January 2, 2013 § 18 Comments
Yup. Survived captures exactly what I’m feeling right now. I actually woke up this morning with a little extra spring in my step (though I do feel inclined to mention that my NYE partying is still taking its toll on my head & I’m sure my liver thus my “springing step” is more of a sloth-like meandering around my office which compared to yesterday, is a massive improvement). I am just so excited that we made it through in one piece!
2012 was a big one for me. My husband and I bought, renovated & moved into our new apartment and I launched my whisky, Brenne, with what I can only describe as incredible success (thanks LARGELY to the continued sharing, tasting, buying & chatting about by you all) despite having Hurricane Sandy shut us down for arguably the 2 most important selling weeks in the year.
Whisky inventory management is a whole different ball game than any other commodity I’ve ever managed. The lead-time is years. To know how much whisky to create in the first place is a major guessing game (how does anyone really know how well their spirit will sell almost 10 years from the day the process is started?). Then once you have a spirit that has aged as long as you think creates the balanced profile you are looking for – it’s entirely your call as to when to pull the barrels, how many to bottle, and – in my case – how much to put on a boat and wait patiently for it to travel 1/2 way around the world (all the while you’re barely sleeping as the nightmares of a tsunami or freak storm or anything damaging all of those years of hard work and money keep you up in nervous sweats — and yes, whisky is now looked at as ‘years’ verses simply a ‘product’).
To say I really had no idea how much whisky I could/would sell between October 1st and December 31st is a gross understatement. I spent about 2 years market testing Brenne in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco while asking nearly every bar tender I had ever met how many bottles of any particular brand of whisky they sell through per month (usually the answer was this: “vodka and gin I go through multiple bottles a night, whisky you say? About 1 bottle per brand per month. Why don’t you want to make vodka instead? You’ll make more money”) Yikes. This wasn’t a “get rich quick” business for me – I’ve been building this out of my love for whisky, my passion for the influence & effect terroir plays on the aging product, and the impact that true craftsmanship can have on such an amazing spirit!
Still, I had the number I was looking for (1 bottle per brand per month … that’s 1 case a year per account -or 2 cases if you do 6 bottle cases like I do). That seemed really low and a little upsetting – after hearing that from a lot of people I do remember running the numbers and thinking, “I can never do this!!! How does anyone make any kind of living off of whisky? Should I just fold this up now? No one will ever know! We can sell this in bulk to someone else and let it be someone else’s headache. We’re too small a company to compete!” But my husband kept encouraging me to move forward and something deep inside of me agreed. Knowing that a new brand (and one from a “new” country) would need to be hand-sold by bartenders & shop keepers, I had to figure that my product would take even longer to move through on the shelves. Which meant I really needed to buckle down, create a very focused plan for launching Brenne, and go back to our college days of living off of the cheapest food I could find. We are in this for the long haul!
After much analyzing of whatever data I could get my hands on – my husband and I agreed to bring in a small amount of Brenne to start. Mind you, we were only selling this in New York and even then, only focusing on a few areas within the Manhattan area so I really had my work cut out for me to launch this with any type of success. There were a lot of days leading up to our launch that I thought, “I could pull the cord on this now, I don’t HAVE to move forward, no one is forcing me and again … no one will ever know! – I kept Brenne quiet for years, there was no need to change that! ” Which I knew was all fear talking so again, I kept moving forward.
Then one day you turn the corner and realize that with one more step, you’re jumping off the cliff and there is no turning back. The future is most certainly unclear but once this step is made – it’s seriously GO time. I happily & nervously danced my way right over the edge. Major decision making became as regular a part of my day as my morning coffee. And with never having done this before in this industry, I’ll be the first to admit there was a lot of “follow your gut” guess work. There still is! You do the best with what you have and then, you just keep moving forward.
If I didn’t launch October 1st, I knew I would have had to hold it until January 1 (this week!) as it’s impossible to launch anything new during November and December. So I did it – pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, hand selling this to every single account who would take an appointment with me. I didn’t launch this with a distributor – I decided to distribute it myself – and I was SHOCKED with just how well Brenne has been received.
That number of “12 bottles of whisky per brand a year per account” was grossly underestimated. I have one bar going through about 12 bottles a WEEK! I have stores on multi-case bi-monthly ordering schedules and the initial quantity which I assumed would supply many unique account was satisfied by only a relatively small handful. Brenne was definitely exceeding the “12 bottles per year per account*” estimate and I woke up each day with more excitement, confidence, humility and gratitude then I have ever felt.
So after what can only be described as a marathon of tasting events this holiday season, I woke up today alive and happy. And started to arrange for my next few pallets of product to be loaded up from our distillery in Cognac and brought over to the US. There is still a TON of hard work ahead and many, many long days but if these first 3 months with Brenne are any indication of our future, then I can not WAIT to keep moving forward and see where were are this time next year.
And just to leave you with a little something – I did ring in the New Year with my husband and dear friends at the very cool new NYC whiskey bar, The Flatiron Room, which I will blog about next time!
I hope you all have a safe, healthy, and wonderful start to 2013! HAPPY NEW YEAR!
*Just clarifying for those who really like to get down to the nitty-gritty, the “12 bottles per account per year” was based off of no published statistics but rather gathered by myself by simply speaking with bar tenders around the USA. Also, the type of account I’m referring to with these numbers are only for on-premise (meaning a bar, restaurant or lounge).