His first visit to a winery was when he was in college during a business trip. Soon Byron Williams, owner of Grand Cru Wine Tours, decided to venture out on his own to establish a tour company offering personalized Oregon wine tours. His road to fame was not easy, starting with limited knowledge and pricing of wines beyond what he could afford, he has built a wealth of knowledge of the Oregon wine industry. However his experiences were far more concrete than his fears that helped him achieve success in Oregon Willamette Valley wine country; a wine tour company that would bridge the gap from beginner to aficionado!
Having explored many of Oregon’s wineries, he established Grand Cru Wine Tours so that he could share his wonderful experience of Oregon wines with others. Mr. Williams fell in love with Pinot Noir several years ago and in order to learn more, started working in a winery tasting room and taking classes at Chemeketa Community College’s viticulture center. Having obtained a business degree from Oregon State University and worked in the accounting field, he decided it was time to open his own business which now stands tall.
Here at Ebrandz, we ventured into his tour company to get a feel for his grand ambition and his make-it-large passion that all teams up to a great success.
Tell us something about your wine tour business?
I operate Grand Cru Wine Tours. We are a wine tour guide located in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, near Salem Oregon to be precise and serving clients from Portland to Eugene.
I visited my first winery while still in college during a business trip wherein I was fortunate enough to be able to be led on through the winery by the owner. We enjoyed a great tasting and a wealth of information, to which I owe the foundation of my venture.
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
Having worked in the wine industry for a few years I saw an opportunity for a tour company based out of the Salem area to focus more on Salem and Eugene. I had a group of friends that met for monthly wine tastings which led to a lot of brainstorming sessions. Many of the tastings included discussions of what we would like to see in a tour company. The plans were slowed down by the economy, but I finally decided that it was time to get things going. A recent wine tasting trip with my wife to a new wine region provided the final motivation to start up the tour company. I wanted to make sure that I offer my knowledge & experience of Oregon wines with others.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Good employees are essential to our small business. We have a small team of four people to run the business and my wife helps out with the office. SO far, I have two drivers to assist me. Each of us deals with the customers on a regular basis and we are the product!
From the time our customers call to talk about a tour till the time our drivers return them home, our employees are being judged. Without employees that I can trust and rely on, this business would not succeed.
What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Grand Cru Wine Tours was founded on two guiding principles: service and sustainability. Exemplary service is found throughout the tour. Each of the guides has been personally selected based on their personality, knowledge of wine, and passion. The focus on sustainability can be seen in many areas of the company, including a commitment to using local and recycled products as well as offsetting all vehicle emissions. We decided on these two areas because we felt that they were essential for running a quality business. For us, neither area was an option that we could do without.
How did you decide on the location for your business?
I was living and working in the area when I decided to start the business. Having talked with local wineries, I saw there was a need for a local tour company.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Finishing my first tour was the most satisfying moment so far. Having spent months preparing our business plan, developing the company, and getting all of the details in order, it was great to see it had started to pay off. Having a great day with my guests helped to settle many off the questions that I had, like if I was totally insane for attempting to start my own business.
How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Most of our marketing efforts are focused on our website. Our business is normally not an impulse trip. Most of our guests plan their trips a week or a couple of months ahead of time, although we do get the occasional day before call. Because of the lead times and the number of people travelling from out of the area, our website serves as the primary initial contact for most of our guests.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
My business is a natural extension of two of my primary hobbies, wine and food. So when I am not working, you will often find me out wine-tasting or checking out a new restaurant. Most of my non-work time though is spent with my family. I try hard to find a balance between work and my family, though running my own business has definitely made the tight rope more difficult to walk.
How do you build a successful customer base?
For me a successful base is measured by customers who keep coming again. I work to provide the customers with an experience that they would want to enjoy again. I work to achieve this by talking with the customer well ahead of time, to make sure that I fully understand what they are looking for, even if they don’t have much knowledge of wines. I then plan a trip to make sure they find wines and beers that they will enjoy, and also enjoy the beauty of the area. Then during the tour I strive to provide the customer with friendly knowledgeable service. By planning a personalized wine tour and providing great services, I get clients who want to visit again and bring more friends and family.
How many hours do you work a day on average?
11-12 hours a day.
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
The two biggest sacrifices have been time and money. Every extra hour I put into the business is time I am not spending with my family or doing other activities I would have done before. I no longer take wine tasting trips just for fun; every trip now has a business purpose. Also, all of our discretionary money goes to the business to help pay for growth. There is always plenty of ways to use cash if it is available, so everything is used to the best it can.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
I believe that there are three requirements for being a successful entrepreneur- planning, seeking quality advice and being persistent. Having others review my ideas has helped me to better potential plans. Then planning out every detail has helped to avoid unexpected problems. Having the persistence to continue working the plan or through the problems. Even good ideas fail. Having the fortitude to keep going is the only way to succeed.
How do you generate new ideas?
My first source for new ideas is friends and family. We frequently discuss the business and brainstorm ideas. Having people from not only the wine industry but other industries such as hospitality, medicine, and teaching helps to bring fresh ideas to the table. The second (source) is through local business networking. I never know where a great connection will come from: If I think a company would benefit from working with me, I ask how I could help them.
Does being entrepreneur give you time for your family life?
I have had to work harder to find quality time to spend with my family. It is easy to get caught up on the next business decision, doing market research, and any of the other millions of tasks that come with running your own business. How do you decide how much time is quality time to spend with your family? It is easy to get so caught up in the details that I don’t realize how much time and effort I am putting into the business. Being a successful entrepreneur is important, but my family can’t be left behind.
What makes you happy?
Seeing my daughter standing at the door waiting for me to come home from work.