A warehouse fire leads to a successful wine business: the story of CHEERS

When Claudia Masueger’s company warehouse burned down, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to her career.

Why? It gave her time to realize she wasn’t doing what she loved.

Claudia, the Founder behind the popular wine retailer CHEERS, shared this at a workshop for entrepreneurs held at one of her stores in Central Park Plaza in Chaoyang District last January. How she got to this stage in life turns out to be somewhat unconventional.

 

Claudia was born in a small mountain village in Switzerland, where her family has been in the wine business since 1898. “It literally runs in my blood!” She tells the crowd cheerfully. After a lucrative career in the Swiss insurance industry and a brief stint running a charity in India, Claudia decided to move to China and get back to her roots in the wine industry.

She began touring Beijing with two suitcases full of wine and setting up spontaneous wine tastings, much to the delight of unsuspecting crowds. Later, she launched a B2B company, MQ Wines, selling to distributors and wholesalers across China, which proved to be a booming business.

Then came the warehouse fire, which totalled her business almost entirely and left her out of work. Claudia pauses when she gets to this part of her story.

“I learned at the time, that sometimes when a disaster happens, it’s the best thing ever,” she tells the crowd. “Because I was in this B2B business but I actually didn’t like it that much.” Out of business for four months, she reevaluated her life and career. “It meant we finally had a little bit of time to think,” she says. “Normally in China when you are in business, you never have time.”

The result? A completely different business model and a brand-new market. At the time, says Claudia, she felt wine stores in China were dark and cramped, “snobby,” and full of employees who weren’t well-versed in wine.

“I wanted to create something different,” she tells the crowd. So she started her first CHEERS store, a brightly-lit and youthful space targeted at “making wine drinking fun and affordable.” CHEERS, she says, was the first company in Beijing to offer an imported wine from Spain with very good price/value which would cost 28.80 RMB on the shelf and the first company who would target the younger generation. “We definitely changed the wine market here in Beijing,” she says, “and more importantly, we started to introduce a very new lifestyle to the younger generation.”

The concept was so successful that CHEERS now has 40 stores in Beijing, making a total of 60 throughout China. For three years in a row, CHEERS was awarded the Most Potential Franchise Award and the most liked Franchisor Award by Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500.

“We’re all about having fun and enjoying life,” she says of the message behind the retail chain.

Offering workshops – like this one – is now something Claudia prioritizes. Energetic and infectious, she’s as passionate about being an entrepreneur as she is about giving young professionals the tools to do the same.

“Every morning you have two choices,” she tells the crowd. “Either you continue to sleep or you start chasing your dreams.” For Claudia, she believes the key to a satisfying life is to clearly define what would make you happy and plan the steps to get there. That being said, she doesn’t mince words when telling guests about the challenges of being your own boss, including the statistic that 9 out of 10 businesses ultimately fail.

“It’s not a job choice, it’s a life commitment,” she says. “When you want to become an entrepreneur, money should not be your highest priority.”

Her workshops cover topics like designing a budget and a finance forecast, how to court investors and tackle market research, the importance of hiring team members with complimentary skill sets and how to live frugally (when she first moved to China she lived in a hostel but held her business meetings in five-star hotels). She also shares some of her favourite resources for young entrepreneurs, including YouTube and the Beijing chapter of EO, a peer-to-peer network for business owners.

Other than growing the number of CHEERS stores and continuing to develop herself as a person, Claudia wouldn’t change a thing about her current, fast-paced life in Beijing. “The market, especially in China, changes so fast,” she says. “That’s why I like it here. No day is like another.”

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