Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Nicole Ward. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Nicole, appreciate you joining us today. We’d love to have you retell us the story behind how you came up with the idea for your business, I think our audience would really enjoy hearing the backstory.
I came up with the idea for my business in 2017 when I got engaged to my now-husband. I’ve spent my entire career in the wine and hospitality industry so when planning my bachelorette party, I noticed a major void in wine-themed apparel and gifts. Nothing interested me – the merchandise I was encountering was all the same. After doing a lot of research I found out that the majority of these merchandise companies were home hobbyists using the same software that has built-in wine-themed designs. To me, nothing had a story, nothing was unique, and anyone can buy a machine and do that work. I also noticed there was a large segment of the companies based in China.
I wanted to create my own designs that were unique and spoke to me and to other wine professionals. I felt this would work because, with a background in wine, I would be more creative and offer merchandise that would not only speak to your wine and epicure consumer, but also to wine and culinary professionals. I also wanted to speak to the brides for bachelorette parties that aren’t looking for pink or ultra-girly designs, as well as mature brides (which I was).
Nicole, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I grew up in a family that always had dinner together and my Mother was and still is a great cook. Her Mom was also a great cook and has roots in Sicily and loved having the entire family over for holidays and celebrations. I loved this hospitality and gathering around the table. So much so that at the age of 16, I took a job in a fine dining Italian restaurant as a bus girl. Little did I know this would shape my career. I had my first taste of Chianti, learned how challenging the restaurant business is and that it’s not for the weak, and that food is what brings people together.
Through college I worked in restaurants as a server, after graduating I worked as a bartender, and then had a 9-5 desk job which I knew wasn’t my future. I couldn’t stand sitting all day. So, I went back to restaurants full-time and made my way into managing F&B programs. After several years of fine dining service, I moved to work as a wine sales professional where I received multiple certifications. I’ve traveled all over California and Europe learning the regions/wines and also working harvest for 3 seasons. Wine had become a major passion in my life and still is to this day.
It is from this career and living in California as a surfer, skier, and organic gardener that fuels a lot of my designs and tips that I offer my clients and Social Media followers. I am never short of a story and am passionate about pleasing my customers, some of who like a personalized touch to a shirt or apron. Through the pandemic, I learned a ton about graphic design and love that I can create things specific for my customers.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about selling platforms like Amazon/Etsy vs selling on your own site.
When I first launched Wine Expressions I started out on WordPress. It was a very basic website I built myself and realized I needed a better design, so I hired a web designer who brought it to life and got me set up with WooCommerce. At the same time, I was operating on Etsy. After about a year, Etsy continued to be my main source of sales and I was beginning to wonder if something was going on with the website. Since I was my own website manager, I learned more than I really thought I knew. I dove deeper into analytics, SEO, and everything on my own. I didn’t want Etsy to be my main source of sales because their % cuts are rather high.
I started to research more about Shopify and then made the switch. I created my own website and migrated everything from WordPress myself. Within the first month on Shopify, I had substantially more sales compared to WordPress. I also noticed my presence on Google was stronger.
Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?
Social Media of course is important to anyone’s brand and you have to put in the work. I literally put aside time every day to try and find new people to follow, as well as engage with.
My biggest pet peeves are people who use bots thinking it will give them an edge, those who follow to unfollow, and those who don’t follow back when there is a relevant follower. I don’t understand why people think it makes them look cool if they have, for example. 1K followers but only follow 150. To me, that says you don’t care about your followers, and in my eyes, that is not cool.
A major piece of advice is that you don’t need to be on every social media platform, put your energy where you enjoy and see results. You can have a presence on many but you will drive yourself crazy trying to create content for every single one.