Mark Adams has grown and sold five businesses in a variety of industries – from T-shirt retailing to car-bumper manufacturing to consulting.
Most recently, he founded Amber Crest Winery in Matthews, where customers make their own wine and bottle it under their own label. Despite soaring freight costs, the business, which has four part-time employees, is profitable, says Adams. He expects sales volume to double next year.
“We're entertainment camouflaged as a winery,” he says.
At the winery, which will celebrate its first anniversary next month, customers taste different wines and pick their favorite. They mix various grape juices and add yeast. Customers return six weeks later to pour their fermented beverage into bottles, which they cork and adorn with custom-designed labels.
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One of the most popular: a white wine flavored with mango and citrus.
As Adams sees it, operating any business, whether it's selling T-shirts, consulting franchisees or marketing wine, requires a similar trait: personal resolve.
The Observer spoke with Adams about the challenges of starting a business in a slow economy and what he's learned from his experiences.
Questions and comments were edited for brevity and clarity:
Q: What have you learned with your other businesses that helps you with the winery?
When you're in the people business, it doesn't matter what you're selling. Most successful people are the ones who can put a system in place that people can follow. They hire people with the right strengths for the right position.
As a business owner, you understand your strengths and weaknesses and you hire to your opposite.
I know I'm good at the beginning part. I've never had a business longer than two years. Once things start running smoothly, I start crawling up the walls. Money's made when you sell a business.
Q. What's the biggest difference between running your winery and your other businesses?
Traditional advertising didn't work for us because we're a new concept. There's a bit of a learning curve because people need to find out about what we do.
We've now gotten lots of word of mouth and referrals.
Q: You opened last October. How's the slowing economy affecting business and how are you coping?
If you're a small business, the negative reports about the economy have zero impact. It's your attitude, your approach, what you do every day that affects the outcome. The economy's too good here in Charlotte.
It's easy to get caught up in the negativity. But as a business owner, it's your responsibility to drive your business forward.
Q. Much of the grape juice is shipped in from other parts of the country and overseas. How are you handling higher fuel costs?
Our cost of goods has gone up 30 percent. But insurance has increased more than anything.
You always expect things to come at you; you don't expect which direction they'll come.
When you are growing, revenues are more important than your costs. Once you get to a mature level, then controlling costs becomes an issue. I would rather double sales volume than worry about a 30 percent rise in the cost of goods.