Three years ago, mother of three and top level eventer, Panda Christie suffered a riding accident that was so bad, it made her re-evaluate her life.
“I realised that I had three kids to think about, and I had to move the focus away from eventing a bit.”
Having once been a top sales person for Cisco, an easy choice would have been to go back to an office job, but Panda found she was not sufficiently excited by the idea of selling computer products at the end of the phone all day. Instead, she decided to set up her own business, an online private member’s club called Grapevine.
“Grapevine is about people – meeting and helping people. I love doing both. This is what I’m really interested in. For example, I love hearing about members managing to find something they are looking for or selling things – it is great hearing about their results.”
Though she is still eventing, she has reduced her competition stable to one horse, and increased the amount of time dedicated to Grapevine over the last two years.
“The internet is a minefield, and I wanted to set up a trusted network of people from town or country, but the core of it is really the country – equestrian, racing, eventing – because that is my background and where my network of friends lies.”
This formula is proving seriously popular as word spreads. “What we are finding is that the Grapevine is spreading far and wide. We currently have around 4,000 members, with some of them from the USA, New Zealand and other countries – they like the articles on the site and it helps them keep in touch with what’s happening back in England – and it gives them a UK base when they come back to visit.”
The website has been live for two years. Sadly her father, Mike Wilson CBE, was dying of cancer at the same time Grapevine was being established. “He was a great businessman – he set up St James’s Place Wealth Management – and he was a big supporter of Grapevine. He helped me start it up and was a great sounding board.
“During the later stages of Dad’s illness, I met Ed Wood [from Runway Advisors] who had become a member of Grapevine and who lives locally. It turned out we share a lot of friends, and he has become the older, wiser mentor figure, and has helped to guide us during the last 18 months.”
New members are ideally recommended by existing members with the group originating from Panda’s own network of friends. But this is not just any network!
During her three day eventing career, Panda represented Great Britain on three occasions in the late 1990s. She has competed at several top three day events including Badminton, Kentucky and Pau. As such, her equestrian connections reach far and wide, and friends include other top level riders such as Mark Todd and Alice Plunkett/Fox Pitt, while her step-father is racing trainer Hughie Morrison, and another racing trainer Kim Bailey is an old friend.
“We do have lots of racing and eventing members, but what everyone has in common is a love of the countryside.
“Anyone can apply to be a member, and then they will be asked various questions, such as how did you hear about us (through Eclipse Magazine!). We want to establish that they share the same values as we do; have the same love of the countryside, for example.
“If you read the articles (that you can view on the website without being a member), you will get a feel about whether it is of interest to you or not. In that way, it becomes almost self-selecting really.”
As well as a buy and sell marketplace, the website has ambassadors, business partners and advisors who write articles, organise events and offer advice on topics as diverse as architecture, counselling and luxury travel. There are members-only events, plus discounts and offers from premium companies.
Generally, higher value items are offered for sale: cars, houses, racehorses, luxury holiday rentals. Personal listings start from £17.50 or business posts start at £38.50.
Posts are sent daily or weekly (your choice), filtered by subject to those who have chosen to receive news on particular topics. And there is a monthly member’s newsletter. For example, those who have signed up for ‘Racing News’ would have enjoyed articles such as Marcus Armytage’s tips for Cheltenham, an interview with Simon Claisse (Cheltenham Clerk of the Course), a day in the life of a TV presenter (Alice Plunkett) and an interview with AP McCoy.
Going forward, Panda is keen to keep introducing new features to the website, and to grow the membership further. If you would like to apply for free membership, go to https://www.thegrapevineworks.com and say you have read about it in Eclipse Magazine!
Eventing photo (top) courtesy of ES Photography.