Bradley Mitton, founder of Mitton Wines and Club Vivanova brings a new level of sophistication to the world of wine for expats in the French Riviera and Monaco.
Hi Bradley. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your business?
I left the UK twenty five years ago to travel and experience Australia and Asia and through various work opportunities, I developed my career in the food and beverage industry and worked for eleven years amongst a number of reputable fine dining restaurants in Australia’s Gold Coast, Cairns, Hong Kong, Manila, Subic Bay and Seoul. The affinity of food and wine played a large part during my last eight years working in Asia and when I moved to Seoul in 2000, I managed an international business that focused on gastronomy, Australian wines and cigars and I acquired the ability to successfully market and promote wines, menus and events. It was when I moved to Berlin in 2002 that I started working primarily in wines and I decided that it was time to set my own company up so on a shoe-string budget, I established Mitton International Wines. The company is based in Berlin, we import boutique Argentinean, Australian, New Zealand and South African wines to Central Europe and we sell exclusively to leading hotels, private clubs, villas, yachts and international restaurants across the Continent. I then pioneered Club Vivanova that runs events in parallel with my wine business in locations that list our products as a service to build relationships with our gastronomy partners. Both Club Vivanova and my wine business work hand-in-hand to develop relationships between our wines and our clients and they are growing dynamically in the seven European countries that we work in. I currently travel throughout Europe training and educating hotel and restaurant employees in the diversity and regionality of New World wines and hosting my wine events that are mostly sold-out in Barcelona, Berlin, Milan Monte Carlo, Prague and Warsaw building great business and social connections for me and my partners. We host around 80 events per year.
Why did you decide to switch gears from being a chef to wine importing/distribution and event management?
It wasn’t something that I planned as I loved running and working in restaurants but as my career progressed, I started moving more towards sales, marketing and events and in 2002, I was flown to Berlin from Seoul and employed by a German wine importing company to channel their portfolio towards the New World and so I went from running restaurants to selling into them and the move was seamless. Having a good understanding of your clientelle is important and I understand the gastronomy business well, so I was naturally able to build a good rapport with my sommelier and restaurant managing clients. Looking back, I am happy I made the move, the restaurant industry is a killer; long hours, heavy pressure and it’s tough to make money in this sector, there’s just so many flaws in the industry that cause financial loss. The social life is great but the financial benefits just didn’t weigh up for me so I think simplifying to a trading operation made business life somewhat less stressful for me and more clean in an operational point of view.
You’ve been running your company now for 13 years. How long did it take for it to become successful?
I’m still working on that. The first five years was just building, setting-up clientelle, establishing a database, changing portfolios, learning from mistakes, losing money left right and centre and basically trying to get a start-up business on the road. It was very tough, long hours but inspirational and a great learning curve. I see my business as an train, with an engine and carriages and you have to continuously fine tune the engine to keep it moving ahead but also make sure the carriages (employees, administration and back-office) are keeping up as in our business, it’s the weakest link that is the threat. The wolf is only as strong as the pack and the pack is only as strong as the wolf; so you have to have the whole package running like clockwork from purchasing to pricing and stocking, communication then delivery and of course, the after-sales. We run a slick and specialist operation, I refuse to accept mediocrity and I’m always challenging ourselves internally to do better and be better and grow but carefully and in a planned and selective manner.
You mentioned that the first few years were tough. How did you keep yourself motivated?
I used to take each day as it came, there are always fires to put out with the business and issues to deal with and you’re going to have battles and you win some and lose some but you’ve just got the make sure that you win the big war, that’s the main objective and you’ve got to always be trying to streamline the way the company runs. The motivation comes from within, you need to be hungry, you have to want to survive and succeed and if you are not driven , you just won’t make it and if you’re not strong, it’s no use even starting out. There are employees and there are entrepreneurs and we all have our place in life and I think I was just born ready; I motivate myself and focus on my targets, taking very little notice of distractions and negative people or influences, I take most of my business decisions myself and I am driven to be the best and I think even though that can sometimes be a bit dangerous, that is the key to success, if it is controlled and not erratic. Never take no for an answer and if you fall down failing, just get up, and start again, keep going. Winston Churchill once said that when you’re going through hell, keep going!
