Isiah Thomas is doing undeniable work in the champagne industry. Thomas not only made history playing basketball, now he’s making history as an entrepreneur. Thomas spoke with the L.A. Sentinel about his recent endeavors and partnerships to help expand his company. To reach the success where Thomas is at today, it wasn’t easy.
It was challenging for Thomas to break into the champagne industry because companies were hesitant to work with him. He decided to create his own, started Cheurlin Champagne, and now they are one of the fastest-growing champagne companies in the United States. He said, “Things are going extremely well right now. Our champagne is one of the leading sellers in some of the states. We are putting our champagne online right now with Thirstie. When you’re trying to navigate your way through Covid, everyone had to come through where we are today, on zoom and the virtual world.”
Thomas states the partnership with Thirstie is unique because it gives them the online e-commerce presence they have been looking for, which allows them to retain customers and interact with their consumers. When they go to Cheurlin Champagne’s website, they can purchase from there directly. “It’s been a good working relationship, and we plan to expand it further.”
When the pandemic started, Thomas brought his team together to make sure they can communicate virtually, via phone, zoom, skype, to keep one another updated with their weekly meetings instead of meeting face to face. Working online has given Cheurlin Champagne an extended reach. They are not only in the United States, but they are located in Ontario, Canada.
During this unprecedented time, Thomas took essential steps to keep everyone’s spirits high. “The things we tried to do was stay afloat and adjust our expectations, and what I said to all of our staff was that our goal is to ready ourselves to hit the ground running again once the pandemic is over.” He understands people go through things in their personal lives and how important it is to create a healthy working environment.
Cheurlin Champagne partners with the NBAPA and NFLPA, which has helped them reach an audience of over 2.5 billion people. Thomas says, “Using the social media platform that they have and ours, we were able to stay on top of minds and expand our brand reach.” He notes sports has a way of bringing people together.
Thomas used the assets that he had in sports and entertainment to become a great leader in the business world. He inferred, “What I’ve learned from sports, and what I’ve been able to bring over from sports to business is the ability to focus a group of individuals on setting a goal and setting a higher vision and then putting some values around in it.” “Partnering with the NBA and NFL, we were able to leverage the credibility and the sustainability to move through a twelve-month cycle. Sports also has a way of helping you communicate and being a good teammate, meaning you have to have a accomplish a goal and set a vision”. That is a necessary concept that he knew was transferable, so he takes that approach in the champagne industry as well.
Cheurlin Champagne has one of the healthiest products in the country. “When we look at what sugar has done to our bodies over the years, what I wanted to is bring a champagne that was zero sugar or low sugar.” Thomas had naysayers telling him low sugar wasn’t the way to go. However, Thomas recognized the American pallet was shifting towards healthier things that balanced your body rather than go against your body. He stated the American people hadn’t had the opportunity to taste low sugar champagne. This worked in his favor. He states, “I’m the largest African American owner, importer of the first pressed grape champagne in the world. That means we’re bringing you the best of the best every time you open up of our bottles.” “No one can claim that.”
There were many doors closed on Thomas, and he states those doors are still being closed today. He was able to overcome those obstacles “We’re the fastest-growing, but Sam’s Club, Walmart, still hasn’t put us on their shelf. Amazon, Whole Foods still hasn’t put on their shelf, along with Target and Costco. You can imagine all the no’s that I’ve got, but I’m from the west side of Chicago, and I keep knocking. I’ve been told no all my life.” Thomas said he grew up shining shoes and took that mentality I keep pushing. He has been named Champagne Producer of the Year, the last two years. “Every time somebody tastes our champagne compared to any other champagne, they quickly decide they want the best of the best, which is ours.”
Cheurlin Champagne is disrupting the champagne industry, and Thomas said they have no problem with being the underdogs. “We don’t mind being the disruptor. I’m used to having the bad boy role with the Detroit Pistons, and we had to show up when it was a Laker-Celtic party, and we were the new kids on the block. That’s kind of who we are with Cheurlin Champagne. With the Pistons, we had a good team, but people didn’t know about it, so we had to let it be known. Once we stepped on the stage, we were able to compete. Now that our Cheurlin Champagne has stepped on the stage, and people have tasted it, now we’re competing.”
Thomas gives the analogy that his Champagne teammates are like the best NBA players in history, but they have raggedy shoes. “We walk in, and we are the team that has the mismatched uniforms, raggedy shoes, and holes in our socks. But on my team, I have Kareem, LeBron, Jordan, I got Magic and myself, and we’re getting ready to compete. We don’t have the pretty colors on our uniforms, but when the game starts, we’re the best team, and that’s Cheurlin Champagne right now.” Cheurlin Champagne relies on its quality and team to drive its success.
Photos of Isiah Thomas’ illustrious basketball career.