go in your mind is you being involved in telling the story. And that’s why you remove smell the plumeria and you say, oh, yeah, that’s the first thing I smell when I got off the plane in Hawaii, you know, or whatever. It’s because the way our brains work is we remember stuff, by the energy that we put into the milestone, the the touchstones in our brain, you know, like the touchstone is the chair or whatever, or grabbing the chair. So it’s really interesting how the brain works. And when when we did the Barefoot spirit and business audio, I mean, the people who, who worked for the current owners started listening to it, and they went, this is a great Onboarding Tool. And we went, yeah, maybe this is where we should think about pushing this business. So, you know, we, we decided to do that. And they would say things like, you know, I remember these concepts, because I remember the story in which the concept was used, as opposed to somebody saying, now here’s our manual. And here’s the concept of how we handled this situation, say, and it’s just so dry. And it’s just like, it’s a list. You know, most business books are written, like, here’s the five things, you got to do the 10 things you never do the 20 things your customer wants from you. Hell, you’re sound asleep on number three. You know, you’re supposed to remember all that stuff. I don’t think so. So, so anyway, let’s let’s, let’s tell him a good old fashioned, you know, story, and make it a cliffhanger. And, you know, add a lot of humility and you know, reality, and maybe people will like it, maybe they’ll stick around, maybe they’ll want to work for you.

Drew Hendricks 57:06

Yeah. Now, what Michael, do the business centers? Do they have to have their book already produced? Or does business audio theatre, help them create, create and craft the story? We

Michael Houlihan 57:15

can do it both ways. If they already have a book, we can turn it into an audio play. Okay, we have a complete we have a group in Los Angeles, Sherwood players productions. Matt wineglass down there does a fantastic job of, of taking, taking this written script and bringing it to life with the actors and the sound effects and the music and all that stuff. But yes, if the person doesn’t have a book, we work right with them. We’re working with a client right now, who is one of the fathers really, of telemedicine, you know, one of the the person that actually applied telemedicine the first time, you know, we went from T one lines to broadband. But when we had T one lines, he already was able to go into hospitals and be by your bed, even though he was in Colorado, and somebody else was in LA, they just thought their bike. And so they get the best doctor, you know, in the country to look at their head. Say, how did you do that? You know, in 2004? You know, you did it with a T one line seat? Because it was you know, there was no, there is no broadband, but he did it. So we were writing his story. We’re really excited about it. You know, we’re engaged in it. And, you know, we’re writing a play, and it has scenes. And instead of somebody just telling you the story, you’re actually witnessing the story. And I mean, it has ups and downs and curves. So yeah, we so in that case, we’re actually writing the play directly. So there’s no book. Now, could you write a book from the play? Yes, you could. You could publish the play.

Drew Hendricks 58:49

Go the other way around. You could Yeah, you could go the other way around.

Jeremy Weisz 58:53

Michael, I have, first of all, thank you. I mean, the journey, the story is truly amazing, iconic. I have one last question. And before I ask it, I just want to point people towards the best places online, they can learn more. So I know they can check out and learn more there. You should check out definitely the best selling book, The Barefoot Spirit how hardship hustling heart built, America’s number one number one wine brand. You could you know, check it out on Amazon, audible. I obviously do and I recommend the audible version of course. And also you can check out Are there any other places that Michael online and we should point people towards?

Michael Houlihan 59:41

Well, you know, most people who have smartphones, they like to have all their books on one platform. Maybe it’s iBooks you know, maybe it’s Google. It’s on all of those platforms. And it’s on every platform. Pretty much in the world. You can find the Barefoot Spirit audio play. So yes, I would recommend that they go there. And also, if they if they want to find out more about Bonnie and I and what we’re up to, it’s at And we’d love to hear from you. We’d love to see you. And please follow us. Thanks.

Jeremy Weisz 1:00:20

Nice. Last question, Michael, you’re a wealth of knowledge. The book is amazing. I would love to hear some resources, or some of your favorite books, business books that you learn from,

Michael Houlihan 1:00:33

oh, boy, well, I can tell you. There’s a book called as a man thinketh, which was written back in the 1920s. And it is so true today. There’s another one called Think and Grow Rich, highly recommend that one. Okay. It’s really good. It’s an interview with the successful people around the world, including Gandhi, including, you know, Henry Ford. And it’s an interview where, like I said earlier, that everybody that these successful people have similar principles. Well, when you hear Gandhi telling you something that’s comes right out of Henry Ford’s mouth, you know, you know, oh, my God, you know, this is this must be true then. And so I recommend that and then how to win friends and influence people. Now, these are the three bibles of American business in my book, they all the other books, you know, Tony Robbins, all those other guys, you know, everybody who’s written since then, they are basically quoting these three books, but it’s always good to go back and read these books the way they were written. So it’s thinking Grow Rich, As a man thinketh and how to how to make friends and in very good books.

Jeremy Weisz 1:01:57

That’s one of my favorites, Dale Carnegie for sure.

Michael Houlihan 1:02:00

Excellent, excellent. So I highly recommend that and, you know, they influenced me, don’t get me wrong. I listen to Tony Robbins. I listen to Zig Ziglar. I listen to all those people who have tapes in the old days, you know, used to put a tape into your dashboard and hope your dashboard wouldn’t eat the tape. It was before smartphones.

Jeremy Weisz 1:02:20

I had many audio cassette tapes, and I had those same one. So Michael, I want to be the first one to thank you Drew. Thank you for helping me and Drew is the true wine guru out of the two of us by a long shot by 10 football fields. So I we appreciate you everyone should check out more episodes of both our podcast check out and And Drew. Michael, thank you.

Drew Hendricks 1:02:51

Thank you so much.

Michael Houlihan 1:02:54

Thank you, gentlemen.