Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in wine and liquor but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Marc Christensen, founder of Dented Brick Distillery, located in South Salt Lake, UT.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Dented Brick® Distillery is an award-winning Utah Distillery where premium spirits are hand-crafted using our on-site Artesian well water. Dented Brick® Distillery offers small-batch, handmade spirits. The most important part of the “craft” process is controlled. Control over the raw materials such as regionally sourced grains and house selected yeasts. Control over the water source used which is the foundation of all distilled spirits. Ours is an artesian well-located on-premise in our Salt Lake City Distillery. Very popular with Generation Y, the "craft" phenomenon has been growing since 2011 in the Spirits market.
Synonymous with creativity and authenticity, it creates a market dynamic where new craft brands meet dedicated craft consumers. Since the early 2010s, the "Craft" trend has quickly grown around the world in the spirits market. Beyond the simple description of an artisanal product, “craft” describes a real trend of consumption. To understand this phenomenon, one needs to understand the consumers. Bored by mass-produced goods they can find in every country, they have turned to more authentic products. They look for products made by a “human”, whose work to create and craft the product is valued. They seek out the unique personality of the product.
Most consumers even consider that "craft" spirits are often of better quality, and they are more prone to spending more for them. It is Generation Y (Millennials), born between the mid-80s and the mid-90 that is fueling the growth of the "Craft" products. For that generation, the consumption of niche products, which they feel “only they” know, is an affirmation of their difference by comparison with the more classic consumption of mass-market products. In their eyes, "Craft" spirits are synonyms with quality. They would rather drink less, but better. These consumers even participate in the growth of a brand by spending time on social media, sharing comments and their feelings about the brands they buy.
Tell us about yourself
Growing up in Idaho, my Dad had a farm store where I worked. Sometime in the late '70s, the wine scene started in Idaho, with Ste. Chapelle is the first big winery. I worked in the store and we sold well pumps and agricultural equipment. We started selling some parts, pumps, and hydraulic hoses to the winegrowers and wineries.
I was soon addicted to the winemaking process, from growing and harvesting to maturation and aging. I worked on a few startup concepts in the wine industry, export, etc., but it was tough as the industry is so saturated. Beer never really interested me for some reason, but distilling started to take hold after some trips to Europe. Most of the wineries there distill on-premises, making Marc, Grappa, Brandy, etc. The same principles for making good distilled liquor from grapes also go into good wines. Good fruit. Good growing techniques, and passion. Good farming. Farm to table.
So, I did some research and experimentation and founded my first legal start-up in distilling in 2011 called Mormon Tea Distillery. I gathered a small group of investors and planned to make an infused vodka, using Mormon Tea (Ephedra Veridis). We were TTB permitted as a wholesaler, we had a blender lined up in Charleston, SC, that would infuse the formula for us, and we're ready to get going. We sent our recipe to the TTB and they passed it up the chain to the FDA. It seems Ephedra Veridis was not on the Generally Regarded As Safe list (GRAS) and we would be required to conduct clinical trials in order to produce this product for public consumption.
Both the FDA and the TTB were opposed to our product idea as they assumed we were going to be jumping on the Four Loko bandwagon, making an alcoholic energy drink. They were up to their limit with this as the kids were killing themselves as fast as they could. So, end of Mormon Tea, ouch. Out of the ashes of the Mormon Tea project came Dented Brick Distillery.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Not failing in the first five years. We had invested more than $4 million dollars in our facility, which we built with the intent of getting to 80,000 cases annually, but we had zero sales when we opened the doors and a really large mortgage!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
For me, it is learning to deal with risk. You can spend your whole life building a business, and something can happen out of your control and you can lose it all.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Raise double the capital that you think you need.
Use the extra capital to hire experienced industry professionals away from successful competitors.
Cut your sales projections in half and use those to create a budget.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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