Denis Mackenzie - COO International Marketing and Vintner

As the COO of an international marketing company, Denis Mackenzie has a unique perspective on the business. His company is involved in the marketing of wine and spirits. It has offices in France, Italy, and Greece as well as in the United States. Mackenzie is currently based in New York City, but he spends many weekends and vacations at his winery near Erie, Pennsylvania.

Denis Mackenzie joined the marketing industry after graduating from college. He started in an entry-level position at a small marketing firm that concentrated on helping local businesses expand their reach. With time, he was able to take on several clients of his own, using his innovative marketing ideas to drive success.

After a few years at his first company, Mackenzie decided that he needed a change. He applied for a job at an international marketing firm and took assignments overseas. He learned French and Italian to communicate better with his clients. He became fascinated with the wine and spirits industry and enjoyed his time getting to know the producers.

Denis Mackenzie’s dream of opening his winery came true in 2001 when he purchased a small business near his hometown in the Lake Erie wine growing region of Pennsylvania. The winery had fallen on hard times, and reviving the business took a few years. His strong business fundamentals enabled him to grow his winery and to turn a profit.

Mackenzie’s winery is involved in local and national charitable work. He sponsors special events including paint and sip nights for members of the local community.

How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?

I bought my winery in 2001. Since I work for an international company that markets wine, I felt like I had a good understanding of the industry and its challenges.

How do you make money?

We make money through product sales and through booking our grounds for weddings and special events.

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

It took a few years to become profitable. The business had fallen on hard times. It took time to replace important equipment and make sure the harvest was of a good enough quality to make an enjoyable wine.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

When we started the winery, I had many doubts. Naively, I thought that all I needed to do was hire the right people and put in plenty of capital. The issues were more complex than money, and a good staff could fix. I found myself using my marketing skills to get back into the local market.

How did you get your first customer?

Our first tours and tastings were advertised in the local newspaper and online. It was exciting to see the first few cars pull up. It was even more exciting to see that the public liked our wine and wanted to come back again.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works well to generate new business?

Being part of our local industry group has been a valuable part of our marketing. People can create self-guided tours of the wineries in our area and discover what each winery has to offer.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

Recently, I had to let an employee go. His interests weren’t compatible with our business goals and ideals. I’m always disappointed to terminate an employee because each one represents a lot of training and investment. Unfortunately, when employees don’t respect their jobs, there’s nothing more you can do but cut off the relationship.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

Our quality wines make us successful. Once people try them, they’re ready to come back for more. Tasters compare our wine to a German Riesling, which is a high compliment. People also love our beautiful grounds. We have been doing good business as a wedding and event venue.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

I want to continue to grow our business. One of my goals is to start growing another type of grapes so we could go in a different direction with our winemaking. Starting new grapes is a time-consuming process that takes several years, so it would be quite a while before we would have the new product on hand.

What business books have inspired you?

Choose Yourself! By James, Altucher has impacted my life. It has encouraged me to start my side career as a winemaker.

What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?

We purchased a new sound system for weddings and events. It’s been a big help in making our guests’ wishes come true.

If you had to do it all over again, would you make the same choices?

Yes, I would. Each choice I have made has brought me where I am today. I am glad that I was able to spend so much time abroad. I feel like my travels were a defining experience for me as a person.

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