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Selling Her "RedHead" Wine to Walmart

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 15, 2023 3:03 am

Selling Her "RedHead" Wine to Walmart

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 15, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we met Marisa Sergi at Walmart's "Open Call," where she pitched her RedHead Wine that is now in over 150 Walmart stores!

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What up, it's dramas from the Life as a Gringo podcast.

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Learn more about their clean standards and shop clean at Sephora Beauty at This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours. Send them to They're some of our favorites. And this next story is brought to us by Alex Cortez, who recently went to a fascinating event called Open Call, where Walmart opens their doors to over 500 entrepreneurs to come to their headquarters, what they call the home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, and pitch their American-made products to get into their over 11,000 stores.

And it's a part of Walmart's commitment to buy an additional 250 billion worth of American-made products over a 10-year period. And Alex now brings us the story of an entrepreneur he met there. Marissa Sergi is a redhead. I think the color of our hair gives us a platform to embrace our true selves.

So being able to have that stigma in the public eye that we are these sassy firecrackers that are forced to be reckoned with gives us the ability to really meet our full potential and be fun and quirky and not be ashamed of it because we already have the reputation. May as well meet up to it, right? And as you can probably guess by now, Marissa is. She started a wine company appropriately named Redhead at the age of 19, which you'd probably think is illegal to drink wine, let alone to sell it, but not in her state of Ohio. If both of your parents consent, you are legally allowed to have a drink. I've been drinking wine since day one, to be honest. My grandpa Sergi would give my sister and I thimbles full of wine and my mom hated it. She would complain and just scream, oh my goodness, you can't do this.

She's only like four or five weeks old. And my grandpa Dominic Sergi said, if you don't like it, you could pay for babysitting. And my mom stopped complaining. But hey, winemaking is in my blood figuratively and literally. I grew up in a very Italian-centered family and my grandparents immigrated here from Italy over 40 years ago and brought over the tradition of winemaking. So growing up, I always had lots of family and friends coming in and out of my grandparents' house, drinking wine and eating food, just like they were one of us. And it was definitely something that inspired me to carry on with the family tradition. My grandpa passed away. I was only two years old, so I don't have any memory of him, but I'm able to embrace his memory through making wine.

My father, Frank Sergi, he founded the winery where I work at called Lulabella Winery. It was just a label to start. I wanted to design a fun label after doing market research, just looking what labels appealed to me as a young person, not of age, but I knew labels were very important. So that's why I created Redhead Wine to have a very appealing label, yet having a high quality wine to match the packaging. And I was able to get a winemaking degree from Cornell University called Viticulture and Analogy. Which some people might think is a joke of a program. I mean, you're already doing enough tricking in college as it is, do you really need a major in it? You know what?

Yes. I love when people tell me that because the number one most failed class at Cornell University is the wines class within the hotel school. It's because people come in there and be like, oh, I'm going to drink wine all day, get an A and peace out. Well, when you fail and you can't get your diploma, it is a big deal.

It is a lot of wine chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, vineyard management, plant science, gen chem, advanced chemistry, organic chemistry, wine chemistry, one, two, and three. You can't just walk through the winemaking major at Cornell University drunk for the next four years. You know what I mean?

You got to pay attention, you need to know your stuff, or at least get help if you don't know what you're doing. I was a classic college student not paying attention in my class and I was texting and checking my email and I received an email that if you are a student entrepreneur and had a product or an idea to come to a meeting to receive free wings over Ithaca, best wings in Ithaca. I love hot wings.

They're very expensive. So as a broke college student, so I was like, I'm there. I don't have a business, but I had redhead wine. I happen to have a bottle with me on campus. So I was like, I'm hungry.

I'm going to check it out, get some wings and leave. Hopefully no one will notice me. But then I forgot I have red hair. I stand out. I also had a bottle of wine. So everyone's like, oh, wine, how cool. And then I piled my wings very high on my plate. And then one of the professors running that meeting was like, if you're a student entrepreneur, you must give an elevator pitch. This meeting, it's like crap.

