For this second post in a series of many, I interviewed co-owner and Boss B: Lauren, from Lazy Ballerina Winery in Southwest Michigan. If you ever find yourself in the area, I cannot recommend this place enough! It’s cute, the theme is fun, the wine is delicious, labels are gorgeous – and Lauren hand letters the chalkboard menu! Everyone who visits loves it, and for good reason. Read on to hear more from Lauren, and make sure you follow Lazy Ballerina to stay up-to-date with events and new releases!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Lauren: I’m 27 and grew up in the small town of Coloma in the southwest corner of Michigan. I’m co-owner of Lazy Ballerina Winery, a winery in Saint Joseph, Michigan which I opened with my cousin, Melanie, in 2015. In 2017, we opened a second tasting room in Bridgman, Michigan. I’ve been working in the Michigan wine industry for over 11 years. I graduated from Western Michigan University in 2013 with a Sales and Business Marketing degree. When I’m not working, I love to go to concerts, go wine tasting (duh), travel to new places near or far, eat delicious food (especially chocolate anything) and do CrossFit to counterbalance my eating and drinking habits. I’m a fiercely independent person who is always looking for the next adventure in life and the only person who has made me settle down is my loving, loyal boyfriend, Kyle of 2.5 years.
Q: So, what (or who) got you into wine?
Lauren: Melanie and I tell a fun story about our grandma who used to make homemade wine from grapes grown on the family farm. She would give us small sips as kids so we say that’s where our love for wine started. But truthfully, I thought it tasted disgusting at the time. I didn’t really try wine again until I started working at a winery in my hometown in high school. While working there, I mentored under the owner and winemaker and soaked up all of wine knowledge I could learn to try to be an expert in the field. He taught me the basics of wine making, all about various grape varietals, wine tasting etiquette and characteristics of different wines.
Q: When did you know it was time to quit your 9-5? Can you explain the mental processes you had to go through in that moment?
Lauren: I knew a few months into my “9 to 5” (which was more like 7 to 6) that it wasn’t for me in the long run, but I stuck it out for nearly 2 years. I was waiting for a good excuse and a better opportunity to leave. I was also waiting to figure out what a “better opportunity” looked like for me. I knew I wanted to come back to the wine industry and had hopes of one day opening and running my own winery so in the early months of 2015, I started looking for managerial positions at wineries around southwest Michigan. I had discussed with Mel some of the positions I was considering and the next day she texted me something along the lines of, “F*ck that place. Let’s open our own place.” I never once doubted my desire to open my own winery. I knew it was what I wanted to do. However, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future, especially financially which made me hesitant about taking the plunge, but you don’t accomplish anything worth talking about without taking a risk. The company I was working for wasn’t thrilled after they learned I would be starting my own business and leaving them, but they let me stay until weeks before our opening date later that year, and I was very grateful for that.
“F*ck that place. Let’s open our own place.” I never once doubted my desire to open my own winery. I knew it was what I wanted to do… you don’t accomplish anything worth talking about without taking a risk.
Q: What advice do you have for girls reading this, wanting to start their own business?
Lauren: Just do it! Do not let fear dominate your decisions. Believe in yourself and have confidence in what you can achieve. Your goals and ambitions can seem overwhelming at first and you will have uncertainty if you can really pull it all off. I promise, you can! As women we tend to feel a lot more self-doubt and insecurity, but trust me, self-doubt will kill a dream before “failure” ever has the chance to. Don’t let it.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face, having a female-owned company?
Lauren: The wine industry, like many other industries, is male-dominated so sometimes you feel like you have to work harder in order to prove yourself and to get other industry members to take you seriously. With me being as young as I am (at least 20 years younger than most male winery owners), that can be even more of a challenge. We also have a very feminine name and theme so that doesn’t help, and I’m sure many men struggle to even walk into our doors.
Q: What goals do you have for your business?
Lauren: We have grown a lot in the 3+ years we have been open, so our goal is to see continued growth in the coming years so maybe we can take a consistent paycheck. A current short-term goal we are working towards is building a larger production facility so we can expand our product line into more unique wine styles, ciders and, who knows, maybe even spirits one day.
Q: What’s your favorite type of wine?
Lauren: My favorite is different by the day! I am more of a dry red lover. I love a good Cabernet or Bordeaux style. Our Midnight Swan is my go-to. It’s a dry, oaky blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. This summer, I have been drinking ALL the dry rosés.
Q: What does a typical business day look like?
Lauren: There is no typical day, which I like. Every week our schedule varies. Many days I wake up and read/answer emails from home, then head into the winery to work on back office stuff or work the tasting room. We stay very busy with meetings, festivals, farmers markets, private events or craft nights in addition to the daily duties that we have to complete to keep our business running smoothly and successfully. It can be exhausting! But we have some fantastic employees!
