A Slice on Margaux Reaume and Arden Gilfillan, Co-Founders of Argaux
The food and wine-loving duo of Margaux Reaume and Arden Gilfillan (quite literally) formed Argaux (Arden + Margaux) out of their shared passion. They met in 2010 their freshman year at the University of Arizona, instantly clicking and becoming close friends. Once out of the dorm, they would host dinner parties for their friends, leading to their duo nickname, “Argaux”. Both grew up cooking; Reaume with her mother who worked at Bon Apetit and Gilfillan back in Milwaukee where she would cook for Packers games. Through this love of food came a love of wine. After graduating, both Gilfillan and Reaume attended the International Culinary Center for their wine program (separately, though, so they wouldn’t distract each other).
The two knew they wanted to start something together, so they began in-home wine tastings while still keeping their existing jobs: Gilfillan as a pilates instructor and Reaume doing Marketing and Sales for a vineyard based in Napa Valley. The idea for in-home wine tastings actually came from one of Gilfillan’s hosted Packers games where she implemented a wine tasting for her parents and friends. People loved it, and Gilfillan immediately called Reaume to see if she’d be in on making this a business. She was, and the two started in-home wine tastings across Orange County with an equally positive response.
After two years, they expanded into offering “full-blown food and wine pairing experiences”, with Reaume as the “unofficial” chef and Gilfillan as the sommelier. They became locally known for these “wine dinners”, and customers started asking if they could buy the wines they were tasting. “We were like, ‘No, but that’s a really good idea and you should be able to.’ So we got a license to sell wine, and we started selling people wine in their homes and then moved the platform online.”
To source the wines, they used “traveling connections” by asking owners and chefs at European restaurants if they had a friend who made wine (the answer was almost always “yes”) and then using distributors with similar models. Each source goes through a vetting process to ensure they are small production and responsibly farmed. As the head of their sourcing, Reaume tastes upwards of 70 wines per month to see what will fit with their brand (yes, this includes traveling to Europe regularly).
Fast-forwarding a couple of years, the COVID pandemic hit and affected businesses worldwide. Though it impeded Reaume’s ability to travel and build relationships with vendors, they managed to take a step back and figure out how to adapt to stay relevant. “We were able to see tremendous growth and I think a lot of that had to do with the creativity of our team.” They recognized that people were wanting wine delivery, so they came up with the creative solution of a blind tasting kit. “It was really about ‘how can we be a part of our consumer’s lives during this really weird time?’” The product became their best seller, with Google Ad spend and plenty of reviews driving traffic to it.
Building a team that was able to be nimble and creative in a chaotic time was not easy, however. Gilfillan emphasizes that it was “all about managing expectations and keeping everyone motivated and on the same page. Throughout COVID there were some tough times because you’re having to deal with people’s safety and their comfort level when it comes to coming into the office, but also realizing that this is a growing startup so we don’t have the luxury of just sending people home.” Reaume adds that it was difficult as a first-time manager, “You definitely learn a lot about yourself when you start bringing people on. If you’re not a trained manager you’re kind of learning on the fly.”
While there have been challenges, their experience building their team has been overall very positive and helpful in growing Argaux to what it is today. “When you’re two founders starting a company, you start thinking the same. You’re keeping your head down, you’re so internally into the business, that it can be detrimental. So by bringing in new people, fresh faces with a completely different outlook on the company and where they see it going, it’s really nice and it’s refreshing to get that diversity of thought.”
Throughout their experience as young, first-time founders, Reaume and Gilfillan have learned a lot about what it takes to run a business. Looking back, Reaume sees the value in getting mentors and really building your mental strength. “Wholeheartedly believe in what you’re doing. In the beginning, there’s a lot of people not taking you seriously. You need a lot of internal mental strength.” Gilfillan realized she was trying to do too much herself when she should have been asking for help. “I can’t act like I know everything. I have to ask questions and we need smarter people in the room. I have to put myself out there and just be like, ‘Hey can you hop on the phone for 10 minutes? I have a random question and I haven’t talked to you in like two years but I need some help.’ To Margaux’s point, building that network of people to have in your back pocket as soon as possible is important.”
Success to Reaume and Gilfillan is a bit nuanced. For Gilfillan, it’s about whether she’s moving the needle forward and giving her best every day while still taking care of herself. For Reaume, it’s about her ability to positively impact their customers and “open up the world of wine” for them. “We have very loyal customers and we’ve become a part of their day-to-day life in terms of their wine. It’s not only what they’re drinking at the end of the day, but it’s what they choose to drink on special occasions- on birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. They come to us to help them curate that experience.” Their main goals for the future are to focus on improving both their work-life balance and the user experience of Argaux as a digital platform, where they aren’t always able to be in people’s homes with instant feedback and connection.
Margaux Reaume received her Bachelor’s in Non-Fiction Creative Writing and Minor in History from the University of Arizona. She had two internships prior to co-founding Argaux with Arden Gilfillan, whom she met at U of A. Reaume is now the lead buyer for Argaux, in charge of their global supply, and is a certified sommelier. Connect with Reaume on LinkedIn.
Arden Gilfillan received her Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and Minor in Fashion from the University of Arizona. She taught pilates during college and co-founded Argaux with Margaux Reaume after graduating. Gilfillan is now the Head of Marketing and Sales and is also a certified sommelier. Connect with Gilfillan on LinkedIn.