Carl knows wine and the fact that it’s never to late to jump ship to pursue one’s passion.
In 2020, Carl Bird completed the Self-Employed Program with SAJE to officially launch Carl Knows Wine. During this interview, we understand that he knew how to size every opportunity to learn about wine during his long accounting and finance career in the Canadian Navy and the public service, although the thought of becoming a sommelier, let alone an entrepreneur had never crossed his mind.
Carl spent 17 years in the Canadian Navy, followed by 19 years at the Territorial and Municipals levels in the areas of finance and accounting. Carl’s passion for wine began early during his Navy career in 1985 while he was responsible to ensure the ship was carrying quality wines to be served at the captain’s table and for the officers’ and crew’s special dinners. While he was in Yellowknife, Carl joined the Opimian Wine Club in 1995 and in 2000 took on the role of Area Representative for the club. Over 15 years, Carl organized events for the members of Club. He also had the opportunity to travel around the world to meet the winemakers that provided products to the club. In 20115 Carl moved back home to Montréal to work for Opimian at their head office. Unfortunately, his position was eliminated in early 2019, and that is when he decided to branch out on his own and form Carl Knows Wine.
What did SAJE bring to your entrepreneurial journey?
“I was fortunate enough to be assigned to SAJE when I started my journey into entrepreneurship. My background gave me an excellent grounding in financing, accounting, and business planning. While I was given credits for those classes, the other modules taught by the SAJE team were critical. Being an entrepreneur, it’s a whole different world and I have learned so much with this program. Learning to use their documentation, marketing, sales, the importance of using social media… These are the tools that SAJE brought to me. I also benefitted from interacting with other new entrepreneurs just like me.”
What is the mission of Carl Knows Wine?
“I want to help people to expand their wine buying experince, to allow them to try something different rather than their “go to” wine at the SAQ.”
“I want to offer wine lovers a relaxed and casual educational experience to drive their understanding of wine. I keep it simple! It doesn’t have to be difficult. You just have to notice what you like and start looking at other wines with a similar flavour profile.”
How have you managed to position your company since the pandemic?
“I started in August 2019. I had some successful events and I had great opportunities for growth before the pandemic arrived. Then, I asked myself how to keep it going. I was lucky enough to be referred by a former Opimian colleague of mine to a group in Alberta that was looking for a sommelier to help them conduct a virtual wine tasting. This led me to pivot to virtual tasings n zoom with an average of 5 to 8 people per session. During the summer of 2020, I was able to go in the client’s backyards and offer tutored wine tasting sessions… So, I really took advantage of all those opportunities, and it continues to go very well.
I also reached out to a restaurant franchise to help them improve their wine list. This is going very well. The nice things about this mandate is that I don’t have any expense for buying wines or cheeses and such. It’s my time, my effort, and my knowledge that I am selling so this provides excellent cash flow to the business.”
What are the main challenges you have faced over the years and what were the solutions?
“For me it was the marketing parts. Especially being active on social media – creating content, regular postings, etc… I know it’s very important to be there… I kept working with Facebook and LinkedIn community groups that are interested in services like mine.”
“Also, I belong to a networking organization with entrepreneurs, employers and corporate professionals who sometimes find it hard to refer me to my clients. So, I tell them that when their clients start talking about upcoming celebrations, that’s when they can tell them about my services – a wine bar at their corporate event, an in-home wine and cheese tasting to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, and other things like that. This has worked very well and I have received very positive feedback and it went very popular. Referrals are a great way to provide me clients.”
What advice would you give to a start-up entrepreneur?
“No matter what you are doing, go to Emploi Québec and they will find out if what you are trying to do is ellegible for the Self-Employed Program like I did.”
“Go with an opened mind and get into some other groups like Chambre de commerce.”
“Use your own network.”
What are your plans with Carl Knows Wine?
“Being more active on social media with Carl Knows Wine by doing short video about wine and ask them to send me email if they want to know more about it. Eventually I would like to create a subscription program where people can subscribe and get access to free webinars, blog information and wine-buying recommendations.”
We thank Carl Bird for this interview and wish him all the best with his projects.