General Manager of Center of Effort Wines Nathan Carlson spent his formative years in rural Minnesota. During those years, he enjoyed soaking up his family’s rich history of craftsmanship and farming. However, he did not expect to grow up to become a successful winemaker. In fact, he studied to become a marine biologist in college.
However, Nathan Carlson and Center of Effort Wines would eventually cross paths. In college, he started working in restaurants, where he “developed an interest” in educating himself about the world’s vast selections of wines. After college, he dived deeper into the world of wine by working in a lot of different “wine-focused restaurants.”
Before Center of Effort Wines, Nathan Carlson was inspired to drop working in restaurants to pursue wine full-time because of the “camaraderie of the local wine industry, deep agricultural traditions, and sense of possibility.”
Bill Swanson, the founder of Center of Effort Wines, says that he and his wife “trust and value Nathan [Carson] so much that he has total artistic and skilled control over the vines and the wine making process.” He adds that Nathan Carlson’s “stewardship ensures that the wine he produces always meets the Center of Effort standards.”
When he got to Center of Effort Wines, Nathan Carlson started as a client first. He bought Chardonny from the vineyard, until they invited him to come aboard. At first, he was a winemaker. In 2010, he became the General Manager.
Do your best work, no matter if it is for ourselves or for a client. Think about what you would want when you are in their position and make their interaction with your company as easy as possible. Nathan Carlson, Center of Effort Wines
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Nathan Carlson: I didn’t grow up in a wine-drinking family. It was really while I was working my way through college in a restaurant with a good wine program that I began to learn about the regional specificity and traditions associated with wine. After school, I continued to work in some really top restaurants with thoughtful wine programs and threw myself into learning more about it. When I moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s, the local scene was exploding. At the table, I met many of the pioneers of the Central Coast wine industry and talked my way into a couple days per week working for a winery in what was about to become the new Sta. Rita Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area.) Once I became embedded and saw the way that the local growers and wineries supported one another and celebrated each other’s successes, I was pretty hooked.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Nathan Carlson: The wine industry can look very glittery and fancy from the outside, but the reality is that it is a lot of hard work, and the financial compensation is not always great. I took a big pay cut when I left fine restaurants and dedicated myself to full-time as an entry-level cellar-rat at $7.50/hour. I had a crisis for several months when I literally was sleeping in my car, on friend’s sofas, camping on the Big Sur coast on the weekends, and not sure how I could push forward and make this work. But I loved what I was doing, loved the creative process and complexity of the business — I was struggling financially, but I also was learning and growing every day, and I found that for me, happiness and satisfaction has little to do with money. That was a huge, important lesson to learn early in my career.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Nathan Carlson: You need to build trust with your team. It is really important that they know that they can disagree with you or question your approach with respect and be heard.
You need all of your team members to be thinking about how they can continue to grow personally and professionally. Connection and networks are really important to our business, and the more all of my team members have diverse skills and influences, the stronger decisions we can make together.
Remember that you are representing the company no matter whom you are interacting with. I try to teach my team to treat everyone with integrity and respect, from our guests and wholesale customers, through to vendors, salespeople, truck drivers, delivery people, competitors, and one another. You never know when you are going to need a favor from your FedEx driver, need to borrow a tractor from the farmer next door, etc. We have had business referred to us many times from competitors and vendors who know that we will do a high-quality job and treat the client well.
Do your best work, no matter if it is for ourselves or for a client. Think about what you would want when you are in their position and make their interaction with your company as easy as possible. This can be applied at every level of our business, from how to set up for a guest wine tasting, to how to lay out an invoice so that it is clear and supported with backup documentation.
A business without a purpose will have a difficult time connecting with customers and attracting top talent to the team.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Nathan Carlson: A business without a purpose will have a difficult time connecting with customers and attracting top talent to the team. Having a strong sense of purpose also simplifies a lot of decisions — Center of Effort’s internal focus on Sustainability has made it easier for our team to implement their own solutions and focus on the right direction on a day to day basis.
Jerome Knyszewski: : As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Nathan Carlson: In my experience, the best strategies are simple; listen to your customers, do your best to answer their needs and meet them where they are. Using a variety of outlets from social platforms, email marketing, videos, phone calls to in person events (when those are allowed again), meeting your customer where they feel comfortable is the best way to see an increase in conversions. Keeping detailed statistics from each of those outlets will allow you to measure your success and make changes as needed.
Understanding that every customer is different and not taking the approach that one size fits all is a great way to earn a reputation as a trusted beloved brand. Nathan Carlson, Center of Effort Wines
Jerome Knyszewski: : Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Nathan Carlson: Understanding that every customer is different and not taking the approach that one size fits all is a great way to earn a reputation as a trusted beloved brand. Being consistent in message and actions while treating every guest with kindness and integrity is essential in creating a positive brand. Treat your customers with integrity and fairness, do not take them for granted! Operate with a spirit of generosity, make them want to belong and represent and share the brand with their friends. At Center of Effort, we pride ourselves in going the extra mile and working hard to not only meet but exceed the expectations of our customers.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Nathan Carlson: Further follow us online:
You can find more information about Center of Effort on our website www.COEwine.com or follow us on our social channels.
We look forward to connecting with you online and in person when able.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!