Small Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Yvonne Lorkin and Debbie Sutton, WineFriend

Yvonne Lorkin (left) and Debbie Sutton (right) from WineFriend. Photo / Supplied
Yvonne Lorkin (left) and Debbie Sutton (right) from WineFriend. Photo / Supplied

What was the market opportunity you saw with this business?

Yvonne: I saw WineFriend as an excellent problem-solver. First and foremost for wine lovers who just want to feel confident the wine they're buying is going to be to their taste. A bottle might boast lots of shiny medals - meaning a bunch of judges think it's a good example of the style - but it could be completely wrong for that individual. It's about taking the guesswork out of the equation. Secondly, I saw an opportunity to market smaller wine producers who don't stand a chance of being seen in supermarkets.

The technology behind these kinds of businesses must be important. What was your experience of setting up the back end of the business?

Debbie: I picked up the phone to My Food Bag and asked who did their website. They put us on to a company called Tailor. When you look at the website I hope it looks professional, but how it looks is the tip of the iceberg.

The clever part of the business is the back end. We started working with Tailor in January last year and we didn't launch until October, which gives an indication of all the behind-the-scenes work. Tailor also educated us on using a minimum viable product model, where we created only the technology that we needed to test the business and were then able to be a bit more nimble and alter things according to our customers' feedback.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Debbie: One challenge is communicating value for money without just talking about price. A lot of online wine retailers compete only on price but we don't want to hang our hat solely on that. The challenge for us is to get people to understand they'll get value for money, but to also try us for the customisation aspect. Another challenge for us as we grow is how we scale the operation by harnessing technology, but still maintain that personal contact. Growing brand awareness on a small budget is a challenge. I guess we're lucky in that wine is a very social product, so word of mouth has been key -- customers talking about the service to friends, family and colleagues. We're also lucky that social media is around now. It's an easy and inexpensive way of getting your name out there, and people like sharing about wine and food on social channels.

Yvonne: It's the biggest thrill to see a happy snap on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram from a customer enjoying wines we've chosen for them.

Ultimately, where to you want the business to go?

Debbie: We'd love to see WineFriend go global and it's a concept we think we could take to other international markets.

- Herald on Sunday

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