By Peter High, published on Forbes
David Trone has been on a mission for quite some time. First, that mission took the form of entrepreneurship, then philanthropy, and finally politics. He learned entrepreneurship at the knee of his father, who developed a variety of businesses related to the family farm in Pennsylvania. Trone developed his own egg-centric venture as an undergrad at Furman University to help pay for college. He then developed his first beer-centric business while getting his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and then launched Total Wine & More soon thereafter with his brother, Robert Trone.
25 years later, Total Wine & More has grown into the largest alcohol-specific retailer, with roughly $3 billion in revenue with 172 stores in 22 states. Trone emphasizes that the future is more about clicks than bricks, however, and the company is investing heavily in e-commerce and digital experience capabilities. The company is also doubling down on customer experience, providing wine, beer, and spirit education, virtual experiences with people behind beloved brands, and a chance to meet the makers in the company’s stores. An educated buyer is someone who is likely to pursue and enjoy higher ticket items.
Over the years, Total Wine & More and Trone more specifically have donated millions of dollars to charities, often in the communities in which the company operates. It is a form of doing well by doing good ala Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take – Why Helping Others Drives Our Success,” which Trone indicates was an influential book for him. As he has gotten more immersed in healthcare, education reform, and prison reform through his charitable work, his third mission was sparked a couple of years ago, as David campaigned for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, hoping to fix what he believes to be a broken government. Although his run was not successful, he believes his future remains in politics as much as in business and in philanthropy. He covers all the above and more in this interview.
Peter High: Let’s start at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. You started your first business during college at Furman University, having grown up on a farm, it was an egg business. Then, while getting your MBA, you started a beer business. Where did your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
David Trone: My entrepreneurial spirit came from my dad. He was a serial entrepreneur. He was involved in many different ventures including egg processing, egg marketing, hog finishing, a farm vacation business, a gas and grocery business, and a picnic business.
High: You are the co-founder and co-owner, with your brother Robert, of Total Wine & More. An organization that has 172 stores in 22 states, and has been around for over a quarter of a century. In both the short term and long term, what are some of the areas on your roadmap for continued growth?
Trone: Our strategy is bricks and clicks. Bricks is where we have been in the past, but the future has to be clicks. Right now, we continue to build across the country. We are focused on growth states like Texas and California and filling out traditional markets in places like Florida and Boston. At the same time, we realize that the evolution of retail in America is e-commerce. We are creating an e-commerce solution that will allow us to be omnichannel and agnostic. If does not matter if our customers want to shop in the store, pick up the products, or have them delivered, we have to do all three and do them seamlessly.
High: You have lived in Pennsylvania and Maryland, both have particularly restrictive laws with regard to the sale of adult beverages. How has that impacted the way you manage and expand your organization?