When you see how successful a supermarket chain can be, a group of clothes shops or a string of busy restaurants, we tend to forget how it all came about. Someone, somewhere came up with the idea to start up a business, in many cases from scratch, and take on what amounts to, a ‘risky gamble,’ never knowing what the outcome would be. Becoming an entrepreneur, like Andrew Defrancesco, involves taking a big step and being prepared to put your life and soul into the project ahead of everything else and that will sometimes include the family, where home life is put on the back burner, so to speak. What makes it even more difficult to decide whether to take the project on or not, is when you’re already in employment earning a reasonable salary although not huge of say, thirty thousand pounds…
“You can be sure of many sleepless nights during the start-up. I went from a decent salary to zero practically overnight!” Tony Hernandez of ‘My Wines’ recalls, “It’s a tough time, even well into the period when the business is up and running, hardly seeing your wife and kids and arriving home late at night. I was taking a big risk and took a lot of talking to convince the family of the move. Night times were the worst when you can’t stop thinking about what you’ve got yourself into: not sleeping, watching my wife and kids whilst they slept and hoping everything would work out. What could make it worse – although not for me – is wondering whether you’ve done the right thing when there’s no turning back!”
Tony also sounded out about twenty individuals he felt would give him honest and sound advice and a balanced view of such an important undertaking and surprisingly, only one said, ‘don’t bother, don’t do it…’ “Yes, people like David Bentata and Raju Purswani (of TEO and MARBLE ARC fame respectively), individuals with years of business experience in the trade gave me good advice and I’m thankful for that. They confirmed what I thought was involved: it would not be easy, giving of yourself 100%, long hours and lots and lots of determination… They were absolutely right!” Preparing a business plan and not expecting to see any dividends till about three years into the start-up is also a very serious consideration when setting up a business. That’s a difficult road to travel and something, I would imagine, many rookie businessmen/women don’t take into account hence ‘closedown,’ in some cases, after a short period.
For some, it may be a desire to be brave and take on something different which may or may not work out for them. In Tony’s case, I think it was clearly in his psyche… Dad kept no less than three or four jobs on the go at any one time to provide for the family. Apart from his Dockyard job, he sold ‘pinchitos,’ did bar work and waited on tables, he worked hard and Tony hardly saw him. Meanwhile, grandparents on both sides would get young Tony to go up the Rock with other members of the family to pick rock lilies and sell them at 50 pence (old currency) a bunch. Tony, ‘The Entrepreneur’ would split each bunch into two to be financially rewarded twice! His granny used to make toilet roll covers of flamenco dancers and he’d go round from door to door selling them. He’d also help his other granny selling nuts and a type of salted beans (salaitos) popular in those days, making a few pennies there too. “My parents couldn’t afford my going to university so I took a job in Seruya’s perfumery store in Main Street as a messenger. I was 15 then and I was attracted to the idea of selling and by the time I was 17, I moved up the ladder selling in the store learning about the products from Pepe Nahon and Alfredo Traverso. I went to night school, learning Italian, did courses in perfume and accounting but later the store started to sell make-up and that was not to my liking. A job in Anglo-Hispano came up so I had to decide: perfume or wine? Selling wine is what I chose and eventually, after becoming a wine salesman visiting naval ships – many occasions on pleasant wine tasting missions – became manager at the Anglo-Hispano store at the beginning of Main Street which is now called VINOPOLIS.”
Tony was in his mid-twenties and had no idea about selling wine when he first started but already had a heightened sense of smell because of his time learning about perfumes, “The aromas are good for wine and I went on to do courses on wine too. I worked at Anglo for about ten years which included managing the store in Guadiaro up the road, serving the Sotogrande community in the main.” Our business-minded, wine store manager thought it would be good to start bringing wines from other countries also and not just the Spanish, French, Italian and little else, but his bosses were not so keen on that idea… so that’s when shortly after, it was time to talk to the family to get them to come round to his way of thinking and consider the prospect of giving up his well paid job and dive into the unknown!
Today, I think we can reasonably say, ‘My Wines’ is successfully over the ‘scary’ threshold. Now in its fourth year of existence, it has become a very popular wine shop selling wines from all over the world. Food is also on offer these days and after work, de-stressing wine drinkers are a common sight with many other wine lovers gravitating towards Chatham Counterguard and ‘My Wines’ at weekends. It’s a popular meeting place on Fridays which often turns into an ‘extended meeting’ well into the night. So, Tony and business partner Glen Sanders seem to have got it right whilst always being very mindful of the fact when running a business you have to continually keep your eye on the ball, be aware of changing trends and generally keeping on top of things: all, for much of the time, with little time to relax or taking it easy. Holding charity events is important for Tony and Glen and advertising through facebook is valuable too. It all has to be borne in mind and taken on board. Yes, running a business is ‘serious’ business where the venture could produce good, financial rewards (hopefully more than your safe, establishment job), but perhaps more importantly, producing great sense of achievement and huge satisfaction about what you’ve accomplished through sheer, no-nonsense, hard work.
So, is that it for Tony and Glen? Do they have enough on their plate to be getting on with…? No! The food side of the business is to be expanded to offer a full restaurant service… There’s the Wine Festival coming up soon… During his younger days, Tony was fascinated with the idea of opening a store selling comics re: batman, Superman, The Avengers etc. and all the marketing material that comes with those comic characters. Would I put my hand in the fire? The desire to develop the old idea is dead in the water and could not be re-awakened? I’d rather not get burned so, NO! Closer to home though and very much alive in his mind is the possibility of a chocolate shop. But, ‘one has just opened,’ I said… “Yes, but mine would be different based on the ‘wine idea’ of selling chocolate from around the world, something different!”
Evidently, the entrepreneurial spirit is innate and only slightly dormant in the man…We’ll have to wait and see. Good luck!!!