Archive for October, 2012

Owner of Vinosity wine shop succeeds in tough economy  

Some of the best business advice Kim Kelly ever received was also a compliment.

She was taking a wine tasting course in Georgetown when a fellow student suggested she work for the wine distribution firm where he was employed. He told her she had a good palate, “You should really consider applying for a job. I think you’d be great.”

“I had never done direct sales before and didn’t consider myself a wine expert. But the firm I was working for was going out of business so I said, ‘what the heck,’ and applied for the job. They hired me,” Kelly says. The new job turned out to be the springboard to a great career.

Today, Kelly is the proprietor of Vinosity, a popular wine shop in Culpeper and living in the Virginia Piedmont.

In 1990, Kelly worked for AARP in DC in its membership development office. A fellow worker decided to start her own firm focused on selling discounted services to women. She asked Kelly to join her. As with many startup firms, success was elusive and the underfunded enterprise eventually went out of business. But Kelly says, “It was a great experience because I was part of a new business and got in on the ground floor. I learned a lot.

Kim Kelly

“Making sure you’re setting realistic expectations and goals and managing the business is key. The company burned through a lot of money not realizing how quickly it goes. It gave me a good understanding of what it takes to make a business go.”

In 2000, building on what she learned in both direct marketing and the failed startup, she accepted the wine job offer and applied her palate skills and business acumen to becoming a successful wine sales rep. For eight years she was employed by a small distribution firm in Northern Virginia. The company’s portfolio included about 300 wines from boutique producers around the world; by comparison most major wine distribution firms have a “book” of 3,000 to 5,000 producers.

Her accounts were restaurants and wine shops. But she was selling high quality esoteric wines that most of her clients had never heard of. “I learned I had to be prepared. I became knowledgeable about my producers so I could tell their story. It was exciting but incredibly more challenging to convince someone to buy wine that they had never heard of and knew nothing about.

“I also researched my clients businesses. Doing your homework and being prepared are critical. It’s how you build respect and sales in this business,” Kelly emphasizes.

Part of her research involved an analysis of each account’s wine inventory, looking for opportunities to place her distinct wines where they would offer greater depth to an account’s portfolio.

“Overall I think consistency was the critical component of my success. I always arrived at appointments on time. I did my homework, researching both my wines and my customer’s needs. I knew each of my shops and restaurants business profile. I knew the palates of the managers and owners and what type of wines to offer them. I really was looking to see where the holes were and offering unique selections to fill the gap. It was fun and rewarding and led to my next career move,” says Kelly.

In 2005, Kelly and her husband moved to Madison,Virginia. The couple had been renting a house near White Oak Canyon for weekend getaways. “We both loved the country and were looking for a way to make a permanent move to a rural area. The traffic and congestion in Northern Virginia can wear you down. My husband telecommutes so we began thinking about relocating,” she says.

When the lease on their mountain hideaway was not renewed, it set the stage for the purchase of their home in Madison. Kelly quit her job in wine distribution and for six months acted as general contractor for their home’s renovation and expansion. “At first, I was ecstatic at not having to work. But after the house restoration was done I wanted to go back to work,” she recalls.

Serendipitously, her former employer asked in she could again cover The Inn at Little Washington. “The Inn was an important client and they had been unable to find a wine rep to cover it. I agreed to do it and to also build a customer base in the Culpeper to Charlottesville area. Within three years I was servicing some 30 new accounts. But the job involved a lot of driving. I was ready to move on again,” she says smiling.

In 2008, the former Culpeper wine shop Chateau du Reaux came up for sale. The owner was retiring and the small shop offered an opportunity for Kelly to transition to wine store owner. “The shop was perfect for me. It was small enough for me to get my hands around the inventory and located at an ideal location on Davis Street. We opened in the middle of the recession and I threw myself into building the business,” she says.

And build it she did. Within three years she had outgrown the small shop and relocated to larger quarters diagonally across the street on Davis Street. The doors of Vinosity opened in November, 2011. The business has grown 15% annually since 2008 through one of the most intractable recessions in recent memory.

“All of my previous business experience paid off when I opened Vinosity. I had learned how to build inventory—don’t go crazy—and how to keep your funds in control,” she says. Kelly also knew what to provide customers. Today, the wine shop offers more than 500 different selections, almost twice her original inventory. Some 200 of her offerings are priced at $15 or less.

The shop also features nearly 100 beer selections, a host of artisanal cheeses sliced to order, and a humidor of hand rolled cigars. Wine tastings are held twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays.

“I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished and super thrilled with the growth we’ve experienced. But the best part has been getting to know the community. It’s been an integral part of our success. Our core customers are local and are our biggest cheerleaders. Getting to know them and their palates and making wine recommendations has really been fun,” says Kelly.  

Community: Kelly is a member of the Board of Directors of Culpeper Renaissance Inc. CRI promotes Culpeper’s downtown Virginia Main Street Program. She also serves as co-chair for Taste of Culpeper, an annual wine, food and crafts festival held every October.

Insider Information:“My advice to women in business is the same as for men. Know your customers. Be consistent. Be reliable. Do your research. Work hard. The basics are really the key to success. Learn what your customers want and then provide it.

“When customers come to trust you and your knowledge success will follow.”

Flaming Beauty


Published in the Fall 2012 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES