Barefoot Wine founders talk cause-related marketing and business strategy at UNCA

BUSINESS BUZZ: Since building and selling a successful alcohol brand, Barefoot Wine founders Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan have turned to consulting, writing and speaking engagements to share their business insight. UNCA's Family Business Forum hosts the couple on Friday and Saturday, March 19-20. Photo courtesy of Harvey and Houlihan

Barefoot Wine co-founders Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan are headed to Asheville to share the secrets of their ultra-successful alcohol brand. UNC Asheville’s Family Business Forum will host the couple for two talks on Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20.

Thursday’s free presentation, “How to Build a Number One Brand,” sees the two explaining how they built “a winning brand with little money and zero wine industry experience by employing innovative ideas, creating new markets and strategic alliances, and pioneering ‘worthy cause marketing’ and performance-based compensation.”

“Frankly, we discovered the power of worthy cause marketing almost by accident, but once we did, our company really took off,” says Houlihan. “We gave away wine at fundraising events, we worked festivals, we got out into the community and talked about causes we were passionate about and Barefoot wine in the same breath. It was very much a grassroots effort, and because we worked hard, had fun, and believed in what we were doing, it paid off.”

The talk takes place at UNCA’s Humanities Lecture Hall from 7-9 p.m., and the first 150 attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the couple’s New York Times bestseller, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, according to a post by UNCA. Click here to complete the required registration.

On Friday, the couple tackles the often daunting prospect of going into business with one’s significant other, sharing the “charms and challenges of working together” along with seven critical tips for long-term success as a team. “Are You Married to Your Spouse, Your Business or Both?” — free for Family Business Forum members and $80 for guests — takes place in Sherrill Center’s Mountain View Room from 8-10 a.m.

Harvey and Houlihan had no idea they were concocting what would become a globally distributed when they began their venture in a rented farmhouse laundry room in the late ’80s. Bootstrapping their way to the top, however, certainly paid off for the couple, who sold Barefoot Wine to E&J Gallo in 2005 and watched their product became the largest bottled wine brand in the world. They now consult for businesses of all sizes and also write and regularly host presentations to share their strategies for success.

Entrepreneurial Ashevilleans or those with a general curiosity about the Barefoot story can learn more about the upcoming events by visiting UNCA’s event page or by contacting Cindy Clarke at or 232-5091.

About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.