Artisan Spirit: Fall 2016

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s a distillery owner no one is more passionate and enlightened about your spirits than you are. You can answer any question a new account has about your product — how it was made, where the ingredients are sourced from, what makes it unique — and give them the story behind the bottle that can drive the sale home. Right now you might be able to approach those new accounts and field all those questions on your own, but what will you do when you grow? Say someone wants to carry your product but they cannot get answers about it because neither they nor your distributor can get in touch with you while you slave away trying to keep up with demand. Then it might be time to hire a brand ambassador (BA). BAs work the streets, generating new sales and keeping your current accounts happy. They are the product experts your customers and distributors can go to when they need a quick answer — a conduit to your distillery distributing the good news about your brand and bringing


information back to you so you can improve. That said, they are usually one of the largest costs outside of running the distillery, and good ones can be hard to find. Bad BAs can do more harm than good if they misrepresent your brand, but good ones can be your brand’s greatest ally, driving sales and building a personal connection with your customers that is far more powerful than standard media advertising. “It’s amazing how you multiply your passion through other people and what they can do for your brands,” explained New Liberty Distillery’s (Philadelphia, PA) Tom Jensen. Jensen is an American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) board member who introduced a BA panel at the organization’s 2015 national convention. The panel included Tony Bagnulo, head of sales and marketing for Ghost Coast Distillery (Savannah, GA), Sarah Macfarquhar, distillery ambassador for North Shore Distillery (Green Oaks, IL), Craig Hiljus, director of the Craft Division


at Windy City Distributing (Aurora, IL), Martin Duffy, U.S. brand representative for Glencairn Crystal, and Aaron Zacharias, owner of multiple bars and restaurants in the Chicago area with 18 years of industry experience. Combining their perspectives they offered advice on how to choose, work with and deploy a good BA.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD BA? BAs are brand experts who professionally represent your products outside of the distillery. The practice originated several decades ago with Scotch brands who were sending their distillers around the world to do just that. But taking the distillers away from the distillery took a toll and thus the BA position was invented. There are many skills a BA needs to be successful, and the responsibilities for developing

those skills are shared between them and the DSP. One of the most important requirements is a familiarity with your product, something they need to actively pursue and you need to actively teach. “Whether it’s with the public, with the buyers, or with the suppliers, I want to have every answer I possibly can,” tells Sarah Macfarquhar of North Shore Distillery. “I’m the face of the brand out.” If you hire a BA, bring them into the distillery to work through the whole distillation process, take them to meet your ingredient suppliers, and make sure they understand the minute details of why your product is unique. They should know your brand and products intimately, and Craig Hiljus says distributors expect this depth of