You’re originally from England but have lived in Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea, Germany, and now France. Which place has been your favorite so far and why?
I’ve enjoyed everywhere that I’ve lived for different reasons and at different times, they showed me many different facets of life; but my favourite part of the world is the South of France. I studied French at school for eight years and I fell in love with the language, the literature, the culture, the food, the art, the women, the fashion, just everything, it was all so romantic and so when I moved back to Europe after Asia, I decided to develop my wine business in Monaco and travelled frequently and just fell back in love with the lifestyle. Eventually I had enough business there to be able to move and now live in the hills behind Cagnes Sur Mer looking down over the Mediterranean and it’s serene. The food is wonderful as are the wines, you can be in many of Europe’s business cities quickly and the pace of life is slow so I can balance that with my frantic, travelling and pressured corporate life running events and wine sales. One thing I have always respected though is my work ethic; it’s a relaxing and ambient place to live but you’ve always got to make money, if you start to get too comfortable here, you can end up on the slippery sslope of just having fun and then waking up one day with nothing. So I still work as hard here as I have ever done, but I just enjoy life in this region so much more than anywhere else I have lived. And I think that if you’re willing to give and commit in business in this part of the world, there are amazing rewards.
Have you ever experienced any major culture shocks?
Yes, plenty and especially in Asia; it’s an amazing place and just has so much to offer and the diversity of cultures is quite astonishing. I’ve lived in mud-huts and tree-houses and travelled extensively through East Timor, Komodo, Lombok, Bali and other parts of Indonesia in the 1990s. I spent a few months in the North of the Philippines living amongst the rice paddies in villages without power and I set-up a restaurant in Boracay (Philippines) before it had any power and the restaurant and kitchens were run off generators. I have many wonderful, humorous, humbling, sad and inspirational stories from my experiences and they all built me to be the person I am today. I’m going to write a book.
Where would you say people are most conscious of how they dress and how they present themselves?
I can’t say France as I think in general, the fashion in this part of the world can be superficial and scruffy so I will say Milan; locals always look sharp and Italians have a wonderful and diverse fashion sense; it’s not a style, it’s a statement and in Milan, everything is fashion, the people, the buildings, the restaurants, the designs, the hotels; they just like to make things look good and they like to look good themselves. It’s a great pleasure walking around Milan seeing how people really take pride in what they wear and how they look; I like that, it shows self-respect and pride and a drive to look and feel well.
The traditional English and French styles are quite different. Would you say living in France has had an influence on your style?
I haven’t lived in the UK for 25 years; the styles are at different ends of the fashion spectrum. Living in France has made me dress less formally but with an open-mind to believing that most clothes fit together, jeans with a jacket and formal shirt, colours that would normally not go in the UK, for example brown shoes with blue trousers is forbidden in the British scene, I’ve become less classical and more Continental and I like it, it’s relaxed. I buy most of my suits from Ermenegildo Zegna, shirts from Gucci and Dolce Gabbana, ties from Hermes and shoes from Tod’s. You can mix and match here as long as you’re looking elegant.
How would you describe your style? How has it evolved over time?
Yes, definitely, we evolve as we get older. I would say I’m a classic dresser, I like clean-cut, blues and whites; I try to dress sharply but casually, open-necked shirts, dark colours and not always formal clothing but I have to look professional and elegant as I’m meeting and doing business with leaders of the greatest hotels on the Continent and they want to deal with like-minded, executive, quick-thinking and clean-cut partners. You have to be able to walk into a room and make an impression in my business and wearing something sharp but acceptable to the eye is important.
What items will you never leave home without?
I never leave home without my sunglasses (unless it’s evening) or a jacket. I always wear a jacket, I think it’s a great accessory to turn any outfit into something that makes a statement. I also always wear one ring, a gold one my Mother gave to me; it’s a charm, but I think minimal jewellery is also important and of course a good watch.
Why is it important to present yourself well?
As I’ve mentioned, the people I deal with in business and the people that I like to surround myself in general in life are international business leaders. They run exceptional and highly professional operations in which success, efficiency and leadership is key and so I have to have an effect on these people when I meet them and in turn, they also want to also do business with sharp, sincere, executive and elegant people. So I have to look the part, to fit the sector that I work in and that means dressing well, not over-dressing but just to be clean and crisp and I have to wear that character well to present myself in the right manner. It’s not just what you wear though, it’s how to carry that but the impression has to be right and of course the style of clothes you wear is important.
