It was late in the summer of 2008 and, not long after launching a wine consulting company, Dixie Huey had already reached her limits.
Trying to be an entrepreneur — building something essentially on her own — was too stressful. Too exhausting. Too fraught with risk.
"I can't do it anymore," she told her husband, Patrick, a t Rose's Restaurant in Vancouver.
He urged patience, reminding her she possessed the grit to do it. He recommended she continue on at least until December.
Huey took the advice to heart.
And, four years later, as she recently recalled the development of Trellis Growth Partners LLC — a two-person company that provides marketing and communications services to makers of wine, spirits and fine foods — it's clear she's glad she stuck with it.
"I love what I do," she said, as she and her colleague, Janel Lubanski, sat at a dining room table inside Huey's Camas home discussing their dreams, challenges and successes so far.
Media, marketing drive sales
Not only did Huey, 35, stick with her business, but she's achieving success.
By the end of 2008, about six months after the official opening of Trellis, the company broke even. This year, Trellis is expected to generate income of $150,000. The company, Huey said, is profitable.
To date, Trellis has worked with 40 clients. They include small-business owners with, say, a passion for making fine wine but who need a boost in attracting customers to buy what they've poured their heart and soul into creating.
Huey's Trellis Growth Partners steps in to provide that boost, helping everyone from a small, startup winemaker get off the ground to taking a medium-size, growing culinary company to the next level of sales and profits.
To those ends, Trellis offers four core services:
• A small-business communications suite, aimed at helping a company carry an effective message to consumers, including story pitches to media, email marketing and social media.
• The business launch platform, which helps startups — in the wine, spirits, culinary or hospitality industries — draw up plans, obtain licensing and develop marketing materials, among other objectives.
• Strategy and management consulting, which takes a comprehensive look at how to transform a business, including shoring up lagging sales or catapulting a company to a higher rate of growth.
• Marketing project management, which zeroes in on work a company may not be able to get to but may benefit from, such as conducting market research to make sure it's still on target or creating a new, fresher website.
Trellis charges clients anywhere from $1,000 for a one-day workshop to $70,000 for what Huey describes as a "major engagement."
Huey said Trellis tracks financial and other results for its clients. "We can point to driving $7,000 worth of online wine sales through an email marketing and social media campaign," she said of one project.
Huey is pursuing her entrepreneurial dreams during a heady time for wine and its attendant industries.
For example, a study commissioned by the Washington State Wine Commission and released in April showed that the number of wineries in the state continues to grow, from 534 in 2007 to 739 in 2011. "Most of Washington's wineries are small family businesses, as they are in most of the U.S.," according to the analysis, and "vineyards continue to be developed, with grape-bearing vineyard acreage growing from 30,500 acres to 35,000 acres, with several thousand additional acres planted in 2008-2009 still waiting to bear fruit."
Still, there are challenges.
Perhaps her biggest hurdle, Huey said, is persuading busy mom-and-pop wineries and other potential clients that they need — and will benefit from — what she's offering.
Nevertheless, she knows her stuff.
Her résumé is replete with stints as a public relations executive, a director of marketing and communications, and as a wine marketing instructor.
And she increased her in-house skill-set by hiring Lubanski in July 2011 as a client services assistant. Huey recently promoted Lubanski, who has six years of journalism experience, and gave her a new title: project and media relations manager.
Long term, Huey envisions adding more staff and relocating her company from its residential Camas confines to a new office. For now, she's focused on expanding Trellis' offerings to include more services for food companies and on making inroads into the broader beverage market.
Huey will tell you she doesn't have it all figured out. What is clear, though, is that she's proud of creating Trellis, a tough project that required cashing in an individual retirement account to help finance the company's startup costs.
Huey's doing what she wants to do. And she gets the biggest kick, she said, from watching her clients' businesses blossom. "That's gold for us."