Sunday, August 9, 2020

You Are at the Bottom and Looking for Inspiration

Inspiration is the substance of undiscovered strategies. It can come from almost anywhere if we stay positive and are open to it, but it's the fuel that ignites change.

This pandemic has put many people in the wine, travel, restaurant, and hospitality business on their heals or flat on their backs. 

Being in the cruise business might come to mind as being the worst place to be today, but at least cruise lines can raise money to survive. 

Perhaps the most difficult job today is owning a small travel agency as does my friend Michael Mastrocola at MillenniuM Travel, who many will know because he arranges annual cruises for a host of wineries. 

He doesn't know I'm writing this and will be embarrassed, but I admire Michael because he's getting up every day and fighting. He's being positive, writing, texting, using social media, talking to congressmen, his friends, advisors, and clients. He's maintaining a connection with people important to his business and doing what he can. That's inspiring to me.

I've been working with our bank's clients these past few months; learning from their actions and experiences, offering my own thoughts and guidance, and always looking for inspiration to help others. 

I've noticed some owners have made quick adaptations, repurposing staff, executing, and are having strong years. Others are still spending their time trying to duplicate their successes of the past in a changed market and are struggling.

All of us who are up against it at some point have to move past looking at the obstacles and instead, look in the mirror. Then with the advice of advisors and those you trust, you have to develop a plan and execute, because not changing or just doing the same thing you did last year guarantees a suboptimal outcome.

Finding Inspiration

We all need inspiration, which is one reason it's so important to get off the couch, switch off the national news coverage, and flee the unending bickering fanned by social media and the press. 

While we can't bury our heads, the national news has become nothing more than an interminable stream of salacious and selective facts. You won't find inspiration listening to the COVID-19 statistics and watching the endless fighting between cantankerous people on Facebook. You need to pull apart from the fray and look elsewhere.

Frank Sinatra's Inspiring Effort 

There is a two-part documentary on Netflix about Frank Sinatra called All or Nothing at All that I watched this weekend and found surprisingly inspiring. It was interesting to me because his life story is laid out authentically, full of both his warts and mountaintop experiences - told in his own words and by those who were in his circle.

Sinatra was a man that came from nothing and never graduated from high school. But he had an unbelievable work-ethic and as a consequence of, and combined with natural talent, found huge fame in the 1940s. Then because of his fame and power, grew overly confident and by his choices pushed his allies and fans away. 

By the early 1950s Sinatra was without an income, drinking constantly, had no record contract, was flat broke, and in such despair that he tried to take his own life. That wasn't the end of his story though. 

He climbed back up the mountain in the late 1950s and into the 1960s; right at the time the US became heavily involved in the Vietnam War as rock and roll took center stage. 

How did a crooner from the 30s and 40s find new success in a changing world and remain relevant? Where did he find inspiration to come off the bottom in his own life? In this case, he found inspiration from a book.

From Here to Eternity was a 1951 bestseller about life in Hawaii leading up to World War II. Mr. Sinatra devoured the book and so related to the character of Private Maggio that when he heard the book was going to be made into a movie, he pushed incessantly with Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures to get the role, helped along by his then estranged wife Ava-Gardner. Landing the part was only the beginning of his journey though. Sinatra had done a few films but had never played a dramatic character role.

Inspiration Leads To Conviction and Action

Sinatra gave up drinking and smoking, started eating better, removed his accountant, and added new advisors; a 'clean sweep' as he phrased it in the documentary. And he exercised to get into shape to play the role of an Army private. 

The studio had all the negotiating leverage but he gladly signed on for $8,000 for eight weeks of work which at that point was good pay for a mechanic, but not a star. He then leveraged as many people as he could to help him prepare, and during the film worked with Monty Clift to shape the script and character in small ways. Bottom line: Sinatra bet on himself but listened to others.

The bet paid off, winning him an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. The William Morris Agency picked him up and got him a contract with Capitol Records, and he never looked back, recording some of his biggest hit songs and taking on new film roles such as Ocean's 11.

Bringing it Back to Wine

That's an inspiring story to me, and maybe it applies to you. 

If you are in the wine business today, I don't have to tell you the sledding is rough. COVID-19 has been unkind to restaurants and tasting rooms; two channels of sales on which most wineries have depended.

If you are in the camp of employees or winery owners that had maintained great consumer lists and were able to quickly pivot in March, leveraging phone and videoconference sales to maneuver to a point of current year growth, fantastic! But don't stop. Now it's time to ask yourself about longer-term changes. Some of the current consumer trends will stick, some will evolve, and some will revert.

When this pandemic goes away, what is your game plan? You still have to make a guess on the future and scenario plan, because all of the underlying changes I wrote about in the State of the Industry Report - the missing millennial, declining demand, the increasing voice of neo-prohibitionism and its impact on a health-conscious consumer, the need to sell and market in evolved ways - all of those issues will still be here to address and left for us to conquer to see the industry reclaim our own mountaintop.

And if you are one of those who have been observing the happenings and have made slow or few changes and perhaps seen your fortunes wane, this is your opportunity to make a clean break. There is no time like the present to begin to forge a new path.

Take a chapter out of Frank Sinatra's life. Develop a plan and bet on yourself. Talk to competitors, suppliers, and people you trust. Ask them what they would do if they were in your spot. Expand your group of advisors to gain new insight. Live in the present. If you need to swallow your pride and like Sinatra, take a lesser contract to gain a foothold and traction, do that.

Final Thoughts

Change is always difficult but we all need to find inspiration somehow. Inspiration then leads to conviction, planning, and action. 

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources if we are willing to pull away from the current crisis and expose ourselves to new information and different ideas. In today's world where getting away has never been more difficult and vacations are often limited to your backyard, that couldn't be more difficult or more important.

What's Your Opinion?
  • What strategies are you taking that show promise?
  • When do you remember being hit with fresh inspiration? How did it come?
  • What advice can you offer others about business success today?
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  1. Replies
    1. As Frank would say, Luck be a lady tonight (and today.)

  2. Great column Rob so much inspiration can be found in many places all you have to do is to keep looking

    1. Critical during a time like this when the news cycle is all about looking for a train wreck, that we spend time seeking inspiration. We just need to be open and it will come.

  3. Thanks Rob! I knew there was a reason why back in 2002 I named my winery Inspiration Vineyards... staying positive through all of these years has kept me chugging along...

    1. Atta boy! Stay positive and in your case, take care of inspiration!

  4. Thanks for the words of inspiration, Rob! It's an exciting time for sure, and I am eager to see positive change.

  5. Its sometimes hard to get above the battle, but there are solutions available when we put the time aside to be inspired and plan change.

  6. When you have hit bottom, recall this observation:

    "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

    ~~ Oscar Wilde