Charlie Bailes is a fourth-generation entrepreneur. In 1936, his great, great grandfather started ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, a family-owned business. We’re going to discover a bit about the history of the company and how it fares in this fast-changing landscape.
Charlie shares what it’s like to be a fourth-generation entrepreneur and how he developed a passion project on the side.
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ABC Fine Wine and Spirits
Jack Holloway started the company in 1936, a time in which the phone book was still the norm. That’s reason number one for the name. The United States is very particular when it comes to regulation and taxation of liquor, which means each state has the right and ability to do whatever they want. In many states, the ABC store stands for either Alabama beverage control or alcoholic beverage control. The name turned into a happy, useful, coincidence.
In the last few years, a rebranding effort has led to the new meaning: Adult Beverage for a Celebration. Selling booze is a fun industry that deserves something with a fun ring to it.
At the end of the prohibition in 1936, Charlie’s grandfather was working in a cigar shop when he got the idea to start selling package liquor and pitched it to his boss. The end of the prohibition seemed like an apt time for this innovative idea.
His boss basically told him it was a horrible idea and that they would never do it. So Jack, being the entrepreneur that he was, decided to develop the idea on his own. His first location was in downtown Orlando, and that landmark is still there. Today, it’s a well-known restaurant by the name of Cantina. Now, almost eighty-six years later and in the fourth generation, the business is still growing.
Finding Opportunities from Problems
There were a lot of interesting things happening around 1936. Every company deals with unique problems starting out, but for ABC, the problems were more complicated. In other words, the opportunity they had was directly related to their biggest problem. The problem was prohibition, and then the whole market opened up.
The Bailes side of the family entered through Jack’s daughter, Jackie Holloway, who married Charles Bailes Jr., a Georgia Tech engineer that built the highway system across Florida.
Jack passed away in the early nineties, and the torch was passed to the third generation at that point. The business model across central Florida was setting up small corner liquor stores, and in the 90’s this turned into 100 bars attached to those 200 stores.
Currently, they have 126 stores across all of Florida, from the panhandle down to Miami, and other stores all up the East Coast. The average size of their stores is about 10,000 square feet. Over the past 30 years, the third generation orchestrated a complete change of business model.
There were great times, there were bad times, there were times of division, and times of working together. What helped the family get through these times was understanding that the company is more important than the individual.
The executive team deserves a ton of credit for instilling that into everybody, but it really started with Jack and Charlie Jr. working together, figuring things out, and understanding that the business is bigger than any individual or either family.
Charlie believes that might be one of the secrets to why the company is still around. There are a lot of companies that tear each other, and themselves, apart. There are a lot of companies, especially a family-owned business, that see the younger generation not being interested in taking over and selling out or breaking up the company.
In America, personal freedom is considered sacred, so how were they able to put it aside for the good of their company?
We’re trained in America to value individualism. We glorify the people that accomplish things themselves and build the empire on their own. This idea is fundamentally flawed.
There is a 0% chance of ABC being the business it is today if it weren’t for the teamwork, collaboration, and respect that the two families have for one another. The foundation of the company is the strength of the relationships, and not personal pride, personal agendas, personal success, money, fame, or anything else.
That’s what’s missing with so many companies, but ABC seems to have a lot of it.
Their mission statement is to make everyday celebrations exceptional for team members and guests. Their employees are called team members, and they are intentionally put in front of the guests because ABC believes in serving family first.
It doesn’t mean you always get along with your family. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but it’s family. Regardless of how much you dislike the other person at any given time, it’s always rooted in that strong family bond, and team members are part of this family.
Strategies to Encourage the Family Mentality
Charlie believes it’s the way that they interact and treat each other.
When they hire somebody from a much larger company, about a week into their job they normally get some type of call or email or text or something that’s welcoming and encouraging.
The response is always the same:
“Is this really how you guys work?”
“I’ve never been so empowered on my job.”
“I’ve never been so trusted on my job.”
“I’ve never had so much freedom to be myself, to operate the way that I like to operate.”
“I’ve never been simply treated as an adult rather than micromanaged to the nth degree.”
ABC instills its guiding principles, mission statement, and core values into everything, including its team members. Respect, inspire and empower. Those aren’t just fun words, they’re the words ABC lives and breathes by. When they hire somebody new, they give them the respect that they deserve. They bring members to do a job, and they want to give them the respect and empowerment to do it. They attempt to inspire each other with their principles, values, actions, communication, and the way each other is treated.
Keeping the culture family-oriented means recognizing birthdays, recognizing anniversaries, using incentive programs, and investing in great benefits.
Charlie believes what really sets his company apart is the three core values mentioned above: respect, inspire and empower.
Translating Culture and Skills from the Physical World to the Virtual World
Now, everyone has to rely more on technology and tools to deliver integrity, inspiration, and empowerment. How do we translate that success from a physical world to a virtual world?
The nice thing about remote work is having to rethink the organization and revamp the business model. ABC did just that – moving away from creating bars and small corner stores and creating large, multi-level liquor stores.
When it comes to success, Charlie stands firm on the principle that “You never arrive”. As an individual and as a company, you have to constantly evolve, because change is going to happen with or without you. Change can lead to extinction, or it can lead to a business boom. Around the year 2000, the last ABC bar closed. It took about an eight-year period between 1992 and 2000 for every bar to close. The motivation behind that change was actually very simple, according to Charlie. They wanted to create an environment where female consumers felt comfortable shopping. ABC sees their business through a family lens, and they recognized that having a liquor store that’s open until 2 am with a bar right next to it that operates until 3 am doesn’t really scream “family environment.”
That pivot resulted in a multitude of changes, including no longer selling smut magazines and not letting anybody in the store who’s not over 21 years old. They get a good amount of guest complaints every week because of this, but the arguments against the change don’t work with the core values.
The bottom line, they want to have a safe, family-friendly environment, and they actually made the necessary changes to achieve this goal. They chose to put their culture, safety, and families over profits. It’s a lot easier to do that when you’re privately held and you can plan long term, as opposed to being a big, publicly-traded corporation that needs to hit quarterly earnings.
A Passion for Health and Wellness
Charlie might be running HR, but he’s branched out into a side-hustle as well.
It spawned from his own experiences within his family. Everything is about family for Charlie, who is also a health nut. He loves reading leadership books and nutrition books written by doctors. His three kids, ages seven, five, and one, keep his house very busy.
Becoming a father was the first time Charlie had real responsibility for someone else, and unfortunately, his wife started having repeated health problems. After going to the hospital a couple of times, asking what was going on, and just being given medication in response, it became a frustrating cycle. Many people have experienced the pain of doing everything the doctor says without seeing results.
So Charlie dove into the literature, reading around 40 or 50 books written by doctors, subscribing to journals, and listening to more than a thousand podcasts in the health space. They made a bunch of dietary changes and lifestyle changes, and that’s what spawned the side hustle.
Outside of ABC, Charlie also sells collagen protein supplements and helps people navigate frustrating health problems. At the end of the day, he just wants to help people who truly want to be helped.
Charlie, a 34-year-old who is still very much at the beginning of his career (a career student, he likes to call himself), left us with some parting wisdom. He’s given us three vital tips for success in a family-owned business and life in general:
- Accept that you really have no clue
- Accept that there’s always going to be better information
- Accept that we can always become better listeners
More often than not, the older generation in the company is trying to help the best way they know-how, and it’s the responsibility of the young entrepreneur to take advantage of this experience. Life is going to be so much easier and more fulfilling.