A Wine Importer Every Business Can Learn From

What’s even better than being a successful entrepreneur? Being a successful entrepreneur whose business helps fix an old injustice. The story of Heritage Link Brands teaches a few lessons that every would-be entrepreneur really needs to learn.

Finding an unfulfilled niche

Heritage Link Brands is a U.S based importer of African and South African wines made by black owned wineries. If you’re wondering what the big deal is with that, bear in mind that South Africa spent decades as a police state whose minority government legally prevented millions of black Africans from participating in the mainstream economy. This regime, known as Apartheid, may finally be gone, but large remnants of its legacy still remain. One of these was the utter lack of black business ownership. Compound this effect even more if when it comes to the wine business.

South Africa is a country with an internationally known wine industry, which grosses some $3 billion per year, yet only 2% of it is owned by black Africans. Selena Cuffe along with her husband, the founders of Heritage Link Brands decided to take the entrepreneurial route in changing that and founded their company for the purpose of internationally representing and marketing the lesser known but equally tasty wines made by black wineries throughout Africa. According to Cuffe:  “Our delicious wines allow folks to “drink well, while doing good!” The hoped for effect was that black African wineries receive more recognition and grow into a larger percentage of total production.

Using quality to create loyal customers

The entire HLB portfolio is produced under careful product and quality management, using smart environmental practices, fair business practices, and sustainable agricultural techniques.” HLB took this standard of quality, and started pitching it to overseas vendors, many of whom who were willing to accept even though they  had never before thought of selling  black African produced wines, and had never before been contacted by anyone offering them.  HLB’s careful attention to quality also guaranteed that their customers started paying attention to the newly discovered wine they were enjoying. Those same customers showed their appreciation by helping HLB to grow into the largest Importer of African heritage wines in the U.S

Creating new markets

According to the husband and wife team which runs the company, naming it Heritage Link Brands was their way of announcing their fundamental desire to create a “relevant and authentic” link between the heritage of their products and the buying customers of the outside world. They sought to make wine lovers outside of Africa aware of what they had been missing out on all along, while at the same time helping their continent’s producers break into new markets.

Entrepreneurial lessons from Heritage Link Brands

  • The first and most obvious lesson is that looking for new, unique niches or angles of entry into a competitive business can really pay off. Wine importing is an established market, but HLB managed to succeed by tapping into an unknown niche and creating new demand.
  • Create your own demand. It’s doubtful that foreign connoisseurs were specifically looking to buy black owned brands of African wine. HLB made them realize what they had been missing out on and created its own loyal customer base.
  • Succeed by sincerely helping those who have a problem with no ready solution. African owned wineries had no easy means of representing themselves on the international marketplace. By teaming up with HLB they now had a convenient connection to overseas customers, and in exchange, were willing to maintain quality wines that were worth exporting
  • Some advice on building solid business partnerships from the founders themselves: “I also encourage neophyte entrepreneurs to make sure their contacts are aligned with their personal and business missions.……  This does not mean to avoid interacting with people who see things differently than you (quite the opposite – doing so can lead to valuable insights), but rather to be wary of people with drastically different values and motivations than your own.”

Stephan Jukic is the classical example of a 20 something young entrepreneurial type constantly teaching himself the ropes of getting his own business off the ground.


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