Goodwill Wines Rises From the Ashes
Wednesday, 4th June 2014 at 10:52 am
A one-man social enterprise reinventing charity wine has emerged from the ashes of the Black Saturday bushfires, in the hope of giving back the help tended to survivors in their time of need.
David Laity launched Goodwill Wines with the $15,000 he received from the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal after his home in the rural Victorian town of Chum Creek was lost in the 2009 fires.
Previously a filmmaker, but with all his gear destroyed, Laity used the money to purchase his first batch of wine, a high-end label printer and a website.
The organisation was launched in 2010 with one charity as a beneficiary – the Country Fire Authority. Laity buys batches of premium wine from the surplus stock of Australian vineyards, relabelling and packaging it and reselling it to buyers. Buyers are able to nominate a charity to receive a cut of the profits.
Now, as Laity’s customer and charity bases balloon, he is keen to move beyond the fires, overcome the cynicism he experiences around social enterprise and grow his business to a point of financial sustainability.
A Labour of Love
Laity’s labour to keep Goodwill Wines operating day-to-day is tireless, providing a simpler and less resource-intensive means for charities to raise funds.
Laity sources his high-end wines from surplus stock at vineyards and repackages the stock with charity-endorsed labels. He painstakingly designs and prints custom labels for each charity partner, who have taken up his free service in droves – all the charity then needs to do is promote the opportunity to their supporters.
Laity currently has approximately 150 partner organisations, for whom he prints the custom labels. Alternatively, customers may elect to get a bottle with a Laity’s Goodwill label, nominating their preferred charity to receive the profits.
Since 2010 the organisation has raised almost $100,000 for charity, including $14,000 for his local CFA branch, for which he volunteers.
Animals Australia is close to raising $10,000, while Edgar’s Mission and Sea Shepherd have managed $3,000.
“The ones who let their supporters know about it tend do the best,” Laity says.
Laity exercises caution with who he partners with.
“There’ve been a couple I’ve refused. I didn’t want to support them, I believed them ideologically unsound,” he says.
Laity is keen to take the next steps with his social enterprise, and has sought the support of the corporate sphere. He was disheartened when he approached retailers only to find he could muster little interest.
“They couldn’t understand it. It was so foreign to them, they couldn’t get past the idea of giving profits to charity. That was disappointing,” he says.
“I’ve had requests from businesses who want to remove the charity part and buy the wine cheaply as corporate gifts.”
Misunderstanding about the social enterprise model of meshing of business and charity has also led to confusion outside Laity’s working life.
“In social situations I tell people I sell wine online. It’s a struggle. People always want to know, ‘what’s the catch?”
That Laity is selling alcohol, the source of many public health and social issues, has also proven a barrier. It is a critique he says is out of step with his high-end product, aimed at wine afficionados, rather than binge drinkers.
“I do cop a lot of cynicism, which does my head in. If it’s handled delicately it shouldn’t be a problem. We support a lot of animal charities for whom it’s obviously a safe bet," he says.
Laity’s financial success ebbs and flows with consumer sentiment.
“The budget has destroyed this month. I’ve had the worst month in four years. People have to take a chance. I call the first purchase a pity purchase – they can’t walk in and taste the wine,” he says.
“Charity wine’s garbage. That’s a stigma I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over.”
Nevertheless, he sees promise.
“I’d hoped to be earning a better income by now. Last year I earned $500 less than the dole. I work seven days a week on this. But it’s growing at a rate of about 30 per cent. I can see that in about five to six years I will be making a regular income,” he says.
A New Identity
It is only recently that Laity has overcome the "identity crisis" around his business. In fact, it wasn’t until 18 months into operations that he finally had a name to put to his model of work – social enterprise.
“One day Social Traders called me up and said ‘do you realise this is what you are?,” he says.
“It’s been great. I always felt uncomfortable calling myself a business, but I also felt uncomfortable calling myself a charity. I felt very lonely. It was heartwarming – there are thousands of us out there!
“[If I could do it over] I think I would have started with more help. I would have gotten Social Traders in at the beginning and got myself a mentor.
“There are people out there who can help. Help was there for me, I just never had access to it.”
Laity is formulating big future plans for his business.
“I’d like to start a loyalty program where customers commit to a couple of cases a year.
“I see that most of my customers do return, it’s loyalty that’s quite unusual in the wine industry,” he says.
“I’d also like to get into regional pubs supporting their local CFA branch.
“My background has always been community-minded, and I’m not here to pursue the dollars – I’d rather be part of the solution than part of the problem.
“We are one step closer to a better economic model – a model that looks after people who can't look after themselves.”