ENTERING THE WINE BUSINESS – “WE THINK, DRINK AND FEEL LIKE REAL WINE CUSTOMERS”
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The story behind our brand, SYLTBAR, is not a typical “wine story.” Instead, it is a true love story. My name is Regina Blohm, co-founder of SYLTBAR. I met my now husband, Claus, back in 2005 in Hamburg, Germany. We were both living in the same building. I was 35, single, had just moved from Munich, and was working in luxury fashion. He was 45, had just come out of a horrible divorce, was the CEO of a uniform manufacturer. Both of us were lucky enough to enjoy lots of traveling because of our jobs, which gave us the opportunities to experience the best hotels and restaurants all over the world.
Long story short, after meeting one another, we quickly learned we had nothing in common. That is, until we got on the topic of wine, specifically Prosecco. We discovered that we both loved one particular Prosecco, and would always drink it together whenever we met. Both of us had tasted this Italian Prosecco from San Simone Winery 30 years prior, on different occasions, but in the same place: the island of Sylt. The only thing we found that we could agree on is that this is the best Prosecco in the world, mainly because we would never feel hungover the morning after drinking, and would wake up feeling great.
HOW SYLTBAR CAME TO LIFE
Over time, and many bottles of that particular Prosecco, Claus and I eventually moved past our differences and fell in love. I had three wishes, when we got married close to Siena, Italy in 2008. I wanted to live in Miami, I wanted to have our own company, and I want to have one child. Two of those wishes have come true so far, and we are still working on the third one. Miami was always my favorite city in the US. When Claus and I started to travel to the US more often, we discovered that this country really needed a higher quality Prosecco. Although we tried a lot of other Prosecco brands, we could never find anything quite like our beloved San Simone. We agreed it was time to start our own brand, and that is why we reached out to the producers of our favorite Prosecco, who are located in Friuli, Italy, close to Venice. In 2010, we were granted exclusive rights for this Premium Prosecco, as well as a Trademark for our brand, SYLTBAR.
If you haven’t guessed already, the name represents the Island of Sylt, where we both discovered this Prosecco, and the logo is the shape of the island. SYLTBAR is truly a testament to our love for each other and for that island, which is comparable to the Hamptons or Nantucket, where you can find the most expensive real estate in Germany.
ENTERING THE WINE BUSINESS/WHAT WE CALL ‘MAFIA BUSINESS’
“WE THINK, DRINK AND FEEL LIKE REAL WINE CUSTOMERS”
Neither of us had any knowledge about the wine world, but as we began to grow our business, we realized that this worked to our advantage. It means we think, drink and feel like real wine end consumers, not like a wine producer.
It was very risky though, for us to start a company without any experience at all, and in a country we were brand new to. To be honest, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and had zero strategy. We believed one thing, and one thing only: that this Prosecco was different from any other Prosecco brands on the market, and we wanted everyone to taste it.
Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise that we were new to everything. We were so awkward when introducing our brand to customers — but that also made us look real. We stood out because of the fact that we were not very knowledgeable about the business and because we didn’t have huge budgets like other big brands. It was also me and Claus at the forefront of the brand, not a marketing team, not a brand model or ambassador. It was us. Customers got to know us and realized that we were authentic and really believed in the brand.
WE WILL ALWAYS STAY AUTHENTIC
Our business procedure hasn’t changed too much since the beginning. We still believe that word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool, and that has been the driving force behind SYLTBAR all these years. We do love public attention, of course, but we are proud to say that we are the only privately owned Prosecco brand in the US market. That gives us a lot of freedom and allows us to hold on to the high quality standards that SYLTBAR is known for. Our success stems from having an amazing producer and team that always sticks together, even through tough times. Our core values have been and always will be authenticity and honesty.
Our friends and customers who have been with us since the beginning always comment about how hard we have worked to get where we are. We always say it hasn’t been hard for us because we love what we do so much that it never feels like “work.” The ride has been up and down, but always enjoyable and we learn something new every day. This is not a job; this is a lifetime decision and it never gets boring. We love watching our Mr and Mrs SYLTBAR bottles travel all over the world and meet new SYLTBAR lovers. At present time, we are available in 23 states and all of the key markets, and we are always brainstorming to develop the brand further. This is just the beginning for SYLTBAR!
WHAT MAKES SYLTBAR STAND APART FROM OTHER PROSECCO?
LOWEST SUGAR PROSECCO ON THE MARKET
Simply put, SYLTBAR has the lowest sugar content of any Prosecco on the market. This has been proven through lab tests by the University of Miami Diabetes Research Institute. Additionally, our producers do not use any chemicals or added sulfites, the wines are vegan, and very low in calories. SYLTBAR Prosecco has been a favorite among Weight Watchers member because its only 2 Smart Points, Keto dieters, and anyone who just wants to make health conscious choices, but still enjoys having a glass of Prosecco.
