Like wine? Better love business
"In niches there are riches..."
Starting a business can be a scary adventure, especially when you hear some experts claiming that 95 percent of startups fail. And starting one in a crowded marketplace like the Finger Lakes wine industry, which has grown from about two dozen producers in 1985 to more than 100 today, is even more daunting.
But adjunct Assistant Professor Angelo Mastrangelo, who teaches about entrepreneurism in Binghamton University’s School of Management, says stiff competition doesn’t dictate future success or failure because crowded spaces always spin off niche markets. And by concentrating on product quality, responsiveness to customers and team competence, new wineries can find their place.
“In niches there are riches,” he says. “If you are going to be a small winery in upstate New York, you better have some niche going for you. You don’t have to sell a lot of wine. You have to find some niche and be really good at what you do.”
Binghamton alumni wine producers at McGregor, Standing Stone and Red Newt found their niches while taking carefully planned and relatively conservative approaches to growing their businesses. They may have romantic notions about wine, but they entered the business with clear heads.
Mastrangelo says that’s a big factor in a business’ success.
“The number one mistake people make in starting a business is the same mistake that gives us divorces — they get into it for the wrong reasons.” To succeed, you need to have something special.
To find, create and deliver something special, a company needs to examine its industry and find what’s lacking. When McGregor Vineyards started planting, there were virtually no European grape varieties such as Riesling grown in the area. When Standing Stone produced its first vintage, there were few fine wines. And Red Newt emphasized food pairings by opening a bistro.
David Whiting compares quitting his job and opening Red Newt to the feeling of jumping out of an airplane — scary but exciting. Tom and Marti Macinski took a safer approach by keeping their day jobs until they needed to be at Standing Stone full time.
For Mastrangelo, both methods are viable, it’s just a matter of personal approach. “You can’t teach someone to be an entrepreneur because you have to have the stomach for it, but you can teach someone to be entrepreneurial. There’s a huge difference.”
Being entrepreneurial means reading the marketplace, taking advantage of trends and generating and maximizing capital.
“And anybody can do that,” Mastrangelo says.