Entrepreneur Of The Year: Andrew McMurray
Westchester entrepreneur and wine connoisseur Andrew McMurray dishes on being creative in a notoriously rigid industry, his historic appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, and making time for family—and marathons.
Photographs By Stefan Radtke
It’s an opportunity most entrepreneurs dream of: a spot on Shark Tank, that irresistible reality show that places a plucky pitchman or pitchwoman in a room with celebrity moguls like Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran, and Kevin O’Leary.
Entrepreneurs have the chance to pitch their ideas to the panel of eponymous “sharks”—and millions of viewers. If they succeed, entrepreneurs snag a hefty investment, plus the sharks’ incalculable wisdom. But if they fail, they fail hard: Entrepreneurs often wobble, stumble, and crack under the weight of the sharks’ prying questions and unbridled criticism.
During the summer of 2014, Scarsdale’s Andrew McMurray, 48, found himself running that notorious gauntlet. The vice president of Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale, McMurray was pitching Zipz, a portable, single-serve wine product he co-founded. Zipz is a canny idea: It’s wine on-the-go that doesn’t sacrifice elegance or taste. You simply peel off the wrapper, unscrew the plastic top, and voilà—fresh wine in a handy plastic glass. No unwieldy bottle, no pesky cork.
But despite Zipz’s clever design and McMurray’s charisma, the sharks were relentless.
“Why is it different than [competitors’ products]?” interrogates shark and software titan Robert Herjavec during the 13-minute segment.
“What’s your sell-through?” asks O’Leary.
“What are your total sales?” demands Cuban an instant later.
For a moment, it seems McMurray might falter: His face grows anxious; the music reaches an ominous crescendo; the sharks grow increasingly impatient. “I’m out,” booms Cuban, show lingo for Thanks, but I’d rather not invest. Three other sharks quickly follow suit.
But McMurray persists: He pivots and rebounds, sparring with Kevin O’Leary, the sole remaining shark (and the most ruthless). Despite those rough moments earlier, McMurray and O’Leary are able to strike a lucrative deal—and Zipz makes Shark Tank history.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, McMurray sits in a conference room tucked into a corner of Zachys Wine & Liquor, the 72-year-old store that sits on East Parkway in Scarsdale. Just outside, Zachys’ main floor is humming: The store is hosting a tasting, and dozens of customers mill around towering wine displays, sipping reds and chatting.
When asked if he self-identifies as an entrepreneur, McMurray is coy. He’s more comfortable characterizing himself as a wine professional with an entrepreneurial flair.
“Wine is in my blood, and it has been for two-plus decades,” he says. “It’s what I know.”
McMurray’s modesty belies his ability. Entrepreneurs have a knack for innovating in unlikely or unexpected places. They also know how to “disrupt,” to borrow a hackneyed Silicon Valley phrase, and over the past 20 years, McMurray has done just that.
What’s more, McMurray has pioneered in an industry notably averse to change. “The wine industry moves so slow,” McMurray says. “It’s definitely not a progressive industry; it’s hundreds, thousands of years old. It doesn’t change quickly.” The news comes as no surprise, given that in McMurray’s world, the product is often older than the salesman.
A history of wine
For someone who’s made an indelible impression on Westchester’s wine landscape, it’s intriguing to learn McMurray’s entrance into the industry was marked by hesitation.
McMurray studied marketing at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the late ’80s and later landed on the West Coast with his wife. He had a job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, then transitioned to a gig in the restaurant sector. “I had no background in wine,” McMurray says.
But McMurray’s father-in-law—Zachys CEO Don Zacharia—saw a spark. Don was quick to notice McMurray’s tenacity and extended an invitation to join the family business.
McMurray was reluctant. “I needed to make sure I liked the family business,” he recalls. To test the waters, he took a job at a wine store in Los Angeles.
Something clicked. “In the three years I was there, I went from being the guy who sweeps the floors in the warehouse to general manager,” McMurray says. “I fell in love with wine. And that’s how I got started.”
A family affair: McMurray with his father-in-law, Zachys owner Don Zacharia (middle), and brother-in-law Jeff Zacharia (right), president of Zachys.
When McMurray eventually gave notice to the West Coast wine shop in order to head to Zachys, his employer was distraught. The boss called Don Zacharia and asked if he might turn McMurray away, so he could continue working in Los Angeles. A bold move—but one that likely cemented Zacharia’s decision to take on his son-in-law.