I can't leave because everyone knows I'm here. So I didn't even know what a pitch was. I Googled wine industry facts, slapped something together, didn't completely fall my face in front of 100 people that were there. And two days later, I received an email from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that I was nominated as the Student Business of the Year for my college.

I was like, okay, I'm not a business owner. I don't know how to even pitch a business professionally at a competition, but here we are. I did not win the competition, but I learned so, so much.

I learned how to pitch a business professionally, all the business terminology that was really important to communicate when it came to costing and your market strategy, product market fit, target market, all kinds of stuff. I just was a winemaker with an idea. So after graduating college, I moved to Modesto, California, worked for a winery out there. Got about a year of experience, but I was like, okay, I'm 22 years old. I'm single.

I have kids. I'm just gonna see if I can make this dream a reality. I packed up my bags from sunny California, moved 3000 miles back to my childhood bedroom in Ohio and became a bootstrapped, unglorified entrepreneur to launch Redhead.

I knew I didn't want to be 80 years old on my rocking chair, drinking some gin and tonic one day and be like, I wonder if I did it. So here we are. It's happening.

It's getting real. And when we come back, we continue with this delightful voice, and it's Marissa Sergys, and she is the founder of Redhead Wine, based in Youngstown, Ohio. Her story continues here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation.

A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American So you're in the garage working on your car and you need the valves you bought last week. You look in the cabinets and on the shelves, but the parts are never in the right place. eBay Motors has the car parts you need. Over 122 million of them all in one place and all at the right prices.

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All of that available at And we're back with our American stories and with entrepreneur Marisa Sergi's story. The year was 2017, and she'd heard about an opportunity to pitch her Redhead wine to Walmart and their open call event.

I was just checking email. The Young's Talent Bus Incubator sent me the application, and I was like, wow, I have no chance. But I was like, the answer is always no if you don't ask.

Cross my fingers, send in the application, and I found out a few weeks later I was flying to Bentonville, Arkansas. So I was excited but nervous because I knew there was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When you pitch Walmart, it's important to understand how to work the best with Walmart and analyzing what's the benefit for them and how you'll bring them value. You can't just pitch your product and talk about your product and who you are and your business and how it's going to work.

You need to think about who you're talking to. You need to provide as much value as possible, and the product sales will come later. So I had a marketing professor from my issue help me analyze Walmart stores to see what percent of the market I could capture if they gave me a test market. And I believe that really showcased that we did our research. We understand we can't just drop a product on their shelf. Who's gonna buy it? What current Walmart customer is gonna purchase the wine type of thing?

And that really helped us a lot. I took a deep breath and just walked in there with confidence. Sometimes you gotta fake it till you make it, but the buyers were so kind and really interested. When Walmart invites you to open call, they want to work with you. Even if you walk away with a no or a maybe, there's still a chance. They want to make it work because they're interested in your product.

They want to be inviting you here to waste your time. But I really wasn't sure if it was a yes, so I asked them, hey, is this a yes? And they said yes, and I was very, very grateful for that. And when I walked out of the buyer meeting, I felt like I had an out-of-body experience.

I couldn't believe I pulled it off. I couldn't believe they said yes to Redhead Wine and allowed me to have an opportunity at my dream by creating a wine brand that could potentially be shared with the whole country one day. So the first person I called was my grandparents. Well, first people I called were my grandparents, and they were very excited.

And it was nice to share that excitement with them. And I put the boots on the ground and started hitting the pavement with sales. I'm a winemaker. I make the wine. But part of my test market, I had to pitch every single manager or department lead to get them to okay the product, and then I would be able to sell it there.

As many as I wanted in the state of Ohio, but I knew I could only handle between 30 to 60, so we capped it at that. I didn't want to bite off too much that I could chew because you have to deliver on time in full. You got to keep your commitments. The minute you're not honest in any business setting is the moment that you lose all of your potential and potential and credibility. So that's something that I really tried to emphasize when I was trying to pitch and grow the company. What was most important was the sell-through rate. Are you meeting home offices, minimum sell-throughs, just the number of units that you're selling per week, per month, per quarter?

