Last week, the Yankee Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) hosted its annual summer social at the LaBelle Winery in Derry, NH LaBelle Winery – Amherst, Derry & Portsmouth NH.
As part of the fun, members heard directly from founder Amy LaBelle the story of overcoming obstacles to realize her dreams, and lessons learned along the way. Though her previous career was in corporate law, she has all the right instincts when it comes to public relationship-building and marketing.
Lesson 1: Listen To Your Gut. While on vacation in Nova Scotia, a visit to a local winery was the triggering event for Amy to leave her law career to pursue her passion for winemaking. By working nights and weekends with her co-owner and husband Cesar Arboleda, she has grown her business from making her first few bottles of wine in her Boston apartment to a multi-location winery that produces 80,000 gallons of wine a year and employs 115 people. The Derry facility, her second location, includes a 9-hole golf course, miniature golf, an event room which currently hosts a summer performance series and the LaBelle Market.
Lesson 2: Start With Research. A self-described “voracious reader”, Amy read books on how to make wine, talked with other winemakers and then experimented until she perfected the chemistry to produce award-winning wines that range from Riesling to Rose to the recently-introduced Tannat, a rich red with black fruit tones of plum and cassis. This year, LaBelle will begin producing its first-ever sparkling wine.
Lesson 3: Create An Organizational Culture Where Employees Are Like Family. Amy founded LaBelle Winery in 2005 and opened the flagship winery in Amherst, NH in 2010 – then expanded to Portsmouth in 2017 and Derry in 2021. Throughout the journey, hard-working employees have been the foundation of her success, helping her expand the business to include catering, weddings and wine-tasting events. When the pandemic hit, Amy was forced to lay off staff members; but customers stepped up to support LaBelle Winery and tipped employees generously. The remaining employees pooled their tips to help support those individuals who had been laid off.
Lesson 4: Don’t Take “No” For An Answer. Starting a business in 2010 was no easy task, following the volatile economic years of 2008-2009. Amy met with 4 banks, receiving a “no” when asking for a substantial loan to fund her vision for LaBelle. Instead of giving up, she refined her presentation and finally got a “yes” from Enterprise Bank in Lowell, MA. Committed to Community, Committed to You | Enterprise Bank (enterprisebanking.com) They not only gave her the loan, but they offered to pause her loan payments so she could sustain the business through the difficult COVID-19 era.
Lesson 5: Give Back To The Community, And They Will Give Back To You. The philosophy at LaBelle has always been to give back to the community – and those strong community relationships paid off when customers stepped up to support them during the pandemic. LaBelle has since created “Empowering Angels” – a charitable organization that empowers girls and young women. She spoke of partnering with Girls Inc. on a program called “Empowerment Through Entrepreneurship”. The workshop is designed to teach girls ages 11-13 how to develop a business plan and pitch it, and plant the seeds of confidence required to start your own business.
Rapid growth can be exhausting, and LaBelle has promised her employees they will “take a breath” and enjoy the success they have all created in 2022 … but I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more about this award-winning winery in the future. 2021 Business Excellence Winner: Amy LaBelle of LaBelle Winery (nhbr.com)
Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations & management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH. For more information about JJ&W, contact Robin at 603/770-3607 or firstname.lastname@example.org.