Ep: 58: FitVine Wine Co-owner, Mark Warren
Mark Warren, Co-Founder of FitVine Wines, lives about 20 minutes outside of Boston, with his wife and 2 boys, 14 and 9 years old.
Before FitVine, Mark had built and sold a tech company that focused on being the behind the scenes support for large companies executing national rollouts of technology products. He has always been involved in fitness at some level since he was a child. Mark began playing soccer at 5 and by the time he was 12, that changed over to a much stricter discipline, TaeKwonDo.
He studied intensely for 10 years, 6 days a week, many of those days were 5-6 hours at a time, and competed at a national level for almost 10 years during which he obtained his 4th degree black belt. He continued to train with it on a lesser degree for another handful of years, but in that time frame, worked with and learned a great deal about overall health and fitness from multiple backgrounds.
Mark had a break for a few years until 2011 when he discovered CrossFit. CrossFit had almost the same intensity of his early days of training in martial arts and he has been hooked ever since. Now at 40, Mark doesn’t have the time to train multiple hours a day and compete, but more to stay healthy and be a good example for his boys.
The overall love of fitness is what brought he and his friend and also Co-Founder, Tom Beaton, to search for a healthy solution to incorporating alcohol into fitness. They’ve always been huge wine fans and knew that wine in essence, already had healthy components to it and how could they improve upon that and bring it to the fitness and active community…hence, FitVine Wine was born.
Mark Warren – Show Notes
How did you get started in health and fitness?
Mark says that it was a bit scary starting TaeKwonDo at an early age, as his master was a very old school instructor, but after a couple of months he was hooked on the discipline. TaekwonDo became the focal point of his life for about 10 years, as he was training 6 days a week for 6 hours each day. Like other in other sports, he was always trying to find the “red line” or how far the body could be pushed.
“That’s my first real dive into health and fitness, where we really started to pay attention to our bodies”
In his mid-20’s, he got married and had kids, but kept training other people to stay healthy. In his work with doctors and other health professionals, Mark got a better understanding of functional movement and his involvement in CrossFit just helped him dive deeper into the science of this. He knew how important it was teach this knowledge to his children as well.
“How could you move in a normal way that could enhance your life so that as you get older, you can still move?”
How did FitVine Wine come about?
The tech industry was something that Mark just stumbled into by working at a few start-ups. It was there that he met one of the co-founders of FitVine Wine, Tom. Mark always enjoyed wine and wanted to combine it with his love of fitness.
“We knew that wine has its place (in fitness), it’s just how can we incorporate it?”
They met their other partner Zach, who had a chemistry background and came from the liquor industry. It took the three a couple of years to develop what they wanted to do; to offer a clean wine for the active lifestyle.
“The more we dug, the scarier it got”
Mark shares that other companies don’t tell consumers what’s in their wine, and the government actually allows 76 additives that don’t have to be listed on the label. This means that wines could contain harmful chemicals and pesticides, as well as having too much sugar.
How is your wine different than other brands?
Mark notes that’s they start with the grapes they use, which come from higher elevation. They also use a longer fermentation process, which lets the wine take its natural course of what it’s supposed to be doing.
With the higher costs involved in making FitVine Wine, they knew they would make less money, but have a great tasting wine that 90% of the people could afford.
A main target market for them is people who are already spending money on higher-end workout clothes and organic food, and aren’t afraid to spend more to get a higher quality product. Mark says that they have a secondary, but important market, where they cater to the “aspirational group.” These are consumers who are looking for a release point; where they can have alcohol and still stay on track with their goals, even if they aren’t competitive athletes.
“We’re not telling you ‘No” (you can’t have alcohol), we’re just give you a better option”
To Mark and his partners, it was very important not to sacrifice taste. Like with food you cook, wine doesn’t need sugar to taste good.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
Finding the right wine maker to produce a great tasting, quality wine was a challenge, but Mark says the biggest one that they’ve faced is with distribution. In the United States, distributors act as gatekeepers as companies can’t sell direct to stores in most states. To solve this, they did a soft launch where they initially hired no public relations firm and sold line online, which is permitted in most places. For the first 8 to 10 months, they about 400 events in places like yoga studios and at mud runs to get the word out about their product. Neither of the three partners have a marketing background however.
“We were playing in a space that was tough to break through”
Once people tasted the wine and found they really liked it, stores started receiving requests for FitVine Wine. At that point, Mark and the partners knew that they had something and started planning the next steps, which was expanding their online presence and using traditional channels to get into stores, restaurants and bars.
They found a great marketing team, which he says was a crucial part of the puzzle of getting to the next level, but it was challenging to find the right one.
“I’m sure many of the (marketing companies) are excellent; it doesn’t mean they’re excellent for your brand”
As a result of their efforts, Whole Foods Market reached out to them in May. Although it was a huge victory for the company, working with a large corporation presents other challenges, like delays.
What is your biggest success so far?
Along with the Whole Foods deal, getting the chance to be the official wine of IronMan events has been another big success.
What books have impacted you the most?
Richard Branson’s “Losing My Virginity”, “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell and “A Man and his Mountain” by Edward Humes have been three books that have made a big impact on Mark.
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