Serial wine entrepreneur Dean Taylor offers words of advice for others in business, and recalls some eclectic experiences, from being paid in booze and cigarettes with a French circus to an unfortunate mishap with an incredibly rare 19th-century wine.
What was your first paid job?
While my first “career” job was working as an architect, I paid my way through an architecture degree by working in pubs, wine bars and bottle shops.
My growing taste for expensive wine saw me launching a “side hustle” Wine Ark while working as an architect, which ultimately led to the launch of seven further complementary businesses in the wine industry!
What made you get into your current business?
WINEDEPOT is my latest wine venture and is an idea that has been brewing for some time. The concept is something that I have been thinking about and developing for almost two decades.
Even 20 years ago, I could see how inefficient and expensive the existing supply chain and distribution model was. Rather sadly, it’s hardly evolved at all in that time.
Our logistics solution has been specifically designed to remove the layers and layers of inefficiency and wastage that exist in the supply chain.
How did you get your very first customer/client?
It was off the back of some publicity that we received about the business.
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
I’d have to say that it was saving several wineries from going bust.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Many years ago while running Cracka Wines, we ran a promotion which was far more popular than predicted.
With the promotion going off, we brought in temporary staff and the whole team were working around the clock to fulfil orders and manage the influx of new business. However, after pooling all our resources, a small percentage of orders still were sent late. It was a hard lesson to learn.
No one remembers when a company delivers on time every time, but they’ll carry that time it took two weeks longer than you promised forever.
There are usually several ways for a customer to access a certain kind of product and they’ll go with the one that delivers on time, every time. Wouldn’t you?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Surround yourself with great people whose skills complement your own. Don’t be afraid to let average people go to make room for great people to come in. Hire long and fire fast.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
I’d change the standard working week from five to four days to provide a greater work/life balance environment for myself and the staff.
I think that everyone prefers to work hard for short bursts and then enjoy having more time to spend enjoying life with their families, friends and partners.
Business is important to me, but so is enjoying life. It’s so important to stop and smell the roses and make the most of the journey along the way.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
Scott Farquhar, the CEO of Atlassian, is definitely someone that I look up to. I think that he articulates solutions for what are often complex problems or issues, being it in life or business, very simply and succinctly.
I was told very early in life that the secret is making the hard things look easy and the simple things look hard. I think that Scott’s a master of this.
What do you do to get away from work?
With six kids between my partner and I, there is no shortage of things to entertain me outside of work. Travel with the family, skiing, staying fit and exploring new wineries are just some of the ways I like to keep busy.
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business (and why)?
Great staff! When you hire the best people, there is a flow-on effect. They’re happy and dedicated to keeping your customers happy, and when your customers are happy, the business will sell itself.
Keep your customers happy and you’ll never need to spend a dollar on advertising.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
I joined a French circus, similar to Cirque du Soleil, while travelling through Scandinavia. Part of our weekly wage was a carton of cigarettes and a bottle of spirits, not too mention some pretty crazy parties.
What is the funniest experience or encounter you have had in business?
Back when I had my Wine Ark business, we had a rather salubrious client from Sydney who somehow came into possession of a rare collection of French wines dating back to the early 1800s. Supposedly they’d come from a cellar that had been hidden since the Russian Revolution and were worth tens of thousands of dollars each.
One day, I received a call saying that the wines were going to be collected. Not long after, a young and rather burly-looking man turned up. Clearly, he was no wine expert, but for whatever reason, he insisted on inspecting the bottles by hand. They were very old, fragile bottles, so I made it clear that once he signed for them, they were his responsibility. He agreed and the handover process started.
As he was looking at one of the bottles, it slipped through his fingers and the bottle cracked against a table, spilling the precious contents. The poor man just stood there in shock, not moving or saying a word for what seemed like an hour! He went so white that I thought he was going to faint. He didn’t say a word, just stood there stunned, like Heath Ledger in Two Hands, when the drug money he was couriering was stolen.
One of my staff saw what was happening and leapt into action, grabbing a whole bunch of plastic cups from the water dispenser and placing them on the floor to collect the wine as it dripped from the table.
As you can imagine, it was very difficult for us not to laugh, as we stood there saying cheers and tasting an 1847 Chateau Lafite Rothschild worth thousands of dollars per sip in cheap plastic cups.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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