Turning back to Club Vivanova – what are the most important elements of a good event?
Again, I think it all comes back to relationships and efficiency. One of my regular attendees recently sent me a testimonial, it said “Bradley is the soul of Club Vivanova, the brains and the heart behind it, and that is a guarantee in itself for us that he will continue to attract new and interesting people.” My club members and my clients trust my judgement and they expect excellence, they expect the best and I cannot give anything else, no waivering, no excuses, we have to perform at the absolute top level as reputations are always at stake and so we have to put on a good show. If we have partners involved, they have to fit the profile, they hav to be leaders in their sector. The most important elements for a successful event are good communication, promotion and advertising of the date, an excellent and tested menu with specialist wines that match, a unique venue that is managed well so there are no disappointments and then of course I run each event like my own open pop-up restaurant, we manage the door, the aperitif, the service, the menu, wines, presentations then the finale of the event with appreciations, after-service images posted online and so on. We have to have a well-run, professionally executed package so people arrive, and they know I’m taking care of business until the end of the night. It is tough work as we’re dealing with temperamental human beings, alcohol and food it can get complicated but it is inspirational and challenging and I love it, because we always do it right and so we always succeed.
What are your future plans for your businesses and your “brand”?
I just keep my head down, keep pushing for better and more exclusive events, inspirational event partners, out-of-the-box thinking in regards to the concepts but all the time, remembering that it’s the clients who have to enjoy themselves so we have to feature projects that will impress or interest them. Our plans include two galas in 2016, one at the Fairmont on 12th March and one at the Café de Paris on 23rd April. I’m also releasing and wine and food cookery book and we’re just going to keep pushing to be better, fine-tuning all the time, listening to our clients, re-focusing and using all of the criticism we get positively to drive the brand forward fast. The brand has grown extensively in Monaco, though it is always important to be grounded in this part of the world and stick to the basic guidelines of running a successful business. Success goes to people’s heads, not mine, we’re still the same, caring, small company we were ten years ago, straight and true and I’ll never lose that special sincere touch that we give to everything that we do.
Are there any rules or principles that you live by? What keeps you grounded?
Principally, I try to be a gentleman. I believe in truth and sincerity, there is no other way; and that you only get out of life what you put in, I am a non-believer in luck or fate, business and success is 0% luck and 100% determination and grit. My father always taught me that there are two ways of doing things in life, the right way and the wrong way and the right way is always the hard way and so getting to the top is painful and sometimes lonely but when we strive for that and drive ourselves to do things correctly, no short-cuts, no excuses, then we normally get to where we want to be. And then when we get there, we aim for the next plateau and so on. Driven people are never satisfied, they just want to keep becoming better and better and so I stick to my principles and strive for greatness in work and in life. I’m grounded because I’m a father, my son is 16, he lives with me in France and so I have a wonderful home life, full of love and happiness. I cook a lot at home, I entertain and run my home like an extension of my old restaurants and that is what gives me the grounding that I need. I love nature and so spend lots of time in my garden and I run most mornings between 5 and 10 kilometres, it clears my mind, focuses and channels my thoughts and once I arrive at my desk, I’m ready to challenge anything that comes my way.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
In my field of sales and marketing, I would advise entrepreneurs not to take on anything that you are passionate about, you have to work with a business almost remotely as if you’re tuning a racing car, feelings and personalities have to be left behind. If you’re too close to your business personally, you’ll make emotional decisions, not good. Decisions have to be made clinically and with a view to total survival. I’m not saying that you have to be impersonal but business is business and business is cut-throat these days and if you want to succeed and build something substantial in a lifetime, you have to be ready to challenge, sacrifice, accept physical and mental pain and sleepless nights and drive yourself to perfection. Nothing in this life is easy, there is no free lunch, so be prepared to do it the right way, the hard way and always surround yourself with amazing, smart, sharp and successful people and always be true! “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. The world will be yours and everything in it, and what’s more, you’ll be a man, my son.”
To discover more, please visit:
Club Vivanova – www.clubvivanova.com
Mitton Wines – www.mittonwines.com