Before Karen Phillips and Dave Fellowes opened DeVine Wines Aurora, a wine-making shop in Aurora, they knew their biggest challenge would be getting customers in their door. The sister and brother both lived outside of York Region, so they knew they’d have to build a customer base from scratch.
They also had to be patient. Before they could open—and even advertise–they needed to obtain an operating licence from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). Prior to opening in March 2015, “we were in a hurry-up-and-wait [stage],” says Phillips, who has a background in retail management and human resources. “It gave us a chance to start focusing on marketing,” she says.
Eager to discuss marketing ideas, the two entrepreneurs met with a consultant at the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC), who impressed upon them the importance of their Facebook page and website. They enhanced both and then ran newspaper ads, cross-promoted with other businesses and fine-tuned their storefront after DeVine Wines Aurora opened its doors.
They also had to overcome the perception that make-your-own-wines are not “real” wines, says Fellowes, who studied biochemistry and microbiology at university and later managed a wine-making shop in British Columbia for 13 years. Regulations in Ontario require that wine-making customers sprinkle yeast on their grape juice to start the fermentation process. Customers are also required to bottle their finished wine. In between these two steps, however, there’s plenty of room for finessing a wine to individual taste.
“We know about the care, skill and craftsmanship that it takes to make excellent wine,” says Phillips, who honed her appreciation for quality wine while living in Germany for three years. “We are conscious of every minute step and how it can benefit the wine,” she says.
Their knowledge and commitment paid off in May when, between them, Phillips and Fellowes won nine awards in WineMaker magazine’s international amateur wine competition in Vermont and DeVine Wines Aurora was named “U-Vint of the Year” from among other wine-making supply stores. The blind-tasting competition attracted more than 2,800 entries and DeVine Wines Aurora success was exactly the boost Phillips and Fellowes needed to cement their credibility.
“We [now] have confirmation for customers that we know what we’re doing here,” says Phillips. Unlike wine stores and LCBO outlets, make-your-own-wine establishments in Ontario are not permitted to offer customers wine samples except when they may taste their own wine at bottling time.
With this great news, Phillips and Fellowes met with the YSBEC consultant again, who suggested they write and distribute a media release about their international recognition. The Aurora Banner subsequently ran a story and photo about their awards.
The consultant also recommended that Phillips and Fellowes add analytics to their website so that they can determine how many visitors land on their site through their online advertising. “At some point, we will have to make a decision about which [advertising] contracts to renew and where to invest next,” says Phillips.
If they run into any glitches while adding the analytics, she says, it’s reassuring to know that the YSBEC is there to help. “They’ve been really encouraging, and it’s just lovely to know that they’re behind us.”
You can learn more about DeVine Wines Aurora and continue following this local York Region success story at devinewinesaurora.com.
Sara Bedal is a writer and editor in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at [email protected].