Waters Edge Winery franchisor learns from past mistakes | Overview of franchises

“With wineries, people won’t look favorably on them if they look like a McDonald’s or a Subway. Wineries have to be a little bit unique.

—Ken Lineberger


• Fusion of the passion for wine and coaching in 2004 to create The Wine Tailor.

• Founded 20 Waters Edge Wineries units in 2012 as a “micro winery” franchise.

How did you become a wine entrepreneur?

I loved wine, my wife and me too. We used to go to California wine country all the time and were certainly not experts at the time, but we knew quite a bit about it. And we came across this idea of, could we open a winery that wasn’t attached to the vines? None of us were interested in the agricultural side of the business. I started researching how can I bring in raw produce so I can make wine out of it, basically the crushed grapes. Then my second question was, can I figure out how to make this scalable and teachable until it can become a franchise? Those were my two goals from day one, and it took us until 2012 to answer those two questions with a positive and affirmative yes, we can do it.

Waters Edge Wineries is an emerging “urban winery” without a vineyard. How does it work?

The advantage of doing this is that we can put our wineries in an urban or suburban center, since we don’t have to be in the vineyards like traditional wineries. So we’ve found suppliers who can supply us with what’s called grape must or crushed grapes, and they do what I call hard science before it gets to us. So not only do they harvest the crops, but they basically process the juice for us and they have to balance the pH, make sure it’s the right level of sugar, the brix.


What is your best advice for a budding franchisor? What would you like to know?

Get outside advice from the franchisor early on. You have to surround yourself with honest people and ask for their advice, information and ideas. I think I definitely would have avoided some mistakes I made early on and would have been a lot further ahead than I was.

I think probably the biggest mistake I made was that when we founded this it would be nice to allow people to call themselves Waters Edge Winery or use what we call an affiliate brand name, that meaning they found it…that would be their trade name in their local market. We wanted to keep this franchise very localized because with wineries, people won’t view them favorably if they look like a McDonald’s or a Subway. Wineries have to be a bit unique, so this is one way we thought would help us create a unique niche in our system. But unfortunately it really disconnects people from the main brand if they race under their own brand, so we stopped doing that in 2018.

Some of the people who entered our system joined specifically because they could. It wasn’t like it was negative, it was very positive overall, but it didn’t help us grow our brand as quickly as if I just said, everyone’s a Waters Edge like a traditional franchise. I didn’t have the people in 2012 surrounding me now, so nobody challenged me on that.

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