My business, Shoe Crazy Wine, was launched in 2013 as an e-commerce brand, and we quickly learned distribution would be a primary problem. Our digital shopping carts were filling up but being left by the virtual door. Everyone wanted free shipping, something we were financially not able to offer.\r\n\r\nThe obvious solution was to get into retail shops and restaurants. I was expecting a rough time finding a distributor willing to take a chance on our relatively young company. What I wasn\u2019t expecting was the outright hostility many wine distributors leveled at a Black woman launching her own brand.\r\n\r\nThe misogyny and racism were sometimes coded: Shoe Crazy Wine\u2019s brand is too \u201ccustomer specific.\u201d Other distributers didn\u2019t bother hiding their contempt, saying no one buys \u201cBlack wine\u201d from a Black woman, \u201ceven if you are attractive.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nCertainly not every wine distributor in the United States of America does business this way. But undervaluing Black- and women-owned companies is not limited to our industry. It\u2019s endemic. So, while my family and staff were appalled, I was not completely surprised. Heeding my mother\u2019s advice\u2014to never undervalue myself\u2014Shoe Crazy Wine pivoted again.\r\n\r\nWe would self-distribute.\r\n\r\nEasy right? Not so much. Armed with my elevator pitch and a foam beach cooler on wheels, I toted the early incarnations of Shoe Crazy Wine to every wine shop, liquor store and restaurant I could find.\r\n\r\nThey said no thank you. Every one. But there was no other way, so I developed a thick skin. I knocked on even more doors, made more calls. And finally, we got a yes. Kathleen Richardson at the Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe in Richmond, Virginia, said someone had once taken a chance on her, so she was passing on the favor.\r\nWe listened to our customer, and these bottles started flying off the shelves. \r\nElated to have our first retail outlet, we quickly learned our customer was interested in slightly sweeter, softer wines. In yet another redirect, Shoe Crazy abandoned very dry wine for New World-style pours with jammy, fruity finishes.\r\n\r\nWe listened to our customer, and these bottles started flying off the shelves. While there were others in this market, I like to think our company\u2019s pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps roots gave us an edge.\r\n\r\nStill, we didn\u2019t receive an overly warm welcome from most shops and restaurants. So the next step was learning to pitch to grocery store chains regionally.\r\n\r\nVastly more complex, with two- to five-year sales cycles, it was another learning opportunity. With determination and a willingness to listen and adapt, we found the right fit. Again, it was a woman willing to take a chance on us, this time helping get us into Kroger\u2014our first big-box store.\r\n\r\nSuccess does not mean rest, however. I kept the grind going. As a distributor, you have to. So, I went out and got my next one, then my next one. Andrews Airforce Base, Total Wine & More, Coast Guard and Navy Exchanges, Walmart, Food Lion and then Sam\u2019s Club, and on and on.\r\n\r\nGrowth meant meeting regulatory requirements, which are different in each state. Some require a license at the county and state level; some demand a warehouse, while others will accept a residential garage. Some states require a permit to perform winetasting to consumers, while others do not, and in some, sales staff need permits. It\u2019s incumbent on me to keep track of all of this.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nI also needed to create supply chain infrastructure, getting a large warehouse, a cargo truck and workers to keep the operation going. We purposefully put our headquarters in an economically challenged area in order to make a difference in the local economy. Before Covid-19 hit, we employed 25 people. As we ramp back up post-pandemic, we\u2019ve started hiring again.\r\n\r\nIn a way, our company\u2019s early troubles may have been a blessing. We might have settled for some easy, mediocre versions of success. Instead, we\u2019re ever building, ever adapting, eager for more. Our current pipeline includes more big-box outlets, poising Shoe Crazy Wines for national growth through self-distribution and partner distribution.\r\n\r\nFor more essays by drinks professionals, visit Outpourings: Industry Voices.