David Trone encourages students to embrace failure and experiment with innovative business ventures at KPU event
David Trone, founder of Total Wine & More, spoke to students, faculty and administrators about leadership and entrepreneurship in business in the Kogod Student Lounge on Nov. 18.
The event, hosted by the Kennedy Political Union in cooperation with the Kogod School of Business, featured Trone’s personal experiences building the first alcohol “superstore” that offers low prices, a wide variety of products and quality customer service in a setting characteristic of wholesalers like Costco. Ultimately, the store “created a completely new buying experience for consumers” according to Kogod Dean Erran Carmel.
“As you think about a career in business, pick a career that doesn’t have a lot of change and is very static,” Trone said. “That might be a good business to go into because it’s not moving. You can then bring the change and bring the ideas and begin to move it.”
Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, director of KPU, began planning the event in July in an effort to expand KPU’s audience to include students interested in entrepreneurship and to collaborate with Kogod. According to Ojeda-Avitia, KPU has focused on diversifying its selection of speakers to encompass “relatable” leaders unconnected with politics and associated with multiple disciplines.
“He [Trone] started his business while he was in college,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “I thought that this was an opportunity for them [students] to see their future. I found him the most relatable.”
Trone, who founded his business during his second semester of graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, emphasized the importance of setbacks as an integral ingredient in successful business. Trone credits his personal success to the failure of his father’s farm in East Berlin, Pennsylvania.
“I’m happy as hell to fail,” Trone said. “At least I did something. I took a chance, took a risk and did something. Failure needs to be our friend because failure means we’re innovating. If we’re not innovating, we’re going the wrong way.”
Trone’s company began as Liquor World, a beer-only retailer he opened in Pennsylvania in 1984. Since Pennsylvania law prohibits the private sale of wine and spirits, Trone and his co-founder and brother, Robert Trone, established their second store in Delaware which included both products in addition to beer.
According to Trone, Total Wine and More “services a very broad spectrum of customers” in offering approximately 8,000 wines, 2,500 beers and 3,000 spirits in 130 stores across 18 states. According to Trone, the company opened 17 stores in 2015 and will continue growing by approximately 22-25 stores each year through 2020.
“A lot of the time young folks are not patient,” Trone said. “Patience and really building your foundation and cement versus moving is a better way to go in business and in life. Take your time and get it right.”
Trone also stressed the importance of staying ahead of “the wheel of retail” by constantly investing in improvements to existing business models in order to improve the customer experience. In his own company, Trone said he has invested in a new website over the past 18 months that will eventually integrate interactive guides to his products with consumer reviews.
“You need to kind of play like you’re losing,” Trone said. “It’s an important point because that creates the paranoia and the intensity through your organization.”