Josh Wade took an unconventional route to launching Nectar Tasting Room, which opened Jan. 6 in downtown Spokane. Rather than opening an establishment and then looking to social media to help market itas businesses increasingly are doingWade first established himself with social media tools, then turned to brick and mortar.
It's a path some say is an emerging trend in business models.
Bill Kalivas, co-founder of LaunchPad Inland Northwest, which took a similar path, says Wade's strategy gives new meaning to the term "online to offline," which generally is used to describe how businesses use online tools to drive people to their physical business locations. Wade had no offline presence when he started, Kalivas says.
Wade says he began building his online following a little over a year ago through a local wine and coffee blog he had created, and says that in doing so, he was able to gauge whether opening a tasting room in downtown Spokane would be viable.
Wade opened the tasting room in 2,000 square feet of ground-floor space at 120 N. Stevens. It features a modern industrial style of decor, with dark wood floors, exposed brick walls and duct work, and unique metal chandeliers. There, five Washington wineriesAnelare Winery, of Kennewick; Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, of Lake Chelan; Northwest Cellars, of Kirkland; Skylite Cellars, of Walla Walla; and Terra Blanca Winery, of Benton Cityoffer tastings and bottles of their wines.
The wineries share the cost of leasing the space, and Wade, who invested $50,000 of his own money to renovate the space, makes his money by charging the wineries enough to cover utilities, the wages of three part-time employees, and his time.
So far, the Nectar Tasting Room is drawing decent crowds, he says, something he attributes partly to his use of rapidly growing social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. He says he gained a following here and even nationally by establishing relationships and networking with local business owners and winemakers, as well as other wine bloggers he'd met online.
"I'm not a social media expert," Wade says. "There is no such thing, and I knew nothing about this medium before I began. It's all been very grassroots and has come through my own experience."
Nonetheless, Wade says he's grown his blog's following to more than 4,000 subscribers, and now is getting more than 10,000 unique page visitors each month.
"Content is the key," he says. "People go to Google before anything now, and Google likes certain kinds of content. A static Web page will only get you so far as far as content goes, but Google likes links."
Wade says that while he utilizes search-engine optimization methods, such as specific keyword search tags for each of his posts, he's also learned that when blogging about a specific topic within a specific region, such as Spokane wine, including a general topic phrase in a post's title helps get that post closer to the top of Google's results page.
"If you do that over and over again, Google will pick up on that," he says.
Wade says he became interested in wine and coffee about seven years ago, and when he was laid off from a job four years ago, began putting together a business plan for a wine and coffee bar that would sell coffee during the day and wine in the evenings.
He says he ended up having to put the plan aside for personal reasons at the time, but revisited his idea in November of 2009, after he read a book titled "Crush It Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion," by Gary Vaynerchuk. He says the book chronicles the author's experience using social media to create a multimillion-dollar business.
"The book outlined how to use a central site, like a blog, and use social tools to push people to your blog," he says. "I thought at the time to do it and brand something for a few years in the future. If I could open up a business where 100 people knew who I was, I'd be better off than the person who just opens and wants to bring in (outside) marketing."
He launched Nectar Wine Blog, at www.drinknectar.com, that month and since has focused mostly on wine reviews with a regional focus.
"The traffic started to increase and it became a routine of doing those things and becoming a part of the online wine community and commenting on other people's blogs and re-tweeting their stuff," he says.
His plans to take the following and support he'd received from his blog and create a physical location for a wine-based business began last March, when he visited a similar wine-tasting bar in Seattle.
"I floated the idea with some wineries I'd developed relationships with, and they were open to the concept," he says. "I have a firm belief that if you speak it, it will come into existence. So when I told people I was going to open the tasting room in November (2010), I started working toward it."
Although the tasting room didn't end up opening then, Wade spent a lot of time last year working toward his goal, while also teaching social media classes at LaunchPad and working full time at his job as a project manager for a financial institution here, he says.
He also used the print medium to further his online reputation, by creating a printed publication called Spokane Wine Magazine, which he plans to publish twice a year. Wade says that so far, he has written all the content for the magazine, but plans to contract with writers in the future. The next issue comes out in April.
Still, Wade says when he first sought wineries to sell their products at Nectar, he relied heavily on the relationships he'd built through his blog.
"Everything comes down to relationships," he says. "So I established relationships with the wineries and they saw the quality of what I was writing and trusted my business idea. When I approached them, many said they were in almost immediately."
LaunchPad followed a similar business plan.
Kalivas, its CEO, says he and business partner Allen Battle launched that company about two and a half years ago by e-mailing other businesspeople to share their idea for the site.
"Those people were networkers who are very social, and they started spreading the word," Kalivas says. "We took it offline and hosted quarterly events so that the people talking online had the chance to meet offline, so it really started to grow after that."
LaunchPad now leases space in the same building as the Nectar Tasting Room, including offices on the third floor and 1,000 square feet of space on the main floor separated from the tasting room by a sliding pocket door. LaunchPad uses that first-floor space for workshops and networking events.
Kalivas says LaunchPad has grown rapidly since its launch, mostly because its members invite others to join.
"The best thing you can do is tap into existing networks," he says. "So if an organization has already built a strong following online, the best thing you can do is figure out appropriate partnerships."
Kalivas says LaunchPad hopes eventually to replicate the site in other cities, but says he and Battle first want to ensure the model continues to thrive here.
LaunchPad contracts with three people and hopes to have one or two full-time employees before the end of the year.
Wade's advice to other entrepreneurs is to not ignore the benefits of social media.
"It's not the end all; it just becomes a part of your marketing strategy," he says. "It could be as simple as once you nurture the social media network, you could potentially reduce marketing expenses elsewhere."
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