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Female Founders: Staci Wanichek of Wine Away On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

You are the face of your company. I remember being in a store with my family, and this delightful woman ran across the store and said, “you’re the Wine Away lady, right?” Then she proceeded to share all sorts of fun Wine Away stories with me and how it truly saved the day for her. I love being called the Wine Away lady, and moments like this remind me of why I started my company.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Staci Wanichek.

Staci Wanichek is the President and CEO of Wine Away, a remarkable red wine stain remover that she founded in 1997. For 25 years, Staci has led the company in developing their domestic and global strategies. Today, Wine Away remains family-owned and operated and continues to be the leading red wine stain remover on the market.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When you grow up in an entrepreneurial family, you have an example of what it’s like to own your business. I learned a lot watching and listening to stories my father would tell about his business and even had the opportunity to go on business trips with him when I was younger. His influence has been part of what led me to where I am today. Many people have asked if I am a chemist, but I am not. My background is in public relations and advertising. After graduating college, I worked in public relations for the hospitality and retail industries in the Seattle area for several years. I decided the big city wasn’t for me and moved back home to Walla Walla and began working for my dad as his national sales and marketing director — I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from him.

As for Wine Away, it truly is one of those accidental discoveries — a product that was designed to be an all-purpose cleaner and degreaser ended up being this amazing red wine stain remover (after some tweaking). And now, 25 years later, we still use the same formula and original label design.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It’s always fun getting emails and calls from customers telling us how Wine Away saved the day. One of my favorite stories was from a Seattle bride. She was getting ready for the Father-Daughter dance at her wedding when someone bumped into her with a glass of red wine. Thankfully, the photographer had Wine Away with him and spritzed her dress … 10 minutes later, she was stain-free for her dance with her dad!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Thanking customers! I am a firm believer in writing thank you notes. When we first started our company, I was really into hot-stamping cards; it was just something that brought me joy. So, whenever we received an order, I would make each customer a card and write them a thank you note. While I don’t make the cards anymore, I still personally send handwritten thank you notes to many of our customers throughout the year. There’s nothing better than getting a card in the mail and saying thank you for being part of our Wine Away family. After all, if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The biggest lesson here is to always remember to thank the people who have walked with you on the journey and helped you get where you are today. Expressing gratitude to your customers is key to building brand loyalty and sustaining good business relationships.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There is a saying, “it takes a village,” — and I genuinely believe in that quote. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my wonderful family — they have always been my biggest cheerleaders. And of course, my wonderful mom, Cheryl Corn, with whom I founded the company. When we started the company, she had just retired from her previous job, where she worked in the marketing department and enjoyed her newfound freedom and golf. However, after we received a write-up in a nationally recognized magazine, I asked her if she would be willing to come to the office for a couple of days a week and just work a few hours. She agreed — and those few days turned into a fulltime job. She became our international sales and marketing director for many years. While my mom officially retired several years ago, she continues to be my guiding light and provides valuable perspective when I ask for help to this day.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think it’s the hesitancy to believe in themselves. As women, who are often under-represented in business, you must be willing to take the leap, even if it’s scary. Do the research, put in the time, and ask others for guidance. Remember, your success depends on you! You’re going to have to hustle for your dreams and not be afraid to fail.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

If you have a good product and good service that you believe in, you can overcome any obstacles — man or woman. It takes persistence.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

BECAUSE WE CAN! One of my favorite quotes is from Oprah Winfrey “listen to the rhythm of your own calling and follow that.”

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

Just because you are a woman doesn’t mean it will necessarily be any harder or easier. Your path depends on you. If you surround yourself with people who have the skills you don’t have, believe in yourself (and in your team), and find a way to get to “yes” when you hit a wall — you have all the ingredients needed to succeed.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Walt Disney says, “if you can dream it, you can do it!” Success looks different for everyone, and perhaps owning your own company doesn’t feel right for you — but that doesn’t mean you’re not successful; it just means YOU CHOOSE WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO! As for me, determination is what drives me. I like challenges and setting goals. My go-to phrase in life and work is ‘if you don’t ask, you won’t know.’

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You are the face of your company. I remember being in a store with my family, and this delightful woman ran across the store and said, “you’re the Wine Away lady, right?” Then she proceeded to share all sorts of fun Wine Away stories with me and how it truly saved the day for her. I love being called the Wine Away lady, and moments like this remind me of why I started my company.
  2. Owning a business is a 24/7 job! Owners don’t truly get vacations because you are always thinking about your business.
  3. Sometimes you will fail! My biggest failure occurred when we launched a new Wine Away packaging design. I was so excited to have something new to sell that I forgot to do all stability tests before we started shipping it, and the packaging failed. This was an expensive learning lesson.
  4. Learn the right communication style: I tend to be fairly blunt, which is oftentimes not received well, so I have had to learn how to communicate differently and slow down a bit…not everyone is on the same timeline as me.
  5. Always be prepared: The pandemic was tough. I remember sitting at my desk and staring at the blinking cursor from one of my national accounts. The email read: “Due to Covid, we are canceling all of our orders for the remainder of the year.” One-by-one, all of my orders were canceled…they just stopped. It was the first time in my career that I didn’t know what I was going to do. Thankfully, with the urging of our customers and our community, we pivoted and made hand sanitizer for local businesses and schools. One of the many things the pandemic taught me was that you always have to have a backup plan.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have always had a soft spot for animals — our company partners with our local humane society throughout the year to help with a program called ‘Clear the Shelter’ and making charitable donations.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

That is a tough one — there are so many things going on in our world that picking just one is too difficult. So, I will pick THREE.

  • World Peace — this probably sounds cliché, but honestly, World Peace — we all just need some peace and calm.
  • Support Animal Rescue Efforts & End Animal Abuse — no animals should ever be subjected to abuse; if I could I would find loving homes for all abandoned or unwanted animals in shelters and on the streets.
  • Raise awareness and education to put an end to Human Trafficking.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to sit down and have a cocktail or lunch with Laurie Greiner. I am in awe of this powerhouse lady and all that she has done (and continues to do). Having the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about Wine Away, would be incredible.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Staci Wanichek of Wine Away On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.