E L T T A B E H T R O F R A B K BAC The backbar is the spot to be, but often it feels as though craft producers have an unfair disadvantage when it comes to securing that location. Here are some tips that may increase your chances of getting a piece of the pie.
WRITTEN BY DEVON TREVATHAN
ompetition is tough out there for a fledgling distillery. Not only are they up against the behemoths of the spirits industry — and the money and recognition that accompanies that position — but the list of craft DSPs seems to grow longer everyday. In a saturated market, it can be difficult to guarantee that any one move will effectively promote a product — that is with the exception of placement on the backbar. “Having your bottle on a backbar is like free advertising in a sense,” says Charlie Nelson, cofounder of Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery. He and his brother Andy know full well the power of bar presence. When a spirit is placed on the backbar, the proprietor of that particular watering hole is giving an implicit stamp of approval. They have to believe that bottle will sell, otherwise it’s a waste. It’s no wonder that the battle for the backbar is very real indeed. “Our thinking was, if someone goes and buys one bottle at a liquor store, that’s great, you’ll sell a bottle. But if you sell a bottle to a bar, then there’s a chance that that bartender could sell 10-15 people bottles by getting them interested in the product, taking one bottle and turning it into a couple cases.” Small producers don’t have it easy when it comes to securing that coveted location or snagging a guest spot on the cocktail list. When you start small, you don’t have the same brand recognition that comes from dedicated marketing campaigns. You have to rely on grassroots appeal, the power of your story, and the stuff inside the bottle to sell your product. If all else fails, you might just make it with a little extra hustle. For Nelson’s Greenbrier, it was that last bit that made a difference. “Everyone always said ‘the brands are built on premise,’” says Nelson. “I would have a list of bars and restaurants and go, one after the other, and have a drink at each one until the bars closed.” It couldn’t have been easy to maintain much of a personal life during that time, but the brothers’ persistence helped make Belle Meade Bourbon a rising star in the spirits game. Not only did they convert people into fans of their spirit, they gave them a story worth remembering. If you’re approaching bars on a regular basis, you’ll want more than just a dedicated mindset. “Know going in that your product fits with the type of bar you’re approaching. That means doing some advance research on each account, but that is always time well spent,” says Chall Gray of Slings & Arrows Consulting. Without an idea of what a particular bar sells or how a bottle will fit into the overall theme, producers might find themselves misusing valuable time. Just as each distillery has a unique sense of identity, so do the bars they hope to court. No two buyers will be exactly alike, and you shouldn’t expect their philosophies to be either. “Quality is the number one factor on deciding what new bottles make it to our shelves,” says Bill Thomas, WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
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