The Vino Van Introduces New Audiences to the World of Wine

Jun 12, 2024

During COVID-19 the Vino Van has continued to share wine knowledge with virtual tastings, cooking demos, and Wine 101 classes, including one for Groupon employees.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses of all types have had to reconfigure their operations and find new ways of working, particularly in the Food & Drink and Things To Do categories with fewer customers going out for food and entertainment. However, some business owners have found ways to not just survive, but thrive. Billie Harris, founder and vinologist at The Vino Van, LLC, is one such business owner.

Founded in September of 2017, the Vino Van is described by Harris as “Atlanta’s premier wine tour experience.” It takes passengers up to north Georgia, including the areas of Helen and Cleveland as well as some parts of Dahlonega, where customers visit some of the region’s finest vineyards and tasting rooms. The all-inclusive tours include round-trip transportation to and from Atlanta, a gourmet lunch, snacks, bottled water, and even a carafe of mimosa to get the party started.

In addition to that, Harris also hosts private and public wine-tasting classes. “Some really good Wine 101, everyone leaves with a very good working knowledge of wine. I tell people all the time, ‘It’s for the novice as well as the experienced wine-drinker, everyone can learn something.’”

At Groupon, we’ve committed to helping local businesses adapt to lockdown and what comes next, while also celebrating the diversity of the merchants on our platform. To reinforce those values, we recently spotlighted the Vino Van as part of a company-wide initiative where merchants share a virtual experience with our global team. Before giving us an overview of wine basics and Georgia’s vineyards and wineries, Harris spoke to us about how she has adapted to the new normal of COVID-19, and about how Groupon has helped the Vino Van grow and reach more customers.

Adapting To New Challenges While Celebrating Diversity

You were featured in Groupon’s National Black Business Month campaign in August, and our National Women’s Small Business Month campaign in September. What does it mean for you to celebrate your identity and work, how does that play a role in how you run your business?

Simply put, it means everything to me, because the Vino Van was started with my passion. I built it from the ground up, meaning no loans or anything to start my business, not even necessarily prior experience in the industry. A lot of people may have had experience in the service industry at a hotel or restaurant and so forth, but I didn’t really have that. I literally just had my love and passion for food and wine. I started taking these Wine 101 classes at Emory and I realized that wine was life, wine was culture, wine was history, it was all these things that were important to me. So I took that and I ran with it.

I realized, as a woman of color, that this would be an eye-opener to my culture and my community, as far as the wine industry goes. It was a real honor to be able to showcase my services and be able to promote my business, and basically just share my love and passion for wine with everyone that I could. I definitely appreciate Groupon allowing me that opportunity, because it was amazing, it was everything.

But needless to say, I have indeed faced my fair share of adversity in the wine world. I’ve used those skills that I’ve learned along the way as far as how to deal with that, and I’ve flipped it. It’s been my driving force, to kinda keep trucking and keep moving along and continuing to educate myself, so therefore I can provide more knowledge to the people who come aboard my van and the people who attend my tastings. So, this has been a wonderful experience for me.

The pandemic has forced many businesses to face things they’ve never had to before. As a Black woman business owner, how have you used your experience to face some of those challenges?

Well, I like to put it this way: I’ve learned how to take lemons and make limoncello, not to mention that’s a very delicious beverage. But, I’ve just sort of rerouted that as well. I took the opportunity during this pandemic to refocus on the past years, and what I’ve been able to do for the wine community in Atlanta, and how I’ve been able to help them create these wonderful memories when they take the tours and experience my tastings. Because nowadays, memories of how things were prior to the pandemic are what we kind of have to go off of.

In that respect, I feel like I’ve done well. Because now, I’ll even see on my feeds where people will share those memories on Facebook and Instagram. It makes my heart happy to see that, because my followers are remembering these wonderful times that we’ve shared, aboard the van and at the vineyards. It’s very heartwarming for me.

I’ve also taken this time to brainstorm and reflect on some of the things I’ve done in the past, and figure out ways to continue providing the same experience but delivered in a different way. That includes the virtual wine tastings I’ve done, and the wine pairing and cooking demos that I’ve teamed up with local chefs for, because folks have found their inner chef now. More people started cooking during the pandemic, myself included. So I just kind of rerouted a little bit, and figured out some other ways to still get the job done.

We featured you in a social post where you showcased Black-owned rosés. In that spirit, what’s your creative approach to finding and engaging new customers?

I look around social media and try to see what people are responding to and engaging with the most, whatever sparks their interest the most, and I try to incorporate wine into that perspective. That being said, I’ve sent out some surveys, because I’ve still got my database of what I call “friends in wine,” that’s what I refer to my customers as. I’ll send out surveys to them asking, “What would you like to see? Would you like more wine education, would you like to learn more about the grapes themselves, varietals, winemaking?” Just kind of ask them what they’re looking for, what they want to know more about, and build off of that and create other experiences, virtual experiences, based on that research that I’ve done. I’m a big researcher.

As part of our Women’s Small Business Month campaign, Groupon put out a survey which found that 54% of respondents fear they may potentially have to permanently close because of what they’ve faced, and 25% expect it’ll take at least a year to get back to pre-pandemic times. In that spirit, what can Groupon continue to do as a partner to support women small business owners?

Basically, continuing to do what you’re doing, really. It has been a tremendous help for my business and I’m sure for other women-owned businesses that’ve had the opportunity to participate in this as well. That is definitely the most important part, because you’ve offered an extended platform on top of the one we already have, definitely more exposure for our businesses by you continuing to highlight us and promote our goods and services, and I really appreciate that. So really continue to do what you’ve been doing. I must honestly say, that out of all of the other companies that I am affiliated with, Groupon has by far done the most in helping to promote and market our businesses during these times. I can confidently say that, and I’m very grateful for that.

Take Your Business Further With Groupon

As business owners look for creative ways to realign their business to overcome new obstacles, it’s worthwhile to see how merchants have used their experiences to inform new ways of doing business. If your business is also facing new challenges, consider becoming a Groupon merchant to set yourself up for a healthy recovery and post-COVID success. There’s no upfront cost to run a campaign, and we’re dedicated to helping business owners like you emerge stronger than ever.

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