Are You the Kid Tap Dancing While Soccer Balls are Flying Around You?

There has been quite a lot written about being that girl on the right.  The last few of our blogs have had an underlying theme about vision, being in a class of one's own, and thinking outside the box.  There have been many people throughout history who have been that person on the right that were hugely successful -- Steve Jobs, to mention one name.  However, many people who were that person on the right believed in themselves and never really knew success.  Van Gogh, for instance, only sold one painting during his life.

Our ranch is located in a virtual sea of grapevines and wineries.  We, too, make wine -- but only for fun or maybe just to annoy ourselves.  When we decided to do something commercially, we thought, "Let's be different than everyone else.  Let's grow something that no one else on this canyon is growing, olives."  The olive oil soon followed.

While there is one winery on our canyon that sells olive oil, their business is wine.  We are the lone commercial olive oil producer in our canyon.  There is one other producer in San Miguel.  One might think that gives us market dominance.  It does not.  There is a market, but from San Miguel through Paso Robles, it is focused mainly on wine.  Starting out, we knew we would have to work very hard, but it did not occur to us that there wouldn't be wide-ranging acceptance of our product if we achieved the highest standards and won the highest honors.  

An olive producer on the other side of town wanted to offer food and have a tasting room.  All the wineries offer food pairings.  Many of the olive oil producers were present to offer support for this concept.  At a hearing about the matter -- because there needed to be a hearing about this edgy idea -- the County Planning Commission essentially responded that those are wineries; olive oil producers are not wineries -- NO.  They didn't even think we should be permitted regular business hours.  As we were leaving, very dispirited, one of the committee members offered a quote as consolation, that pioneers are often the ones found laying in the mud, face down, with an arrow in their back.  

In looking at the photo above, it is clear, we are the child on the right.  In an article entitled, "The Problem with Being Ahead of Your Time" by Tim Bryce, he states:

"Let's also recognize that being first in your field is not easy, in that you are ultimately inventing and cultivating your own market place.  Inevitably, you will make marketing mistakes along the way, which copycat competitors will leap on.  Further, they will offer inferior products at a greatly reduced price . . ."

While we are not the first in our field, we have made many of those early mistakes.  We have learned how very difficult it is to invent your own market.  There are challenges at every turn.  We have had people denigrate our product, then offer to take it "off of our hands" for nearly no money.  We have had people attempt to defraud us.  We have had a few of our own professional organizations snub us in favor of producers in the more trendy areas, such as Napa and Sonoma, despite our having won awards from those areas.

Mr. Bryce continues:

"The only true benefit of being the first in your field is that you have the market to yourself -- at least for a while."  

While this area may be one of the larger olive producing regions in the state, we are spread out and certainly not as cohesive of a group as the grape growers.  Many producers are finding their own niches, and there are some small victories.  The olive oil producer who was not permitted to have a tasting room and offer small plates persevered, and after being to required to jump through hoops and spend outrageous amounts of money, their tasting room offering small plates was permitted to open this month.  That pioneer got back up, wiped the mud off, pulled the arrow out and is a shining inspiration to all of us.  

We, too, have experienced victories, including having one of our olive oils named the Best in California this year, but for every victory achieved, there are 10-20 failures.  We have probably had more setbacks and failures this year than in any other year, and at times, it seems hard to continue.  Yet, we are continuing forward.  We will continue to educate the public on the benefits of incorporating olive oil into their daily lives; continue to strive to be the very best -- essentially, continue to believe in ourselves, our goals, and our products and to try to be so good, they can't ignore us.

However, part of creating that new market and making room for ourselves must include encouraging the community around us to recognize that it's not always about the wine, that we can both co-exist, both flourish, and possibly work together to add new dimensions to our businesses, as well as working together to help our community.  

There should always be room for the girl on the right, but in the end, we are left wondering:  

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