After last week’s successful launch of the wine and spirits industry’s first-ever Distribution Playbook, a tool for craft, startup and small production brands, the WSWA Access team sat down with members of the Access Advisory Council to discuss the Playbook, their involvement in Access during its inaugural year, and the continued success of their companies and products.
The WSWA Access Advisory Council is made up of craft, startup and small production wine and spirits brand leaders, WSWA members and industry partners working together to develop expert guidance, resources and best practices that help brands navigate industry challenges and identify opportunities in an effort to further enhance a smartly regulated and successful U.S. alcohol marketplace.
Below is a glimpse at WSWA’s conversations with these brands. For more information about WSWA Access, to learn more about the council members and to download your free copy of the playbook, visit wswa.org/access.
Phillip Rawleigh is the vice president of business development at 291 Colorado Whiskey.
WSWA: In the Playbook you’re quoted talking about the importance of being a good partner to on-premise retailers by providing appropriate media assets. For brands just starting out, what, in your experience, has been some of the most impactful or low-cost ways for a brand to do that?
Phillip Rawleigh: An important and low-cost way to be a good partner is by taking advantage of social media and videos. Most people already know what they're doing. One simple way to create these videos is by just having your bartenders or having your cocktailers that happen to be in your tasting room, create simple, educational videos with cocktail recipes. You can then send those out to not just the account, but to the bartenders.
It’s a great way to make a relationship with the bartender and say, “Hey, you know I’ve got four really great cocktail videos. Would you like to watch them?” You can have the videos right on your phone to show them and then maybe the video ends with a quick, educational graphic of the full recipe. Using social media and creating these videos is cheap – it doesn't cost you anything, except for your time to put the video together and building those assets for your partners. But it’s an easy way to get them involved and familiar with your product.
I think the most direct way to being a good partner is that relationship with your account and with the bartenders. Also providing constant education about your product and brand will elevate that relationship. So that when they are making your cocktail, they're picking up your bottle and they can talk about it honestly – because they know about it, they know what they want to mix with it, and then they can create their own drinks with your product after they implement them into their bar programs to get on a menu to get really great volume.
WSWA: What exciting endeavors has 291 Colorado Whiskey been involved with lately? Do you have any new and exciting things to share?
Phillip Rawleigh: 291Colorado whiskey expanded so much this year! We're in 18 states and we’ve expanded to Canada, the UK and Germany.
Our relationship with Liberation Distributing (LibDib) has grown this year, as well – we just moved into Texas together through their new platform with Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC). That was exciting. And finally, we’re getting ready to go to Japan, so I'm excited about that. Our first shipment goes out to Japan in two months!
Patrick Jean-Baptiste is the president of Crafthouse Cocktails.
WSWA: In the playbook you talk about the importance of finding a wholesaler partner that respects your brand’s personality. As CraftHouse Cocktails has seen more and more commercial success, what steps have you taken to ensure your personality remains intact in everything you do?
Patrick Jean-Baptiste: To ensure our personality remains, we continue to focus on our relationship with consumers and partners. We have made sure that we have a newsletter that goes out to all of our partners – retail, on-premise and our wholesale partners – that highlights what we're doing, what we've achieved recently, and any happenings or wins that have occurred. The newsletter also directs them towards any necessary resources. We do a lot of online engagement as well. My partner Charles Joly leads a lot of seminars with tips and information, and different aspects of deliverables for our brand, especially regarding the holidays coming up. For example, creating new riffs on our cocktails and thinking through what modifiers we can add to our cocktails to make different drinks that are holiday-themed.
Keeping our personality vibrant involves a lot of communication and reiterating our brand voice the way that we want it to be heard. Having a regular cadence of the newsletter every single month, having things that come out on a regular schedule though social media, press releases and other avenues solidifies that brand voice and the uniqueness of our brand.
In fact, we just had a press release announce our new strategic partnership with a publicly traded PR, social media and marketing company, Dolphin Entertainment. It was also announced that Dolphin Entertainment has taken an equity stake in Crafthouse and it's going to increase our marketing spend over the next year which will continue to help us amplify our brand, while staying true to our founding voice and personality.
Alexei Khimenko is the owner and founder of MyStory Wine Company.
WSWA: In the playbook you gave feedback on "the pass" -- when your pitch doesn't go as planned and your brand is passed up on. Can you speak more to this and the importance of asking for feedback when this happens? How should brands incorporate feedback to improve pitches and their brand overall?
Alexei Khimenko: It has been hard the last couples of years, but it was hard starting COVID [MyStory Wine launched in spring of 2020]. It was very hard to connect with the wholesalers because there weren’t many in-person meetings. I perform so much better if I have a meeting one-on-one with person and pitch my brand that way, instead of just sending samples. For us, this was the number one problem – this is a big problem. The other problem was that some distributors weren’t able to sit and work with existing brands. Now, there are a lot of new people bringing in new brands, specifically last year. So, this year, a lot of people have a backlog that they must clear with all the brands they promised to launch.
