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How This Wine Lover Spotted a Market Gap and Turned It Into a Million-Dollar Business

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Erica Davis, 37, knew early on that she wanted to be a business owner. Entrepreneurship runs in her family: Her mother owns Carolyn’s Creole Kitchen, a catering business, and her real estate agent grandmother owned a laundromat and purchased several homes on one block so that her children could all live in the same neighborhood. “Being an entrepreneur was always in my career path. It was just about me getting the building blocks that I knew I needed to start a successful business. Everything I’ve done was strategic to get me to where I am right now,” says Davis, who currently runs The Sip, an Oakland, California-based winetasting subscription service. 

After graduating from the University of San Francisco with a business degree, Davis was accepted into Gap’s nine-month Rotational Management Program, which gives participants interdisciplinary leadership training and hands-on lessons in inventory management, merchandising, and customer engagement. “They call it the Harvard of merchandising schools. That’s where, at 22, I honed my analytical skills and had the opportunity to understand the inner workings of a global business and how to manage millions of dollars,” she says.

That’s why, after spending many a girls’ night with her sorority sister Catherine Carter, Davis knew a good idea when she saw one. The two Oakland natives, who have been friends since they were 19, loved to chat over wine and celebrate with champagne. But over time the wine lovers grew frustrated they didn’t have a reliable way to sample bubbly before buying a whole bottle. And that’s where they got the idea for a subscription service that lets customers try small bottles of wine before committing to a full-size bottle. 

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Davis and Carter spent more than a year developing their idea. To see if a sampling service was viable, they surveyed roughly 400 people, including friends–but mostly people in the parking lots at the Napa vineyards. There was.

So the two launched The Sip in January 2020, initially bootstrapping what is now a subscription-box company that allows customers–primarily women–to try two or three 187 milliliter bottles of sparkling wine and champagne brands each month. In just one year, Davis says, the company’s revenue increased from $400,000, in 2020, to $1.4 million, in 2021. The Sip has filled 20,000 orders from subscribers, one-time buyers, and corporate gifting programs, and has raised an undisclosed amount from Base Ventures’ Kirby Harris and Erik Moore. 

Davis chose to target women in particular, as she’d noticed that the marketing efforts directed at women–particularly Black women–created a perception that she felt was way off. She wanted to dispel the myth that women of color only like sweet or pink wines.  “What people don’t realize is that your palate is like a fingerprint,” she says. “When you take that individual approach, you’re able to recommend to people what they want as opposed to telling them.” 

Davis and Carter also wanted to create a brand that reflected themselves: “Our girl is definitely a Millennial–25 to 45 is our sweet spot. We decided to intentionally be unapologetically feminine, so 90 percent of our customer base is female,” Davis says.

The Sip’s curated boxes include bottles from Black woman-owned brands, like Wachira Wines, to legacy houses, such as Moët & Chandon, along with a tasting guide and a credit toward a regular-size bottle.

A portion of every sale helps fund clean water to Oakland families in need. “I wanted to start a business that I was passionate about, but I think I’m more passionate about equity,” says Davis. “It’s really about democratizing this idea that champagne and other luxuries are only for certain people and making it approachable for everyone.”

As The Sip continues to grow, the company, Davis says, has an aggressive road map with plans to offer more products from other countries, increase Black and Brown woman-owned brand offerings, and introduce other spirits.

Though entrepreneurship is almost always challenging, the two co-founders say their previous experiences have prepped them well. Prior to The Sip, Davis had worked as a merchandising director for Darby Smart, which was acquired by Grove Collaborative in 2019, so she had experience with subscription services. Carter’s family, meanwhile, was already in the spirits industry, which helped when it came to finding distributors. We went into an industry that we know,” Davis says. “Obviously, there’s a learning curve no matter how much you know, but we were able to set up processes relatively easily because we built a business around the things we already had experience building for other people.” 

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