- A flood shuttered Chrishon Lampley’s successful wine bar.
- After taking a break, she started a blog to keep her community informed about the wine scene.
- Lampley tapped into her audience and knowledge of the industry to launch her own brand of wines.
- This article is part of “Small Business Strong,” a series highlighting the resilient work of small-business leaders to overcome barriers and reach success.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Chrishon Lampley, the 48-year-old CEO and cofounder of the wine company Love Cork Screw, about how she pivoted after a business crisis. Insider has verified the business’ growth with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I was riding high when I decided to stop by my gallery and wine bar in Chicago on Christmas Day in 2011. After years of making money for other people, I had finally started building something of my own. During our two years in business, we had taken off, even being named “Best Wine List” by Chicago Magazine in 2009.
I opened the door, stepped in two inches of water, and immediately smelled the stench of sewer. A pipe explosion had caused our entire space to flood — a flood I soon found out insurance wouldn’t cover.
It was a mess, both literally and figuratively. I was watching something I had poured my heart, soul, and a lot of money into go down the sewer. It was a dark place, but my heart was still beating, so I still had a purpose — and I knew, eventually, I was going to create something else.
I gave myself a break but didn’t let my community forget me
I wasn’t ready to immediately build a new business. My wine bar had always been a side hustle, and I had a full-time job in wine sales and distribution to fall back on for financial stability. So I gave myself a break. I let myself wallow in bed a bit. I reinvested in my wellness and hobbies, including joining a weekly flag-football game.
During this time, friends and customers were still reaching out to me asking the sorts of things we’d talk about in the wine shop: “I’m going to this cool restaurant, which wine should I order off the list?” “I’m going to a party, what bottle should I bring?”
So I started a blog called Love Cork Screw about wine and things going on around town. It was partially out of a selfish place of wanting people to leave me alone while I processed this tragedy — I thought if I could give them the information they wanted, they’d stop reaching out. But I also wanted a way to stay connected to my customers when I couldn’t see them at the gallery anymore.
I started casually promoting the blog, sharing on Love Cork Screw’s Facebook page once a month when I’d write a new post, and then cross-post to my own page, where I had gained a decent following from my time at the gallery. The blog grew organically from there. Seeing this helped rebuild my confidence. If people were listening to me and they trusted me, what did that mean for my next step?
I realized what I brought to the table
The process of stepping away from the day-to-day requirements of my business was instrumental in learning more about myself and how I was affecting others. I was so stuck on keeping things running and making sure we stayed out of the red that I didn’t realize how strong my voice had become.
Through taking a break, I realized that this was one of my biggest strengths as a business owner. Customers enjoyed talking to me at the bar, and trusted me based on getting to know me. This understanding — combined with the fact that I was a terrible writer — led me to launch an online radio show, also called Love Cork Screw. The idea was to offer the experience customers used to get when they sat at the bar, and I’d cover wine and pop culture and the sorts of things I used to talk to customers about.
I still wasn’t after revenue at this point, but the radio show helped further solidify the brand and grew our audience.
Lampley promoting her wines at Total Wines & More in Dallas.
I organically followed the opportunity in front of me
Around three years after the flood, I felt ready to launch a business again and took stock of what I had learned in the time since.
I knew my voice was a strength, and I had already started to build a brand and audience around my knowledge of wine. I also knew I was a strong salesperson, but I wanted to work on something more sellable than art. I knew from my day job that there was a huge lack of diversity in the wine industry, and buyers were interested in supporting interesting, small-batch wines.
I was talking this out with a friend when I had an aha moment: I should launch my own line of Love Cork Screw wines.
We launched with six varietals in December 2013. We now sell tens of thousands of bottles a quarter in 17 states across the US, and we regularly make six figures in gross sales. In the past 10 years, I’ve also expanded the brand to include wine-scented candles, launched a home-goods line that allows me to tap into my love of art, and started a wine and spirits festival to use my platform to champion other underrepresented people in the industry — all of which has allowed me to quit my job and go all in on my business.
If I had turned around after the flood and opened another brick-and-mortar, I’m sure it would have been successful in its own right. But Love Cork Screw has been successful from a business standpoint and allowed me to be true to myself — something I never would have figured out if I hadn’t taken a step back, understood how I affected people, and considered new possibilities.