Local winery strikes deals with Food Lion, Sam’s Club

Gwen Hurt. (Photos courtesy of Shoe Crazy Wine)

Slowed down a bit but not deterred by the pandemic, a St. Petersburg-based wine company is accelerating its expansion into major retail stores and strengthening its distribution network.

Shoe Crazy Wine, which founder Gwen Hurt runs with her three children and a family friend, recently signed deals with Sam’s Club and Food Lion to get bottles from the chain’s stores in Virginia and North Carolina. The company already has a presence in 118 Walmart stores in Virginia and North Carolina, and will expand to the retail giant’s Georgia stores in August.

Shoe Crazy Wine is also expanding its distribution operations in-house with a factory in Durham, North Carolina, which launched in June, and a presence in Atlanta in September.

Hurt said Shoe Crazy Wine pulled in $2 million in revenue in 2020 before the pandemic, which cut business by 30-40% and its staff by 15-5. In-store wine tastings critical to success of the company, were no longer possible due to health precautions.

“People buy what they taste, and we couldn’t do that anymore,” Hurt said. “There is a lot of competition. There are 2000 wines there. I want customers to know there’s someone behind a brand that stands behind it, and the part that really makes people stop and notice is if I say, “Hey, I created these wines.

Hurt expects sales to rebound to around $1.5 million in 2021, driven by sales in the Mid-Atlantic and a growing distribution channel. It set up a distribution branch in Virginia last year in a 27,000 square foot warehouse, which Hurt said was an upgrade from its garage.

The company increased its sales from $90,000 in 2018 to just under $500,000 in 2019, thanks to a deal struck with Walmart. Most bottles cost between $10 and $11, and Hurt said production hit 150,000 bottles in 2020, which it expects to triple by 2021 and triple again in 2022.

Shoe Crazy Wine grew through local television commercials, billboards posted in Richmond, Chesapeake and Northern Virginia, and social media marketing, thanks to Hurt’s daughter, Brittny, who gave him the idea of ​​starting the business.

Plant the seeds

The varietals for Shoe Crazy Wine come from vineyards in California, Washington and Portugal.

Almost all of Hurt’s savings were on the line when she launched Shoe Crazy Wine.

Hurt was injured in a car accident in 2013, shortly after losing her job at Lenovo, where she worked her way up to head of global processes, reengineering and controls. She spent a year in physiotherapy to treat her injuries, and she knew she couldn’t be of much value to a traditional employer at that time.

That led her to start her own business in December by investing $300,000, which Hurt said she got from her buyout, savings, cashing in her 401(k) and selling her shoes. and designer clothes. She said she was ultimately unable to pay her electricity bill and her house was foreclosed.

Hurt aimed to raise $1 million from investors but could only muster $150,000. She said she sent samples to at least 25 small, medium and large distribution companies, all of which passed on Shoe Crazy Wine. Many were skeptical of betting on her.

“Everyone was like, ‘No, thank you,'” Hurt said, adding that she had plenty of wine to sell but no one to distribute it.

Breaking into the highly competitive wine industry as an upstart brand was a monumental task, Hurt said. She only knew the industry as a consumer and didn’t realize how many thousands of brands were vying for the same shelf space. She learned that it can take two to five years to break in.

Hurt said she was repeatedly told that no one would buy from a wine company owned by a black woman.

“When you’re a woman, you’re a woman of color, I mean, I come in with two strikes,” Hurt said. “And yet we endured because I just follow my mother’s mantra: ‘You’re better than they say you are. “”

Hurt said she held her head high and self-funded by funneling profits back into the business, which she called the “treacle road.”

She partnered with wineries in California, Washington, and Portugal to produce her wines, as she could not afford to have her own vineyard, and aimed to provide customers with a smooth, sweet wine.

Shoe Crazy Wine offers sweet and syrupy wines.

Shoe Crazy Wine offers eight varietals: a traditional Chardonnay, a Cabernet, a red blend, a sweet red, a sweet white, a sparkling peach/mango, a sparkling strawberry and a sparkling brut. The sweet red mix is ​​the top seller, and it’s called Sweet Bella for Hurt’s mother, who died of COVID-19 in April.

Shoe Crazy Wine entered Walmart in June 2018 after Hurt heard the retail giant was taking American brands to add to its stores. She took a 26-hour hike to Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, with Daniel Hurt, her business-minded son, and Edwin Gommers, her chief financial officer, stopping at Walmart stores in the process of road to study their wine racks.

The group then rented a house for a month to prepare for the biggest pitch of their lives. Their goal was to get to know Walmart’s shelves as well as the company’s wine shoppers, and when they finished the 30-minute pitch, their audience had no questions. Shoe Crazy Wine closed the deal which has been a springboard to success ever since.

new frontiers

Shoe Crazy Wine will walk on army-based exchanges, similar to grocery stores, by 2021, a four-and-a-half-year opportunity. Hurt said the military finally responded during the quarantine, and that’s not the only time a military branch took its time responding to him.

Hurt said she had emailed and called the Coast Guard Exchange every week for years, only missing a week due to the flu. They then contacted her, asking why she hadn’t emailed, which sparked a conversation and a deal, which she said was done by the end of 2017. Next year.

“I didn’t give up. You just have to keep pushing,” Hurt said. “In this industry, you have to be resilient, you have to be tenacious, you have to be tough. And you have to be there for the long haul.

Hurt said she sees Shoe Crazy Wine becoming a nationally recognized brand and retailer, and if her wine does well at Walmart, Hurt believes the world’s largest retailer will ask her what she’s got. another to offer. She plans to offer sodas, beer and soft drinks, such as a strawberry sangria that she sells online and is awaiting FDA approval before selling it in supermarkets.

Growth through acquisitions is necessary for that vision, and Hurt said she will seek out young companies whose doors have been slammed in their faces. Hurt said she knew which brands she would buy if she had the money, although she said it was at least two to three years.

Hurt said she woke up some nights wondering if her foray into other states was the right move. She expects the business to be profitable in 2021, a year after her original intention, but better late than never.

When that day comes, Hurt says she already knows how she’ll celebrate: with her team, sharing a bottle of sparkling Shoe Crazy Wine.

“It’s going to feel like Christmas and my birthday,” Hurt said.

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