Still, there’s hope
By John Henry
It was a tough brand building summer out there on the front lines of wine and spirit sales.
Right after the Fourth of July fireworks faded away no buyers seemed to be around or were at least faintly interested in tasting or buying in anything new and artisanal for their stores or bars. Tales of the Cocktail made the local on-premise scene a late July ghost town. I actually saw a rye soaked tumbleweed cross Bedford Avenue late one afternoon as I rode my bike on by, deeper into Bed-Stuy.
Between a half to two thirds of accounts seem to hover in and out of COD. And the smart buyers seemed to take most of August off (If I only had a brain–and the cash flow) . Then showstopper Irene almost brought the Big Apple to a halt. High times these are not. Don’t know what was rarer in August: a dry day, a few hours without any political finger pointing or any good news on the national jobs front?
“From May to December …” I can hear Sinatra singing the words in my ears as I rode downtown along the Hudson River on my rounds. The kids trudged back into school. There is a little hint of fall and whiskey in the air. Reality strikes. Work. Time to step back up to the plate. Separate the men from the boys. So let’s look back a bit and see what was a fad, what wasn’t and what maybe will be.
I needed some end of summer zen to try and make sense of it all. The immediate challenge kept coming back to me: Which new brands stick and which will be just May to September flings? So I grabbed a few ice cold Milwaukee born, union made, Miller Lite Beers, channeled my inner T. Plush and as I reached for the remote this past Labor Day weekend I understood I needed to chill.
I watched the New York baseball teams take their traditional early September paths from daylight into the deep dark Washington night (The Yankees move toward solid deep rotation and combustible late season offensive power; the Mets ride a cyclone of fight to comeback then onto collapse.) This Queens born boy relaxed, accepted my fate on the street, and settled into the groove of a new Ketel One Vodka commercial on cable between innings – Black and white, deep voiced narration, now with hip men and women tippling at the bar. The persuasion was impressive, most impressive, even to this veteran industry pavement pounding stormtrooper. I felt the power of a spirit brand well built over time now going big leagues.
I recently saw one of Maker’s Mark’s initial television commercials on cable as well. Warm, inclusive, iconic in red–it was pure Maker’s. The word is surely getting out.
These little brands I knew so well behind the stick and back in my early farm league, Single A days toiling the street talent as a “brand ambassador,” are now big time World Champion contender brands. In those ambassador salad days a dozen or so years ago, I took my homemade Maker’s holiday chocolate chips cookies and bourbon soaked cherries around in six degree temperatures to top accounts like Il Pace and Virgil’s. I was inspired by the handsome tall blonde, Carl Nolet, Jr, who ushered, undetected, into my own bar space with cocktail tomolives for Ketel One brand martinis a few years earlier. Treated us all just like family. This is old school farm system, grass roots brandbuilding. Rule #1: Winning brands are built Continue Reading…