Donnie Austin moved to Ohio in 2001 for an engineering job at Honda Motor Co. Six years later, he decided it was time for a change.
Austin didn’t like his job, but he did like wine, and he wanted to share his passion and knowledge with others. So in November 2007, just as the U.S. economy began to nosedive, he quit Honda to open House Wine at 644 High St. in Worthington.
“I live in Worthington and felt like the market here was underserved. so the shop could be successful.”
It seems his hunch was right; the wine retailer will celebrate its fifth anniversary this month.
Austin is the first to say he opened House Wine at the “worst time possible,” but the business made it through− with a little help from his friends.
“One person instrumental for me early on was Brad Fisher of Fisher Wealth Management,” he says. “On top of his financial firm, he’s been involved with other businesses and we had numerous discussions before I thought the shop would happen. He introduced me to people who would become silent partners in the business. He’s also the perfect financial advisor for young entrepreneurs, especially when cash is critical.”
Fellow business owner Steve Weaver of The Candle Lab, as well as Austin’s wife and silent partners have also been critical to the shop’s success, he says, as they have varied professional backgrounds that provide him with a range of skill sets to tap into.
“Starting and operating a small business involves so many things outside of the core offering, and you’re likely not going to be well-versed in everything involved, like loans, leases, staffing, marketing, accounting and so on,” Austin says. “Since I don’t have a strong accounting background, that’s the one thing I don’t do for the shop. But I’ve been responsible for everything else to keep our costs down.”
House Wine currently offers about 400 wines −lots of chardonnays and cabernets due to consumer demand− and 100 American craft beers at prices that Austin says are competitive with those at other local independent retailers.
“The idea of House Wine is that we try to find really good wines for the money versus just flooding our shelves with everything available,” he says.
House Wine’s conscientious staff and an emphasis on customer service also make the shop stand out.
“We work with all the distributors in Ohio, so we can special order wines that our customers want,” he says. “We can do guided wine tastings for groups at our shop or at private locations. We offer free delivery for large orders. We also like to simply talk to our customers when they have questions about wines or an upcoming trip to a wine region.”
One way House Wine is trying to help itself, and other independent wine retailers, is by being a member of the Columbus Wine Collective.
The organization was founded this fall by six local shops to make it easier to pool money and resources for marketing, events, and special orders.
“We’re not really competing with each other as much as we are against big grocery,” Austin says. “We feel like we can offer more value to wine consumers and we thought, ‘Why not partner with each other to increase our overall market share?’ Columbus is becoming a more savvy wine market and we’ll be ready to take advantage of it.”
In the meantime, Austin is focused on expanding House Wine’s reach.
“I think our location in Worthington has been advantageous for our business,” he says. “We really have a strong customer base in our community and the surrounding neighborhoods as well, and we continue to build our customer base from longer distances away.”
To learn more about House Wine, visit HouseWine.biz.