What I’ve learned in one year since opening a meadery… and just a heads up, this might just be the last of this series I’ve been posting up here.
One important thing I’ve learned is, you can’t “homebrew” your way in creating a successful meadery. What I mean by that is, just because you never filtered or sulfited your meads at home, doesn’t mean that is going to be the best practice once going commercial. When a good batch goes wrong in the bottle and starts fermenting again, not only will it get you pretty distraught, but the consumer relations process of rectifying the situation is enough to make you pony up the few grand for a sterile filtration and stabilization solution. Trust me, even though it was only 2 out of 30+ batches I’ve produced, it was enough of a lessoned learned, even though all of our customers were still totally cool with it and understanding. Since then, I had vowed to never let that happen again. (Additionally to original post: this is another reason why I am glad I haven’t began distribution yet. Gave me a chance to better “re-learn” my craft on a commercial scale)
Which brings something else up that I am very happy I implemented from day one. Make sure to have bottling dates or some sort of identification on your bottles in order to pick out those that may have been compromised should something happen. I take care of that by including a bottling date code on the art work of my actual labels. No need for an extra step in slapping a sticker on every bottle that way.
Club memberships are gold. In one year since I’ve opened for business, I have taken a 7,000 gallon a year production to just under 42,000 gallon production. This isn’t just as easy as simply making more mead as the veterans here I’m sure would attest to. Mo’ mead, Mo’ problems, Mo’ equipment, and of course, Mo’ Money. Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas brewing company explained the struggles and cost of growing a business better than any one else in his book, “So You Want to Start a Brewery”. Great read by the way that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to start up a meadery or even existing owners. But I digress… Bigger mixing tank, more fermentation tanks, bigger honey and other ingredient orders, more SPACE to store them all, more bottles, more labels, more closures, and of course, a shit load more work… With all that said, Melovino has zero debt, and has grown through cash flow, and guess what the biggest influx of cash has been that has helped make this all happen? Yeah, a club membership. Every three months the business brings in an average of $30k we wouldn’t have made otherwise, and it’s actually bringing in a lot more than that now as the membership count continues to grow. How much do you think that’s worth to you and your business?
The perfect segue way here would be to mention what I’ve learned about software. You are NOT going to be able to manage a club membership big enough to be worthwhile without the help of software. Software is your friend and one of the best investments you can make. A lot of people would say, most software options are too expensive. Well, again, I think of it as an INVESTMENT. The right pieces of software will be essential to the overall success of the business and the landscape for growth. If you’re looking to stay small and local, by all means, build yourself an Excel spreadsheet and find your own happiness, it will do just fine. Software to manage your production activities, to orders, marketing, club mgmt, online store, and compliance. If you’re going to go out and sell yourself, even consider a simple sales software to help you keep on top of leads and progress made with each. These are our modern day tools.
However, for those who are interested in building a successful future for yourself and family by opening a meadery and just staying small, keep this in mind, a successful business is one that can run without you. Meaning, if you fall ill or break a leg, your business will be just fine until you get back on the saddle. Until then, you, your family, business, and employees are at risk. Keep that in mind if you are the type that’s looking to just stay very small, because no matter how great things could be going, it could all come crumbling down in an instant. Thought about that quite a bit when I had to go in for emergency surgery a couple of months ago, and if it weren’t for where the business was at already, I would have been in a very bad position. So if you want to stay small, just consider getting “big enough”.
Now, let’s talk distribution. It took me a year before even considering distribution. After focusing all this time on direct to consumer sales, I have managed to build quite the fan base and demand for mead in my home state which was quite the task being the only meadery here. I have been told that after a few months since the opening of Melovino, mead sales overall in the state of New Jersey have shot up quite a bit. Whether that was in direct relation to us creating the buzz for mead in my home state or not, we’ll never know, but I’d like to think that’s exactly what happened. From what I’ve seen and heard, I highly doubt that was the work of the distributors… I have educated 200 people a week on mead, built a brand, backed it up with amazing product, which was further backed up by 19 awards in less than a year from very reputable competitions. Educating everyone that has walked through our doors and converting them into what I like to call “mead heads” (even funnier when you think of “meat heads” from Jersey). We’ve basically been warming up the toast in which we are about to spread butter on. But with that said, I have found that distribution isn’t as easy as just signing up with a distributor and expecting miracles to happen. I’ve spoken to quite a few, as well as considered other options such as working with a wholesale/fulfillment agent, and just doing it all myself. In the end, I haven’t come across a distributor that was in line with my vision for continuing to build my brand or how to grow the mead industry within my region. In the end, I’m sticking with my gut in knowing that no one’s going to do what needs to be done for the love of mead or my business better than I can. Even if that involves more education, trial & error, and more hard work. Melovino will be launching into limited distribution in NJ delivering our first cases in November. After some hibernation over the winter, late February into March will be our big push throughout the entire state as well as hitting the market in New York.
The mead industry still has a long way to go before it all gets its proper placement in retail stores and tap handles, more main stream, and recognized as it’s own respected category rather than be considered a dessert wine or liqueur… And I know I’m going to get (even more) heat for this but, continuing to solely promote mead in its historical sense and rites, I’m sorry, is not the way any of that is going to happen. Ken Schramm said it best once in commenting on your every day mead focused article by saying, “…at some point, someone needs to start an article without mentioning Vikings. Makes me wonder – did Viking reporters start all of their articles with lines about Jiahu?”.
In wrapping things up here, I’ll leave you all with an update of where Melovino stands at the moment.
We will be the first meadery on the east coast with an automated bottling line which is due to hit Port Newark this Friday. Another three tanks and new glycol chiller arriving by end of October. Individual tank temperature control for the glycol system (super excited about that). A 30bbl brite tank also coming right after that.
With the announcement last Wednesday that we will be launching into distribution this November, we pre-sold all of our inventory three days later, all by demand alone from our customers letting their favorite retail locations know they want our product. The number of phone calls, emails, and messages we received was amazing. All without making a single sales pitch. Nothing to date has been more surreal than that. After focusing on our NJ/NY region for a while, we foreshadow commencement of out of state distribution no later than our two-year anniversary this time next year.
We also have some exciting collaborations with a few other meaderies lined up which I think are going to be quite epic.
It’s been an exciting year, never worked so hard in my life, and yet, I’ve never been happier. The one thing I know about myself though is, no matter how many or how big of an accomplishment the business reaches as a whole, you won’t see me jumping up and down or dancing just yet, because, at that point, my mind is already on to the next goal.
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