So it seems I am a month late for my latest installment of “So you want to own a Meadery”… Things have been busy lately to say the least. I thought I’d share this post here through FB as well this time.
What I’ve Learned in 20 months since opening my meadery…
As counterintuitive as it may sound, I have learned very quickly that success is going to be your biggest expense. As demand has grown for our product, so have our bills along side of it. Distribution has been a sigh of relief, and we’re moving into uncharted territory, yet once again.
Uncharted territory, you say? Well, yeah. We have consistently been pushing the business ahead and every step of the way is a whole new learning curve. From the early days of figuring out the logistics of scaling up from 5 to 280 gal batches, to most recently learning how to work out wholesale pricing to distributors. We have also hit a point where I feel we have pretty much passed our peak of tour & tasting business. We used to have 200 people coming in every weekend, with more begging to be squeezed in. The best days are behind us, and although it has been an incredible run for us, we’re just not seeing the same sized crowds we use to. You see, we run a formalized and formatted tour & tasting. More of a presentation. Once someone has come in and gone through all of that, there is not much of a reason for them to sit through it all again. They just come back to buy more bottles or order through our online store, at least that has remained to be awesome.
So what now? Well, I’ve known this day would come some time, so it didn’t come of much of a shock. It was just more of a waiting to see when it would happen sort of thing. Luckily, I already had something all planned out. Let’s focus on attracting everyone who has come in for a tour & tasting already to come back in. We just recently started hosting what we have called, “MeadUP Nights”. First weekend of every month, we open our doors for anyone to come in and taste whatever they’d like, including flights, and some mead cocktails we have put together. I know what some of you are thinking, “Sounds a whole lot like a regular tasting room operation that everyone else has”. And you’re exactly right.
We have never done that at Melovino. Why, you may ask? Well, mainly because I never felt that running a standard open tasting room operation had as much potential in educating people about mead, or our business. Instead of operating an open tasting room, we have been operating a mead and Melovino fan recruitment center essentially, and it has worked magically well. Perfect example, overall mead sales in NJ had plateaued for a while and subsequently increased after Melovino opened its doors. I am not talking about MV meads adding to those sales, remember we only JUST started distribution this month. I am talking about, as we educated more and more people about mead in our state, 200 people every weekend for over a year mind you, those newly found mead heads took to the shelves and started trying more meads that are out there. That my friends is called conversions. I don’t think we would have built our brand or accomplished what we have if we essentially ran a “mead bar”. We had a brand and a message to get out there and the way we broadcasted it out there worked.
As always, we have also continued hosting special events throughout the year with a tremendous amount of interest and success. We have hosted mead & cheese pairing nights, mead & chocolate pairing nights, even a pizza party night. I also have a ton more planned. These events are great because, not only do you make some money on ticket sales, but everyone normally picks up more bottles on their way out the door which tends to overshadow any ticket profits by a landslide. Not only that, but everyone also leaves with such awesome social currency after attending some of these interesting and unique events. Enter free marketing.
Another side of the uncharted territory theme here is our venture into distribution. We’ve held back for quite a while. Most producers usually START with distribution from day one. I however, felt we would be able to not only grow faster through cashflow by making full profit margins selling direct to consumer, but also, it would give us time to figure all this shit out basically. We have always made great mead, but we have also gone through a ton of learning curves along the way as well. Particularly concerning stabilization, but I have gotten into that enough in past posts. All I will say about it for those that have been following, things are looking extremely promising with the new process. I truly believe we are in the clear.
So distribution… I don’t know how many times I have gone back and forth trying to decide between self distribution or just going through a distributor. I eventually decided to try both. I signed up with a distributor in NY, and I began self distributing in NJ. After a few weeks of sales I found that it was turning out to be a much bigger waste of time that I already did not have. Showing up for a scheduled appointment with a buyer only to be turned away and rescheduled was becoming all too familiar for me way too fast. I finally truly understood the words of Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”…
Enter NJ distributor… these guys sold to over 50 accounts in ONE WEEK and have already placed another pallet order with us with no signs of stopping. Our NY distributor has been kicking ass and taking names as well with an even bigger second order. Overall, I am sincerely happy. Product is moving. Melovino bottles are on the shelves at some of the biggest names in the game, in sight and at an arms reach of that many more people. It’s such an awesome feeling, it truly is. Spoken like a true rookie, I know, but there’s nothing like your first time 🙂
We also have other out of state distributors that have shown interest for a while now that are just waiting in the wings until we can commit to opening up to another state. This all sounds amazing, right? Especially when you consider we have an automated bottling line and even more tank capacity than I had before our last tank purchase with just over 50,000 gals a year now. Well, having those big tanks is one thing. Being able to afford to fill them is another. Then there’s the cost of that many more bottles, labels, and closures, oh my… Yeah, we’re like a 14 year old with a garage full of lamborghinis right now. But as the 14 year old would say, at least I have a lamborghini to drive when I’m ready 🙂 and that day is coming. It is just coming slowly. For now, partial fills are awesome in the bigger tanks, we can degas a partial fill within the tank itself instead of having to clean, rinse and sanitize a mixing tank we normally would pump over into 🙂
So with all of this product moving out of the meadery with no signs of reaching its peak just yet before it turns into more of a waiting for reorders game, production has needed to change a bit now. I have put a hold on a ton of projects I had planned for this year just to make sure we keep production focused on only our meads that we have sent out for distribution. Melovino has released 37 meads in 20 months, and we have another 13 new ones already in the works to release by the end of the year. Focusing on only producing 5 meads is very new to us, lol… but for those starting off with a new meadery soon, you might be thinking, I’ll just stick to four or five recipes then. Something to keep in mind though, I never would have found our obvious biggest hits that are out for distribution now if I had shut down creativity in releasing new meads. Only one mead from our original lineup made it to being selected for distribution, and that was only because we chose to have a traditional out there.
At this point, the future looks exciting and very promising. With all the success we’ve had until now, we’ve thrown every penny right back into the business and therefore, we’re quite broke! There’s a reason why you didn’t see me at NHC in Baltimore last week, I’m just saying’. Cash flow has been critical during this growth, and only now have I considered, maybe it’s time to take on some debt for a major, but conservative expansion. We’re going into one more state this fall, and another 2 in the spring. Let’s just see how much of it all goes according to plan. Nothing normally does. We’ve found it easier to plan on everything NOT going according to plan these days, but in the end, we either win or we learn. Never lose! Let’s see how making our first 1200 gallon batch goes in two months!
Mead on meaders, the future is sweet.
- What I’ve Learned in 20 months since opening my meadery - June 17, 2016