Q: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
Lauren: Hopefully still working for myself where I can drink wine on the job. And hopefully owning my own home.
Q: Are you currently taking any steps to direct your path that way? If so, what?
Lauren: Sure. Saving money and being smart with my funds which includes a lot less shopping and taking vacations that are less expensive.
Q: Do you have any other tips for young entrepreneurs?
Lauren: Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too young or that you don’t know enough. Don’t let other people’s negative opinions of you overshadow your positive opinion of yourself. Don’t let your age keep you from standing your ground.
Q: I love your branding! I think you and Mel do a great job with brand consistency and naming. What inspired the Lazy Ballerina name and branding?
Lauren: Lazy Ballerina is the name for a trellis system that a wine grapevine grows on. We fell in love the with femininity and quirkiness of the name and loved that it was also wine related. Many of our names are inspired by ballet terms and movements and most of our wine labels feature a ballerina in a vineyard designed by my cousin (Melanie’s sister) Kelsey. The one and only Megan designed our logo which everyone loves to have in the background of their photos!
Q: What does success look like for you right now?
Lauren: As cliché as it sounds, finding true happiness in what you do is success to me. Many people don’t love their jobs. Our work is such a large part of our lives and our lives are too short to not enjoy what we do. There are stressful, frustrating days in this business, but at the end of it, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else and that’s how I know I’ve found my passion. Of course, looking back at how far we’ve come in a short amount of time and seeing how much we’ve grown looks like success to me too. We have built something in our small community that people love, respect, want to be a part of and want to support and that makes me very proud.
Q: Who is your role model?
Lauren: My grandma (who we’ve commemorated with some of our wine names) has always been a role model in our business. She was strong, intelligent, extremely loving, but a take-no-shit kind of woman and I try to possess these qualities in my life and my business. My mother is also my role model. She’s probably the most selfless and thoughtful person I’ve ever known. She works in community development in our hometown, has raised three kids, takes care of her aging parents, her grandchildren – and well my father too, and she does happily without asking for anything in return. She shows genuine kindness to others even when they may not deserve it and that is hard thing for many of us to do.
Q: What “girl power” or empowering moment have you had recently, where you’ve just felt really proud of yourself?
Lauren: Earlier this year I started a women’s social/networking group called Women Among Women and I host monthly gatherings where women from our community get together to chat about some of our struggles we face as women and to inspire one another to achieve goals or overcome adversities. Just starting the group and getting people to attend was a proud moment because I tend to let ideas stay ideas thanks to whatever anxiety I let myself succumb to. I am very uncomfortable with speaking in front of others so this has been a learning and growing experience for me. It’s very empowering to be able to create a space where I see women connect with each other, and they aren’t afraid to let their voice be heard or share their personal struggles and successes in order to help other women. We leave feeling more positive and inspired.
Q: How would you say it’s been managing a staff? Any insights?
Lauren: We are blessed to have amazing employees, so they make it very easy. We hire a lot of part-time employees, so communication is very important especially when it comes to giving customers a quality and consistent experience every time they come in. Don’t assume your employees should know or care about something in your business just because you do. Communicate changes, expectations, and goals to your employees so they feel invested and they know how to deliver. Don’t forget to tell them when they did a good job at something. It’s easy to criticize, but we all need to be encouraged and need to know when we succeed at something. It’s no secret that employees won’t stick around if they don’t feel valued or appreciated.
It’s very empowering to be able to create a space where I see women connect with each other, and they aren’t afraid to let their voice be heard or share their personal struggles and successes in order to help other women.
Q: What are you watching on Netflix right now?
Lauren: I haven’t been watching a lot of Netflix. However, I just finished watching all 5 seasons of Younger on demand and have started over at season 1. Nico Tortorella is my current celebrity crush.
Q: I love Younger! I’m also #teamJosh. Have you discovered any miracle wine-hangover cures lol?
Lauren: No… lol. I don’t usually get bad hangovers from [just drinking] wine. My general hangover cure is a few ibuprofen, a gyro, lots of water and a nap… and then maybe a mimosa or two.
Q: You host a lot of events! What’s been your favorite, and why?
Lauren: I love hosting wine and food pairing events! Our winemaker, Jason, is also a chef so he can cook up some amazing food and EVERYONE gets geeked about delicious wine and delicious food. I also love hosting wine club events because our wine club members are some of our most loyal customers, so spending time with them is very valuable to me.
Q: Where can people follow you and Lazy Ballerina?
I want to say thank you to Lauren for taking the time to do this interview! I know the hustle never stops, so I’m appreciative of your time! If you guys are interested in other posts like this, make sure to read more here – and be sure to follow Lauren and Lazy Ballerina on all of their social channels, and sign up for their newsletter!
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