When TheSipSociety.com co-founder and CEO, Erica Davis, realized that many wine marketing firms were targeting women of color as only drinking sweet wines, she became concerned. As an avid wine lover, especially of dry high-end Champagne, she wanted other women to be able to explore different sparkling wine styles in order to discover what they liked.
“The way the wine industry was marketing didn’t work for us,” Davis reported in an online interview. “So we decided to create a space where people could decide what sparkling wine they liked without committing to purchasing a whole bottle of wine.” Thus the concept of the Sip Society was born: a subscription service where members receive a gift box containing 3 small bottles of sparkling wine every 2 months, including educational materials and a wine-related gift. They can then track their individual preferences online and build up a profile of wines they enjoy.
Though launched in January of 2020 during the roller-coaster pandemic months where sparkling wine sales dipped, the Sip Society was able to acquire over 16,000 customers, and achieve year-end revenues of $1.3 million in 2021.
Launching Sip Society During the Pandemic
Both Erica Davis and co-founder, Catherine Carter, grew up in Oakland, California. As two ambitious Black women they both attended university, and then started careers in other industries. “We were lucky,” said Davis, “because we both had excellent experience from our other jobs that allowed us to quickly launch the company and be successful.”
Davis graduated from University of San Francisco and then worked for both Gap and Darby Smart, specializing in merchandising and online content development. This provided her with valuable skills in brand and supply chain management, consumer insights, and financial forecasting. Carter, who serves as COO, graduated from UC Santa Barbara, and then worked in hospitality and property management, bringing years of operations management experience to the team.
It was during their weekly girl’s night, where they would get together to talk and drink sparkling wine, that they were able to solidify their vision for the business. “We did some focus groups with other female BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) groups,” said Davis “and realized there was a real need for our concept in the market. There is a critical need for diversity in the wine industry where less than 1% of wine brands are Black-owned.”
Carter defines their philosophy as: “(We) are shaking up the wine industry by making luxury beverages approachable and empowering people to find their flavor without breaking the bank. The philosophy is not to find a seat at the table, but rather build our own table and invite those underrepresented in the wine industry to sit, and Sip! “
“We launched in January of 2020,” reported Davis, “with a goal of finding our customers at festivals and online.” With all festivals and group meetings coming to a screeching halt in March 2020, they had to move to a 100% online platform. “The pandemic forced us to pivot and hone our product to market completely online.”
Finding Suppliers During a Supply Chain Shortage
Davis admitted that identifying suppliers for sparkling wine, packaging, shipping, and other resources to launch their business was a little difficult in the beginning. “It took us about six months during the planning phase (2019) to figure out how to import sparkling wine from all of the regions that we showcase.” (e.g., Champagne, Italy, Germany, Spain, California, etc.). “However, now we forecast 6 months out,” she continues, “and since we are not buying vintage Champagne, the supply chain issues are not as acute.”
In addition to purchasing wine from high-end Champagne producers, they also seek out small producers. “For the legacy (Champagne) brands,” reports Davis, “we purchase directly from distributors, but for the small mom and pop shops, we buy directly from them. We are especially seeking out new brands from black and women owned business. If they are not currently bottling in smaller format, we help them to understand that it will allow them access to a new customer base.”
The packaging for the Sip Society boxes with confetti, educational cards, and gifts was much easier because of Davis’s previous experience in this area. Providing discounts on additional purchases, credits for being a subscription member, and an engaging online platform with targeted social media campaigns was also a skill set that came easily to both founders, given their previous work experience.
Giving Back and Future Directions for The Sip Society
“Before we put pen to paper (on our business plan),” reports Davis, “we knew we wanted to find an organization that we could give back to with our business.” After some research, they decided to donate to the East Oakland Community Project. For every purchase on their website, the Sip Society gives access to clean water for women and children in need. “This year we actually exceeded the amount of water needed, so we are now looking for a new need that we can contribute to,” reported Davis.
When asked what is next for the Sip Society, Davis admitted that they are considering branching out into whiskey, tequila, vodka and still wines. “Right now we are venture-backed, and our margins are healthy,” Davis reported. “We are just getting started. We are focusing on helping women to celebrate and elevate everyday….to find their flavor preference without being told what it is. To realize it is OK to like whatever you like. As I always say: ‘Palate is like a finger print – it is special and specific to you.’”