However, we have done so much better this year, compared to last year. 2020 was hard on my brand. It seemed like nobody even wanted to take samples. But this year, we opened in a few more states and that has been good for us. Generally, distributors are helpful to small brand or if you’re just starting up. Every challenge, for example if they don’t like the label or the taste profile, is an advantage for small brands. It’s much easier to change the profile or change the labels when you’re a small brand. If you up to 20,000 cases, then it's much harder to change things. This way, when you’re just starting up and only have a few cases, each distributor can provide feedback, like, “Hey, change the cap, change the color of the cap,” or, “I think the label would look better if it was bigger and the paper could be different.” Any feedback from distributor is going to be very, very helpful.
I see a lot of growth with MyStory Wine, and I see a lot of excitement. It’s just it's going to take time for us to get to the next level. But it’s great to be able to have in-person meetings again so I can properly pitch my product. The connection with distributors and consumers is very important. This year has been incredible – it's so refreshing compared to last year.
Subir Singh is the co-founder and president of Mico Spirits.
WSWA: Tequila is one of the most crowded categories out there right now. The Playbook focuses on brands finding their white space and unique brand identifier. What unique brand identifiers do you focus on and amplify with Mico Tequila?
Subir Singh: From the product inception all the way to shelf we looked at tequila in general. We're a premium tequila and we wanted to make sure we would be able to differentiate ourselves with other tequilas on the market. We looked at the three expressions and how the trend was moving from Blanco’s and how people were experimenting with more reposados and anejos.
So, we focused on those needs and, more importantly, how to get people who are drinking high-end Bourbons and single malt scotches, into the tequila category. That’s why we implemented finish in wine cask and cabernet barrels, which was unique to the industry. From the production process, from a premium standpoint we really try to identify from a taste profile how we could get more folks into the category. Additionally, having a female master distiller is unique and sets us apart as well.
When bringing the product to market, we've really looked at the packaging aspects of what was out there. A lot of tequilas have similar packaging – you have the agave leaf, the hand labeling on the bottle (that patron use to do), for example. We looked at our personality and the founders behind the company, and we were curious – we love to experiment with the products and really try to have fun with the product. Mico actually translates to monkey in Spanish. We wanted to have fun with the category and break through the clutter from other tequilas on the market. We went with a bright label so that we would stick out on the shelves and the consumer would be drawn to our brand.
From a consumer standpoint, our target demographic, we looked at women who were looking for premium tequilas that were not 35% and not flavored – there’s nothing wrong with those products and categories, but we were targeting that sophisticated women who were looking for a spirit for when their male counterparts drink brown spirirts. That was how we segmented the brand and entered the market.
WSWA: Does Mico have any exciting announcements or upcoming releases?
Subir Singh: We just launched our extra anejo which are really excited about! It’s aged only an average of 42 months of average and then finishes up in the cabernet cask at 42%. We’re very excited about this especially as the category continues to take off.
We did enter a partnership with LibDib and RNDC in Texas, which we're also really excited about. I just think coming out of what took place in 2020, and now seeing the on-premise really take shape this year, 2021 is going to be very exciting – not just for me, but for everyone in Access and everyone in this industry. There are exciting things taking place in all categories. Going into a new year with a fresh start will be great for our brand!
Cheryl Murphy Durzy is the founder and CEO of Liberation Distributing, Inc. (LibDib).
WSWA: LibDib is really changing the game for craft brands and is at the cutting edge of compliant e-commerce technology. What do you see as the new e-commerce trends in 2022 and what’s next for LibDib?
Cheryl Murphy Durzy: I see that data is going to be everything! Everyone's going to get online, everyone's going to be able to sell, but the questions are going to be, “How do you sell, how do you find your consumer, how do you sell smarter and how do you continue to keep consumers engaged with your brand?” Consumers are fickle – we all know there's something they'll buy, especially with kind of younger buyers who are not as brand centric. Consumers also become fickle especially when it comes to buying online. There's just so many things thrown at people so utilizing the data and continuously engaging your customer will continue to remain important.
Looking ahead to 2022, LibDib has some cool stuff in the works. We’re coming out with more data and how makers can utilize it to sell better, whether its B2B or B2C, which is exciting. We are also expanding – I just got another license so we're going to be in New Jersey soon – which brings us to nine states in total for LibDib. It’s hard to believe we’ll be in nine states in only five years – that’s got to be the fastest growth in any wholesaler over time!
We’re also excited to continue working with RNDC. It's my vision that any maker should be able to sell one case at a time into any market, to any account, and with what we're doing and our combined partnership with RNDC, this will become a reality in a few years hopefully. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get a license and to get established in a state, but if you can utilize one of the best distributors already in the country, the thought then shifts to, “How can you use their resources for everyone?” And that becomes a powerful tool.
With craft brands and the expansion of what's happening in the industry, I think LibDib will continue to be very valuable for every everybody who is involved in this fun and exciting industry.