by Sergio Moutela (from a series of posts in the AMMA Facebook page)
Another installment of the bi-monthly “What I’ve Learned” series.
8 months since opening for business
Things couldn’t be going any better. Well, they could (and will) be going a lot better as we move forward. Solely based on our business activity at the moment revolved only around tours & tastings with no distribution, we are kicking more ass than Van Damme.
Melovino has released 10 different meads thus far, with another 10 new ones coming out within the next 3 weeks, and a lot more after that. It has been a great experience producing and having customers come in and tasting all of these recipes, for the main reason of which being that we have been caught off guard as to some of the big favorites. In my opinion, if we only produced and stuck with 3-4 meads, we would have never have had the information we needed in knowing what other meads would really set sales over the top more than others. The great part about it all right now is that once we actually DO begin distributing our products, we will have all the data we need in making the decision on which 3-4 meads we send out our doors. The rest of the recipes will just stay on premise for direct to consumer sales in the tasting room and online. Will give customers the option of picking up some of our staples at their local liquor store, as well as purchase those off the wall limited releases direct from us. This also generates more sales from the same clientele.
I am still astonished at how well our club memberships have been piling up. We have still kept up with the rate of (and actually surpassed) 1 club member per day opened (240 days opened, 256 club members to date). Can’t stress enough how much this mead club idea has helped, and will continue to increasingly help our growth as we continue to grow our member base. With the money every quarterly club order brings in, it gives us another chance to leap forward. Basically paid off the 1600bph bottling line we ordered which should be delivered by end of July. Our next club order will then pay for the bigger glycol system we need to handle the load of the three 3000-liter tanks we are about to add onto our current setup. Before our one-year anniversary in September we will be set up with (just about) all of the equipment we need to really push distribution all throughout NJ & NY simultaneously, with plans to get distribution into two other key strategic states that we will announce when the time comes.
All this possible by growing through cash flow with zero debt.
Won’t get into details about how we run our tasting room as I’ve run through that at least twice before, but the model we have in place truly works. We are told numerous times every week that our tour & tasting is the most entertaining, well thought out, and informative out of any other tours these customers have experienced. This usually comes from those who actively attend these sorts of things too, so the compliment is always that much more flattering. All I’ll say is that, a controlled and scheduled group-run tour is key. In my opinion, it is the only way to ensure that every person that attends a tour & tasting leaves having the same experience as those before them. Every tour is 1.5 hours long from start to finish (details of what it consists of are on our website) which makes for a great opportunity to really connect with everyone, and them with the product and business, all without feeling like they are just being rushed or pushed through the system so we could get the next group in. End of story, it works and results in hella bottle sales each and every time.
Which brings me to software, in particular, POS software… I originally signed up with a winery industry specific software system that manages customer profiles, sales history, product inventory, online store, blah blah blah. Yeah, don’t waste your money. Just about every winery specific software out there, no matter how great their website makes them look or even how different they make them look from others, are all the same. I consider myself up with the times technology wise and I will say that the winery industry, software wise, just plain sucks. There are some applications and web based services out there that have great potential, but they all need a major overhaul in my opinion. To me, it is all based on outdated backend ideas. Just recently, I have switched over to Square for our tasting room POS system which has me and the guys that take care of checkout hearing angels sing every time we use it. We are also just about to switch our online store over to a separate platform as well, called BigCommerce. There is no better, easier, or more powerful online store option available, especially for the price. A few other software related changes are also being implemented as well, but the lesson I’ve learned here is, I am saving a few hundred dollars every month now after making this switch. I wish I had known what I know now as that would have also saved me a good amount of money in the beginning with the initial startup cost of software licensing and implementation. So bee warned. Could have picked up a pallet or two of orange blossom for what I have spent on software up until recently.
Which brings up something else. Having over 16k Facebook followers and an ever growing number of followers on Twitter and Instagram is great and all, but nothing beats results of email. I won’t even get into the BS behind Facebook and how they limit how many people actually get to see your posts, but, make sure you get yourself a mailing list and an easy way for customers to sign up for it online. Mail Chimp is an excellent option for this, and if you choose to sell through an online store and use a platform such as BigCommerce, new customers are automatically added to your email list as well. With an email list, you know for sure that every single message you want to get out to ALL of your fans and customers is reaching them. If you also have a club membership, using an email marketing software like Mail Chimp is great since you can also categorize your mailing list into different groups. That allows you to easily send out club only special offers and other communication to selected audiences. Super powerful tool.
I have had a number of visitors come by the meadery that are planning to open their own meadery as well. They all called or emailed ahead of time about the purpose of the visit so it was never a surprise, and I always welcomed them in without second thought. There is always something to learn from how others do things differently and being able to pick out bits and pieces from here and there is just good planning in my mind, so again, my doors are always open for such things. The biggest piece of advice I would give for any one planning on opening a meadery, or any other business for that matter, just take the time to really think about what you want to get out of the business. When it comes to starting something you wish to see grow and truly prosper, spend a lot of time considering your branding. The name and logo you choose will become just as important as the product you sell. It will define you, become your identity, and how others perceive your business. So unless you’re planning on just staying small, pick a name and logo that will help you moving forward and that most importantly PROPERLY REFLECTS YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS and just as importantly APPEALS TO YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. In my inception of starting a meadery, I had the idea of opening a meadery that specialized in producing only dry meads in very fancy high-end bottles and packaging. I then realized, there was no way I could be the face to a business like that. It doesn’t reflect who I am in any way. Could you imagine Brad Dahlhofer being the face behind Kendall Jackson? Sorry Brad, you’re my boy and all, but you and I both know that would just be awkward. Which brings up a perfect example, Brad is B Nektar, and B Nektar is Brad, through and through, and their branding attracts the audience that is does, very successfully I may add. Just keep that in mind the next time you come up with a name and logo for your meadery.
Looking forward now, I see nothing but great potential. We just opened up to being able to ship to a total of 21 states now. We are also releasing some absolutely crazy unique and incredible tasting meads this year that are sure to create some seismic activity in the mead world.
Things are in place to have everything we need to execute our plan for big time growth in the next three years when we plan on moving into a much bigger space. A brewery and possibly even distillery license will then come into play at that point which will open up the doors for so many more recipe possibilities. It is an exciting time for mead and I am just ecstatic about waking up every morning and being a part of it, and to also help it grow.
Owner of Melovino Meadery, Sergio Moutela, has become a notable award-winning mead maker who’s products have wowed even the most discerning and educated of palettes. His mead has been served at the James Beard House in NYC and has won multiple Gold medals in some of the biggest mead competitions in the world, amateur and professional.
Find him and his meads at http://www.melovinomead.com