The True Vine Wine Company – a parable

The True Vine Wine Company

A Parable[1]

In 1925 the True Vine Wine Company was formed through a union of three independent organizations. Through this merger, True Vine became the second largest Canadian producer and retailer of sacred vintages, known as “Holy wine”. The largest retailer in the nation sold one vintage only, which it labeled RC wine.

This merger strengthened the organization. A period of consolidation followed, reducing the duplication of franchise outlets in the same geographic areas. Forty years later the company was opening new franchises at a rate of one per week. Each independent franchisee felt positive about the future of the True Vine Wine Company, even though by 1960 the total number of customers had started to decrease.

Over the years the True Vine Wine Company both produced and retailed a limited variety of vintages of “Holy wine”, but no new brands. These vintages continue to be produced for sale in 2014. Most True Vine franchisees offered only one of the three best-known brands. It was not unknown for each franchisee in the same geographic area to offer only one brand of “Holy wine” as their specialty. True Vine also had a monopoly on training franchise managers and this nurtured a “brand loyalty” among franchisees.

Sales of vintages from the True Vine Wine Company have been in a slow and steady decline since the late 1950s. At first, nobody was concerned. In fact, True Vine does not have a market research division within the firm. When the number of customers continued to drop in the 1990s, the True Vine Wine Company hired a consultant to examine the reasons why.

The consultant’s 1994 report was called, “Wine Trends”. He reported that there were many people in the nation who were purchasing wine, and that the market was becoming larger. However, Canadians were not purchasing the “Holy Wine” produced and sold by True Vine. Somehow, the vintages from the True Vine Wine Company had lost their flavour and appeal to the populace as a whole.

The consultant advised the True Vine Wine Company that it would need to develop new brands, and market its vintages in different ways. His survey showed that there were many potential buyers, and many who actually considered themselves customers of True Vine. “Wine Trends” recommended that the True Vine Wine Company engage in an active program of sales and marketing to meet the “needs” of these potential customers.

The franchisees, and their customers, were not impressed. After all, they had had a long history of being a “successful” producer and marketer of “Holy wine.” They insisted that their brands of wine were the very best of “Holy wine”. The lack of customers had nothing to do with the type of wine being offered; or its flavour. The problem was that customers were buying new, inferior, watered-down wines. The franchisees of the True Vine Wine Company told each other how the rest of the world was missing out on great vintages. They agreed amongst themselves that the taste of True Vine’s vintages was perfectly OK. Faced with the prospect of developing new brands to meet current market conditions, the True Vine Wine Company preferred to cater to its existing base.

Customer numbers continued to decrease in the 1990s, and the first decade of the 21st century. New customers were rare. Some of those who became part of True Vine’s franchises were former adherents of other brands of “Holy wine”. The offspring of True Vine customers ceased to purchase True Vine products. The ritualistic first dip into “Holy wine” for newborns became an arcane act for their households. Franchises, and their managers, reported however, that their continuing, aging customers were quite satisfied with their particular brand of “Holy wine”.

Late in the 20th century, franchises began to fail. Some turned to renting their production facility to others, including other wineries, in order to maintain their financial viability. Marginal franchises cried out for assistance. The True Vine Wine Company advocated re-structuring at the local level (mergers and amalgamations), rather than the development and marketing of new brands of wine, contextual to the 21st century.

Services from the national and regional offices of True Vine continued to be reduced, decade-by-decade, as sales decreased. A pay-for-service team was offered to assist franchises edge into the 21st century by adopting best practices of other vineyards. True Vine’s public profile decreased. Franchises became isolated from each other.

By the end of the 20th century franchises for the True Vine Wine Company were predominately in rural and small-town Canada, which had become an urban nation. True Vine franchises were closing, both in rural and urban areas. Their future as an organization was on the minds of many principals in the True Vine Wine Company.

At the same time, there were franchises that had developed new production, sales and marketing techniques. However, these were few and far between. Most franchises continued to offer the same brands as were available in 1925.

At a national meeting of franchisees in 2012, it was decided that the structure of the True Vine Wine Company ought to be reviewed, and possibly changed, to meet the needs of their franchisees in the 21st century. Organizational change had been suggested in the 1990s, but a vote of franchisees from across the nation had rejected the proposal for structural reform. In 2012 it was the consensus of delegates from franchises from across Canada that their salvation could be effected by organizational change.

[1] Offered by Allan Baker, retired from paid-accountable ministry, for your reflection; based on a story from Bill Easum in his book, “Dancing With Dinosaurs: Ministry in a Hostile & Hurting World


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