The Business of Customer Service

If you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuk is, it isn’t because he hasn’t hustled to familiarize himself to you and everybody you know.

The 35-year-old entrepreneur behind Springfield’s Wine Library—a cavernous emporium with an extraordinary selection of wine and spirits—is also the personality behind the spinoffs “Wine Library TV,” a webcast that claims more than 90,000 viewers a day, and “Wine & Web With Gary Vaynerchuk,” a weekly SiriusXM radio call-in show.

But wine, even when a bottle moves him to describe it as tasting “like a sheep’s butt, or really stinky fertilizer,” as he did on Conan O’Brien’s show in 2008, is not where Vaynerchuk begins and ends.

He is also a business guru and author. Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion landed on the New York Times bestseller list in 2009. He has similar hopes for a new book, The Thank You Economy, out in March.

“It started with hustle,” Vaynerchuk writes of his early days as a wine salesman. But in the social media age, hustle is no longer enough. Relationships, he writes, rule the day.

“The playing field is so different now from, say, 1990” that companies have to invest in old-fashioned relationship building. “Valuing every single customer is mandatory in the thank you economy.”

It’s something he learned here at home: “If I or any of the people who represent Wine Library had come off as phonies or schmoozers, Wine Library would not be what it is today,” he writes in a chapter called, “How Everything Has Changed, Except Human Nature.”

At Wine Library (973-376-0005; winelibrary.com) and elsewhere, “You cannot underestimate the sharpness of people’s BS radar.”

Restoring Glory

A PATIENT MAN: Kiritsis restores one of Gustav Stickley’s diamond-patterned windows from Craftsman Farms national historic site in Morris Plains.

A PATIENT MAN: Kiritsis restores one of Gustav Stickley’s diamond-patterned windows from Craftsman Farms national historic site in Morris Plains.

While most of us are looking for the newest, fastest ways to work, John Kiritsis of New Jersey Woodworking (973-725-8226; njwoodworking.com) likes to do it the old-fashioned way.

Maybe that’s why his project list reads like a who’s who in American history. Kiritsis restores and fabricates intricately carved doors, stained-glass windows and decorative millwork for landmarks such as the Gustav Stickley Museum in Morris Plains, Hewitt House in Ringwood and Thomas Edison House in West Orange. In fact, his West Orange woodworking shop is located right behind Edison’s old factory.

“No matter the age and condition, if it’s made of wood, we will use period-correct designs and finishes to restore its former glory or replicate what was thought to be damaged beyond repair. Sometimes it’s like bringing buildings back from the dead,” the expert craftsman says.

Oprah, Herbs and a Small English Village—A Fairy Tale

Herb-Savor: One of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Herb-Savor: One of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Once Upon a Time
Industrial designers Julie Laser and Dean Chapman met on the job in 1993 and tied the knot four years later.

While visiting Julie’s mother, they start thinking about how lame her garlic press is—so small, and requires both hands. This real-life problem sparks the birth of Prepara (prepara.com), their über-cool kitchen gadget company.

By virtue of living in Montclair and working in Soho, Julie and Dean meet the occasional celebrity. They retell the celebrity stories every time they visit Dean’s hometown of Basingstoke, England. Village folk are convinced that everyone in America is famous.

The Big Idea
A few years down the road, the couple has two small tots and Julie decides to stay home with kids. Meanwhile, Prepara continues to grow, and gets some impressive retail accounts, but very little consumer recognition. They receive an average of 100 consumer hits on their website each month. But they’re happy.

Julie starts cooking more and discovers that she loves herbs and wishes there were a way to keep them fresh longer. The couple delves into designing the perfect contraption. After much trial and error, their Herb-Savor—a glass-domed device that keeps herbs fresh for up to three weeks—is born.

The Twist of Fate
Without pitching—or even hoping—they receive “the call.” (You know where this is going, right?) Oprah’s people. She loves her Herb-Savor, and it’s going to be featured on the fantasy-come-to-life television moment, Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Happy Ending
Consumer hits rise slightly…from 3 to 150,000…in one day. Happy couple is thrilled, and never forgets Oprah’s message at the end of the heart-racing show: You never know when good things might happen. Villagers? Not surprised. —Rennie Ackerman


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