Are you having a great reputation? Are customers giving good feedback and looking for your product? And 60 stores later, a year and a half in the future, we received modular space. You have a permanent shelf position reserved for your product and your product only. So that is the most prime possession you could have as a supplier, that you can't be kicked off the shelf by other competition. The home office has that little reserve sign for you with that tag, their price and UPC on it. And it's really cool to see on the shelf now.

It just happened a couple months ago. A small town, 25-year-old winemaker with zero budget survived a Walmart test market with just true grit, just going, showing up, asking questions. How can you serve this store better? What can we improve on? How are sales?

You have to have those conversations. Just because you're in Walmart doesn't mean you're set. There's a lot of work and responsibility that goes along with having this opportunity. It's pretty incredible that Marissa raised no money to start her business and she's now in Walmart. Zero. To be honest, I don't even care.

I'm going to keep it very real with you guys. In two years, I've only spent $5,000 in marketing. It's just being honest, customer relationships and putting my best foot forward. I think that's really helped because I am the winemaker. Third generation winemaker, it's what I love and I think my customers resonate with that because there's a lot of brands out there and some of the stories are not true. They're just made up, just a targeted market.

Redhead was made because I was hungry for hot wings and I had a bottle of wine with me. That's the real deal and I think that's why it's succeeding because I never overthought it. I just was in the moment. We employ about 40 people total at the company and we have hired at least six new additional employees due to a Walmart open call. We're very grateful to be able to do that, especially in Youngstown, Ohio. I know a lot of our job losses have been in the public eye. Like GM Lordstown closed, we lost 1,700 jobs.

Over 40 years ago, the steel mills closed, we lost 40,000 jobs. Being able to be from Youngstown, Ohio while creating a California quality wine by buying the California grapes while keeping the jobs in Ohio is super special to the area and although we're only hiring a handful of people compared to GM or the steel mills, it's exciting to know that we're at least affecting one additional family, maybe two, three, four and we want to continue to do so. Just really grateful for the opportunity to have a partnership with Walmart.

They've impacted not only my business but many in my community and of course the entire United States. They've committed to invest over 250 billion dollars back in the U.S. economy over this 10-year span that they plan to have open call and due to research that's going to create over 1 million jobs for our country and that's something that everyone should be grateful for every day. So really happy to be here. At Walmart open call 2019, 25-year-old Marissa was invited to speak before the 500 entrepreneurs hoping to get into Walmart stores at this event as she did. Ever since then I've been paying it forward because I'm just so grateful and want to help others and I think that's why Home Office invited me to speak here and be kind of a supplier on the inside helping everyone feel comfortable and confident to pitch.

Just realizing everyone's human. Just be honest, be real, be yourself and I think that's the moment that you could really succeed and do what you're sought out to do to make your dreams happen. Marissa only wished that her grandma could have been there to see how her sacrifice has paid off in Marissa's life. She is absolutely amazing. She only came here with a suitcase and a dream to give the future generations of the Sergi family a better life. So I work so hard because I don't want to waste her sacrifice. I wish she could be here today just to see what it's like to be at a retailer like Walmart and to see what I've been able to take from all of her sacrifices to be able to be one of the speakers this year at Walmart Open Call.

It's just something that I never imagined would happen but I'm here and I'm going to embrace every moment. Her name's Michaelina Sergi but her maiden name is Valentino. She absolutely loves wine. She's one of those traditional grandmas. You're making meatballs, homemade pasta.

You've ate at least three platefuls of food but you still have to have more and have dessert and an espresso. It's a real deal. So she loves any type of wine.

She loves and she definitely enjoys Redhead Red Blend. And you've been listening to Marisa Sergi and she's the founder of Redhead Wine based in Youngstown, Ohio. Marisa Sergi's story and Walmart's story and entrepreneur story too here on Our American Story. Welcome to Biggie Burger. I'll take a cheeseburger?

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-19 14:53:53 / 2023-02-19 15:02:32 / 9

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