Plenty of new businesses emerged during the pandemic with their eyes set on becoming the next generation of family businesses to make their mark. Paul Andrews spoke to the founder of one such business, Tom Newbold of Tomelier to find out his story.
When was the business founded?
The business was set up in May 2019.
What does it do?
We run in-person and virtual wine tasting events. Our point of difference is that all of our tastings are bespoke to a customer’s brief and budget. We source wine from a number of places depending on what the customer wants to achieve in their tasting. Unlike a lot of wine tasting companies, we don’t sell the wines we taste and as such the tasting does not turn into a sales event. This means we can be objective, discussing the shortcomings of those wines if necessary. We’re always open with our customers about where we source the wine from and how much it costs.
Tell me a little about the history of the business?
The business was originally established as a partnership and we found a niche in the market of offering wine tasting events at corporate venues and conference centres across the Midlands. We had a promising early few months building some good relationships with venues, but as things started to take off COVID hit, putting a stop to all planned events.
During lockdown we dissolved the partnership and I took the business on entirely myself. One good thing to come out of lockdown was the development of our virtual tasting packs. We developed a way of sending out 100ml wine samples, securely and safely whilst maintaining the integrity of the wine inside and hosting a bespoke tasting via Zoom.
As things have returned to normal we are doing a lot more in-person events again, particularly for social groups at the weekends. However the virtual tastings remain popular with our corporate customers where they may have staff or customers dotted around the country.
What was your journey into the business?
I worked in the legal industry for a decade but started to fall out of love with it and my long daily commute. When my wife, who is very successful in her industry, fell pregnant with our first child, we decided that I would take responsibility for the majority of childcare. I left my job and had a fantastic few months off with our baby daughter.
During this time I took a wine qualification, mainly because I liked wine and wanted to test my knowledge. I really enjoyed the course so decided to look for a job within the industry which would give me access to further educational opportunities. I ended up working in wine retail which worked well with a pre-school age child to look after and gave me access to further education.
During my time in retail I realised that what I loved most was talking to people about wine, helping them understand a little bit more about what they were drinking and giving them some tips to make better choices. Out of this the idea of the tasting business came about.
What values are important to the family and the business?
There are definitely a lot of shared values between how I run the business and how we live as a family. Honesty is a key value for both, whether that’s giving customers honest and frank appraisals of the wines or whether it’s encouraging our children to tell us how they feel and to admit to their mistakes.
Enthusiasm is also very important. Our daughter does a lot of activities and we’ve always told her to give it her all in whatever she does. Similarly, when I’m running an event I always do my best to show my enthusiasm and passion for the industry to my customers. I want them to go away having had a great time and wanting to go out and explore the world of wine further.
Do you build the family ownership into the marketing and brand narrative and if so, how?
My wife is very important to the business. Whilst she has her own career she is always offering help and advice on how to build and develop Tomelier, she definitely has a better business brain than I!
My love for wine really started on our honeymoon and a visit to the beautiful Hunter Valley in Australia and she is more than happy to be dragged around vineyards and wineries to do some tasting!
Part of the brand is to show customers our understanding and knowledge of wine, as well as offering tips on what to buy. In this day and age this takes place across social media, and quite frequently our posts feature that family connection, perhaps by featuring a wine we particularly enjoyed at a family meal or talking about an issue important to us as a family, such as environmental change.
What do you think makes working in your own business special?
There is so much! When it’s your business you have complete control over the direction you can take it, yes there are higher risks involved in that but everything that has been built has come from decisions that I have made. It’s also great being able to be in total control of balancing my work and family life. I can take my son swimming on a Monday, my daughter to dance classes on Tuesday, and plan my working day around this. It does mean that there will be times that I have to work in the early mornings or late at night, but when it’s your own business that doesn’t matter.
Are there any disadvantages associated with working in this business?
Most customers want to have their tastings on a Friday and Saturday evening. This means I can’t be as spontaneous with my social activities as I once was. But to be honest having a young family prevents a lot of spontaneity anyway!
Talk to me about how family was key in the decision behind establishing this business?
Working in retail worked well when my daughter was at nursery, I could have days off in the week to look after her which was fantastic. However, retail means working on Saturday and when she reached school age my employer wouldn’t offer me the crucial work-life balance that I’ve come to realise is one of my non-negotiable life wants. Building my own business gives me complete control over when and how I do things with my family.
Have you taken any particular steps in terms of governance to help protect the business for the future?
My legal background has meant I’ve been fastidious in setting up my governance processes and I have taken on a financial advisor to support my business planning. As the business grows I would love to take on more advisors who could offer experience and connections to support my future goals.
Is there a next generation in the wings?
My daughter has just turned six and she’s definitely showing an interest in what I do. She has her own ‘tasting pack’ of different flavoured juices so she can run tastings with her friends and family, and loves being given the responsibility of choosing the wine for Sunday dinner, she typically manages to pick out the fancy ones!
She has been accompanying us on vineyard visits since she was six months old and is pretty engaged with the process. At the moment her ambition is to be a cross between a teacher, astronaut, doctor and wine taster!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of leaving their career to start a new business?
Go for it! But make sure you prepare, understand both the industry and the wider issues of running a business. Above all, talk to people and seek help. There are a lot of organisations out there designed to help new businesses. We received some invaluable free advice from our local Chamber of Commerce. I’m perhaps guilty of not seeking or listening to advice enough, but I’ve never received advice from anyone who was not just trying to help.
If you could talk to your younger self before you started the business, what would you say?
Take the chances and opportunities that come your way. I’m a little too risk adverse and on reflection may have missed out on some opportunities to push the business on further.
If you could sum up the business in three words, what would they be?
Bespoke, fun wine-tastings (yes I’m hyphenating wine-tasting!)