No matter which team is crowned champion in South Africa, wine distributor Heritage Link Brands is hoping to come out a winner.
Selena Cuffe is the CEO of a company that distributes wine – not usually the traditional drink of soccer fans – yet she's been looking forward to the World Cup since 2005.
That's when, as a newly minted Harvard MBA on a business trip to South Africa for her then-employer, she attended the first annual Soweto Wine Festival. She found the wines – and the stories behind them – compelling. She was particularly drawn to wines produced by black South Africans, which make up less than 2 percent of the country's $3 billion wine industry. (The country's population is 85 percent black.) Soon after, Heritage Link Brands – which imports and distributes wine both from black South African-owned vineyards and those elsewhere on the continent – was born. (Read a 2007 Inc.article on Heritage Link.)
She and her husband Khary, a fellow Harvard MBA, poured $70,000 in savings into the company, which sold $100,000 its first year. Last year they sold $1 million. This year they're expecting sales to grow by 35 to 40 percent, thanks in part to the World Cup. "I started the company knowing 2010 would be our year, which it's shaking out to be," she says.
Los Angeles-based Heritage is using the tournament as the basis for its own "Heritage Wine World Cup," a social media contest where each week the votes of Facebook fans and Twitter followers determine the winner in a match-up between two Heritage wines. The winning wine of each bracket advances to the next round, a la the FIFA version. There's also a pool component, where the person who chooses the most winners takes home a prize: a year's membership in the company's wine club, plus dinner with winery owners in the fall. (For social media branding tips, click here.)
"The point is to engage people to not only vote, but to encourage others to vote for their favorite wine, thus increasing their own chances of winning," Cuffe says. "We hope to increase our fan base and encourage people to buy."
In the run-up to the World Cup, the company has also been doing tastings around the U.S. to create brand awareness, celebrate the game, and of course, sell more wine. Heritage will also be the official wine supplier of the Chicago World Cup "Final Match" viewing party, which will have an estimated 20,000 guests at the city's Soldier Field.
Earlier this year, Heritage won a Small Business Administration loan partly to help its World Cup promotion efforts. The money hasn't come through yet – "thanks to government bureaucracy," Cuffe says, but the company was able to secure a $5 million capital commitment from a Canadian American venture capital firm. A reality TV show is also in the works. Stay tuned.
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.