VERY LOW-SUGAR, NO-ADDED-SULFITE AND VEGAN WINES
As we grew, our brand expanded to more than Prosecco to also include a Sparkling Rosé and four still wines: Pinot Grigio, Friuli (which we describe as the Sauvignon Blanc of Italy), Ramato Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Franc. All of these wines are also vegan, produced without any chemicals or sulfites, and lower in sugar and calories than other traditional brands. The SYLTBAR brand has a lot of personality, and because of that we give “nicknames” to all of our products that represent their characteristics.
Our main products are the Prosecco and Sparkling Rosé, which we call Mr and Mrs because the Premium Prosecco bottle is black and the Sparkling Rose is pink. In the beginning the customer had issues with pronouncing our brand name correctly, and just called our Prosecco “brut” or “the regular one.” The market offers so many “bruts” and “regular ones,” and we knew that SYLTBAR is anything but regular, and not just another rose. We needed them to stand out, which is why we came up with Mr and Mrs. Our Pinot Grigio is called White Linen for its fresh and crisp taste; Friuli is Silk for its sophistication and elegance; Ramato is Junior because of its shorter bottle shape; and Cabernet Franc is Cashmere because of its luscious and smooth feel.
CHALLENGES IN THE WINE INDUSTRY
THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
The biggest challenge for us is getting people to really understand the importance of paying attention to details when they purchase wine, and why it is so beneficial to work with a private wine brand and be produced by only one winery, like ours. In the US, people glamorize the wine industry. Unfortunately, it has become so saturated that small producers overseas barely have the option to enter the US market because of the Three Tier System, something that only exists for big name businesses, not the small, family owned vineyards and wineries. The Three Tier System basically refers to a very long list of regulations and requirements that an alcoholic beverage must meet before it can be distributed and sold in any state. It’s a complicated, time-consuming and expensive process.
Educating consumers about wine is so important to us, because we really want them to make informed decisions about their purchases. There is a large gap between buyers and end consumers when it comes to making the decisions about what to purchase. Buyers are always looking for the biggest profit margin, but we have found that end consumers really do care about the quality of a product. A lot of buyers are missing the mark when they don’t think about what their customers want and only care about their profit, especially when it comes to the category of Prosecco. This is because the buyer can get away with cheap Prosecco no matter how luxurious the restaurant or hotel is, because there is no specific brand out there for Prosecco that people are asking for. The majority just ask for “Prosecco.” Instead of a specific brand. It’s not like with Champagne. For example, restaurant have to carry big named brands because that’s what the end consumer is asking for — names like like Veuve Clicquot or Dom Perignon.
WHY SYLTBAR STANDS OUT
It was definitely hard for us to get our product in the hands of buyers and distributors in the beginning stages. In 2011, our Prosecco’s retail price was already $19.99, but the average bottle of Prosecco at a retail store was around $9.99. Buyers and distributors thought we were crazy to ask for that kind of price. They also didn’t have faith that a couple from Germany would succeed selling an Italian wine in the US market. They thought our bottle label was too “out there,” but you know what? That worked to our advantage the same way our “non-strategy marketing strategy” worked out. It made us stand out! Not to mention, our 100% natural production made us stand out among other Proseccos as well.
Advice to Others
HAVING A OVERARCHING PURPOSE IS ESSENTIAL
Having an overarching purpose is what keeps you going. Our overarching purpose was the decision we made at that time to move to Miami. Every time we were struggling with our brand SYLTBAR, we asked ourselves what would be the alternative. If we gave up everything, that would mean we would have to go back to Germany and that was for sure not an option for us. We wanted to stay in Miami, and that helped us keep going and survive the rejections we experienced in the beginning.
When you love what you do, you will never feel like you are working a day in your life again. We love to help and support end-consumers to lead a healthier life. We love to give without asking for return. We do our best not to have expectations, which is not easy sometimes. The good thing about it, though, is that when you live your life without expectations, you will not get disappointed.
Your company will never fail when you have the following four things in place:
1. Excellent Quality Product
2. Happy Employees
3. Happy Customers
4. Happy Suppliers
MAKE YOUR OWN MARK
Not everybody has it in them to become an entrepreneur. Even if you have the best Idea in the world and would love to bring it to the market, just having a good product is not enough. You have to have what we call, the “entrepreneurs genes.” For us, this means you have the mindset that “Okay, what we’ve done is pretty good, but what can we do better?” An entrepreneur
has to constantly be developing, growing, moving forward. You must always be open to change and be willing to take risks. Standing still will not bring you further. If you only walk in other people’s footsteps, you cannot leave a mark in this word.