Now, 22 years later, McMurray serves as Zachys’ vice president, managing retail operations. Helming the retail division means overseeing the sprawling selection of wines and spirits that line Zachys’ walls, but far more, too.
“What you see [in Zachys] is only about 15 percent of our retail business,” McMurray explains. The other 85 percent is carried out online and over the phone, with 100,000 clients around the country.
It’s this sort of scope, and also the expertise, that distinguishes Zachys from the other wine and liquor stores that dot Westchester’s downtowns. “We deal in the premium fine wine sector,” McMurray explains. Zachys’ average bottle price is between $39 and $42. At other wine shops, that average is closer to $14 or $15, McMurray says.
During his tenure at Zachys, McMurray says he’s learned from the best, his father-in-law, whom he considers a mentor.
“He’s an icon in the fine-wine industry,” McMurray says with deference. Don Zacharia bought the Zachys location (then called East Parkway Liquor House) from his father in 1961 and transformed it into one of the most revered names in premium wine in the US. Today, at 84, Don Zacharia serves as CEO and has grown the company to more than 100 employees. In addition to the Scarsdale location, Zachys has offices and a 50,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled storage facility in White Plains.
McMurray also works with his brother-in-law and Zachys president, Jeff Zacharia, who’s quick with praise. “He is always thinking about new and exciting ways to promote Zachys, new ways to bring people into the store,” Zacharia says of McMurray. “He’s a great entrepreneur.”
Breaking the mold
“I’m always looking for ways to take ‘Zachys’ out of Zachys,” says McMurray of the dictum that guides his work. It’s this philosophy—a desire to try something unexpected—that gave rise to Zipz and eventually landed McMurray in front of five of the most influential businesspeople in the world.
About a year-and-a-half before Citi Field opened in Queens, a food-and-wine consultant working with the Mets—and a longtime Zachys customer—reached out to McMurray for his expertise. Zachys was tasked with helping create a “real New York food-and-wine experience” at Citi Field. No small task. For years, arenas and other large venues have struggled to introduce a single-serve wine that’s both convenient and classy. Beer? No problem—pump it into an aluminum can. Wine? Not so easy. Rare is the wine drinker willing to sip Cabernet Sauvignon out of a can or flimsy plastic cup.
McMurray began to research solutions. He tracked down a product from New Zealand that did the trick (sort of) but lacked personality. When J. Henry Scott, a Zachys customer with a penchant for design, stopped by and saw the New Zealand contraption, he was inspired. A month later, Scott emailed sketches and ideas to McMurray.
“That’s how the whole concept got started,” McMurray says. The two made a powerful pair: the imaginative engineer and the savvy wine merchant, one able to draw up clever designs and the other able to open doors in a notoriously aloof industry. Today, McMurray serves as Zipz co-founder and national wine consultant. McMurray’s fellow co-founders are Scott, now CEO, who runs Zipz’s day-to-day operations, and President Pat Scire, a founding investor who brings 20 years of experience in the financial industry (along with a personal wine collection in excess of 17,000 bottles).
Zipz’s encounter with Shark Tank began with a demo tape, recorded at Zachys during the summer of 2014 and mailed to the show’s producers. At first, the demo’s reception was lukewarm. “They said, ‘It’s interesting, but we don’t know if we can slot it,’” McMurray recalls. But interest grew, and soon McMurray was invited to Los Angeles for a visit.
“I went out there and did a screen-test and went back to my hotel room, planning on flying back to New York,” McMurray says. “But they called me at 11 pm and said, ‘Can you come back tomorrow?’”
Since his appearances on Shark Tank and Beyond the Tank, McMurray and shark Kevin O’Leary have remained in touch. O’Leary has helped broker partnerships for Zipz with retailers, airlines, and hotels.
The taping took two hours, but McMurray notes the experience was far less grueling than the 13-minute segment makes it out to be. “The whole conversation [with the sharks] was much lighter, more jovial,” McMurray says. “We had all sorts of great conversations about things we like in wine.”
“But the way they cut it, they want to make it look tough,” McMurray adds.
Drama may make for good television, but so does a happy ending. By the segment’s conclusion, McMurray and O’Leary reach a historic agreement: $2.5 million for 10 percent equity, the biggest investment in Shark Tank history to that time.
