By Alex Braun
Three glasses deep, a lot of people have thought about opening a wine shop. 24-year old Katelyn Marlow and her husband Tony made it happen. Yesterday, I asked Katelyn how she bounced back from losing her first job out of college to become president of Red Door Wine Store, and one of the great young entrepreneur stories in the Kansas City area.
Q: Where/when exactly did the idea of opening a wine store come about?
A: Right after graduation, I got a job as a corporate event planner.
“I was laughed out of offices — everyone I spoke with tried to talk me out of opening a small business.”
Unfortunately, the market was not doing well and there wasn’t much need for multiple event planners, so I was let go. I was really freaked out, since my fiance (now husband) and I had just bought our first house.
I was raised in a family that enjoyed wine, so I learned a lot from them. My husband and I went to Napa for our honeymoon and we just decided that we definitely wanted to do something in the wine world. After spending time in historic downtown Lee’s Summit, Mo. near our home, we decided that a wine shop would really fit in with the rest of the shops and restaurants downtown.
Q: How did you raise enough capital to get the idea off the ground?
A: I spent a lot of time on a business plan (pay attention in class everyone!) to make sure that our crazy idea could actually generate enough money. After going through the numbers, I started the time-consuming and hope-crushing adventure of going bank to bank to talk about getting a small business loan. This is not a feat for the weak of heart.
I was laughed out of offices, told I looked like a “marketing” person at one bank (whatever that means), and in general everyone I spoke with tried to talk me out of opening a small business — especially a wine store. All I have to say is “follow your dreams,” because the hard work eventually paid off and we received a loan to get started.
Q: How involved were you in the layout of the store, the distributors you stocked and Red Door’s brand philosophy?
A: Tony and I were lucky enough to be involved in everything. Since we were literally starting from scratch, we put all of our ideas together and — with a lot of help from family — we were able to get everything going! We also have an amazing landlord who let us select how we wanted the store to flow and look and feel. He let us pick paint color and added some extra touches that I really wanted.
The whole Red Door philosophy/strategy is, frankly, based a lot on Tony’s and my personalities. Our friends played a big role in starting up the store as well, from the logo design to getting the website up and helping us bounce ideas around.
Q: How did some of your college networking and early career experiences help when you decided to start your own business?
A: Working as a event planner right out of school really helped me hone my organization and sales skills. I have always been an organized person, but working in a field where you have a thousand different details really helped me to take Red Door one step at a time. Piece by piece, I knew we would get going.
Q: What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far?
A: Being open six months, we have been fortunate enough to not have had any giant problems. Little things are an everyday challenge, like informing the public that even though we are a small business, we have lower prices on certain wines than the local grocery store. Large corporations have done a great job of convincing people that the only way to get a good deal is to go to some gigantic warehouse of a store. You can be a little store and have great deals, too!
Q: What’s your advice to college-age entrepreneurs who want to open a store when they graduate?
A: Get organized! Ideas, thoughts, plans, design, music — I mean everything that you think it will require to open a store, put it on paper and start a good filing system! It is so much easier when you get the money if you have all your plans written down. Most important though: Do NOT give up. So many times I though about scrapping the whole thing when I had no money and was trying to get a loan.
Lastly, make the time to talk with people in the field. Before I ever had the money — when the store was an idea — I called distributors and met with them about the wine market, and I talked with other small business owners and visited a lot of wine stores to know what I did and didn’t want. (Hey, market research can be fun!)