As for his performance on the show, McMurray’s colleagues (and family) were impressed. “I knew beforehand that Andrew had a lot of talents, but I was truly impressed how comfortable he was on Shark Tank,’” notes Jeff Zacharia. “He got everyone’s attention.”
Since their agreement was struck, O’Leary remains actively involved in Zipz. He serves as one of the company’s “frontmen” and “dealmakers,” says McMurray, helping broker partnerships with major retailers, airlines, and hotel chains, giving Zipz an international identity. “Kevin has the ability to get his calls answered and get the right people at the top to take notice,” McMurray says. When a major deal is in the works, McMurray notes he and O’Leary will sometimes huddle daily. “Bottom line: When we need him, he has been very responsive in getting back to us,” McMurray says.
If O’Leary’s media appearances are any indication, it’s a partnership he’s happy about. “I love wine; I invest in it; I buy futures,” O’Leary said during a CNBC interview late last year. “When I saw this deal, I had to do it.”
McMurray and O’Leary will have more screen time together in the near future, too: The pair spent a portion of this past summer filming an upcoming episode of Beyond the Tank, a sister show that spotlights Shark Tank entrepreneurs and their projects after the deal has been struck.
McMurray’s entrepreneurial approach to selling wine has led to relationships with major food-and-beverage players like Centerplate and the private-jet company NetJets.
McMurray’s entrepreneurial energy isn’t exclusive to Zipz. He’s lent his magic to Zachys, too.
McMurray takes a marketer’s approach to selling wine. Due to New York State law, all of Zachys’ wine transactions can only take place at or from a single location—the Scarsdale shop. Zachys may not be able to sell wine offsite, but they can tout their brand anywhere in the world. And so McMurray does just that.
Take, for example, Zachys’ relationship with Centerplate, a major food-and-beverage provider. The wine store served as the national partner to Centerplate from 2013 to 2015, helping to pick wine for football and baseball stadiums across the country. There was no money exchanged in this partnership, which might leave a less imaginative entrepreneur scratching his head. But to McMurray, there’s still extraordinary value.
“I bartered my time and effort and services for recognition,” he says.
Zachys also runs the wine program for NetJets, a company that offers purchasers fractional ownership of a private jet. Now, when movers and shakers enjoy a bottle of wine onboard, they’re likely to spy the Zachys label.
Like any entrepreneur, not all ideas stick. “Probably 8 out of the 10 marketing ideas I come up with make [Don Zacharia] cringe,” McMurray laughs. “But I’m usually pretty good at spinning out new concepts.”
He’s also pretty good at not giving up—he’s got that innate entrepreneurial spirit, which just may be the key to his success. “I’m a driven person,” McMurray says.
An Unflagging Energy
Parenting, triathlons, and philanthropy—all part of a day’s work
Entrepreneurs always seem to have a preternatural amount of time, an impressive ability to balance this commitment with that career and all those side projects. And Andrew McMurray is no exception.
McMurray lives in Scarsdale, just two miles from Zachys, with his wife and two children. He’s a hands-on dad. “I don’t miss anything: the sports, the parent-teacher conferences,” he says.
Then there’s the athletics. “I’m one of those crazy triathletes,” he admits. “Iron Man was always my dream, and two years ago I did the one in Kona, Hawaii.” Leading up to a race, McMurray will sometimes train 14 hours a week.
But the workout is hardly a respite from wine. “I have all my best business ideas when I’m out on the bike, swimming or running,” he says.
“I’ve brought the Zachys brand along with me when I do triathlons,” he continues. In this case, though, it’s less about business and more about charity. The Zachys brand has a certain cachet, an ability to motivate donors and kick-start philanthropy. In the past eight years, McMurray and Zachys have raised $300,000 for various causes. Recipients are varied, including the victims of the Boston bombings and, more recently, a breast cancer charity.
In one case, McMurray helped raise funds for a Zachys employee battling prostate cancer. “We raised about $30,000 to pay for all his medical expenses,” McMurray says.
McMurray’s energy seems endless—so much so, the Beyond the Tank producers asked him where it comes from.
The answer is simple, he says: It’s the triathlons. They fuel his creativity.
Kevin Zawacki is a writer and editor living in Southern Westchester. In reporting this piece, he managed to mispronounce “Sauvignon” only once.