Kiowa Bryan hails from Vermont originally, where she took her first job in hospitality over 20 years ago. It was while behind the bar at The Eveleigh in Los Angeles that she first tasted a Ti’Punch and realized her intended career path advocating for the education of all things Rhum Agricole and the French Caribbean. Since then, she has been lucky enough to spend the last eight years growing professionally into the role of US Director of On-Trade and Marketing for Spiribam Fine Spirit Specialists, while the company did the same, expanding into an eight brand portfolio. In her spare time, you can find her listening to Christmas Carols far into February, studying history, or snuggling her dog Martinique Warrilow McFly.
What are your top three tips for building relationships when working with influential accounts?
My top three tips would be:
- Approach it as a long-term strategy. You want to build a relationship with the buyer of that account. As my boss always says, “It’s more important to sell 10 cases to one bar than one case to 10 bars.” Creating a long-lasting relationship and brand ambassador within that bar is key. The buyer not only has the power to buy your product but also influences their staff. If they become a brand ambassador, their staff can do the same, reaching hundreds of people daily.
- Do your homework before approaching an account. Analyze their website and menus to understand the kind of Wine Spirits they offer. Depending on the type of establishment, pitch the appropriate products from your portfolio. For example, present higher-end spirits like whiskies and cognacs to a cigar bar and orange liqueur or berry liqueur to a Mexican restaurant. Understanding the account’s style and spirit offerings is essential in this process.
- Speak their language and respect their time. Empathize with their busy schedules and find an opportune time to have a conversation. If it doesn’t seem like the right moment, leave your card, jot down a thoughtful note, and come back when they are less busy. Treating others as you’d like to be treated is crucial in building strong relationships.
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Let’s delve into the first point you made, relationships. What approach do you find most effective when building those relationships?
Kiowa Bryan: Building relationships requires time and effort, much like any friendship or romantic relationship. It’s not a one-time transaction; instead, it should be a two-way street. Developing a long-term strategy is crucial, considering that people often need multiple exposures to decide on a product. Don’t expect immediate success; focus on a balanced relationship with mutual respect and benefits. By investing in such connections, you’ll not only establish the current account but also leverage them to access new accounts through word-of-mouth recommendations.
What would you say are some common mistakes that you need to avoid when working with these accounts?
Kiowa Bryan: As someone who has always worked for smaller, independent brands, I’d say a common mistake I see is trying to compete with brands outside your budget or wheelhouse. It’s not realistic to waste time and energy attempting to break into an account that is already aligned with major brands. Instead, be practical about your budget and expectations. There are numerous accounts out there, so if one seems like a lost cause, move on to another opportunity. Respect their time, both yours and theirs. Don’t expect a tasting without an appointment; forcing the moment might backfire. Set up appointments and seize the right opportunities. Never go into a bar or restaurant on a busy Friday or Saturday night expecting to conduct business. Instead, have fun and build connections without disrupting their operations. Making a bad first impression during rush hours could lead to negative associations with your product, even before they taste it. Learning from others’ mistakes is better than making them yourself.
Indeed, that’s the worst first impression you could make, almost blacklisting your product from that bar without them even tasting it. The effort you put into creating a beautiful product and packaging might be overshadowed by such a blunder. It’s essential to understand the importance of timing and respecting their workflow. Avoid these mistakes that I’ve witnessed many brands make, and hopefully, this advice will prevent others from making the same errors in the future.
So once you have your product in the account, how do you ensure it stays on their shelf or menu?
Kiowa Bryan: It goes back to the relationship aspect. Securing menu placement and shelf space is not the end of the job; it’s just the beginning. Continuing to maintain those accounts requires effort and engagement. Visit the account occasionally, not necessarily to spend money, but to show your commitment and enjoy a cocktail with your product. Education is vital. If you can get the restaurant to conduct a comprehensive product education session for their staff, it’s a huge plus. You can offer a 30 to 40-minute training session before the restaurant opens, creating brand ambassadors out of the entire staff. Also, bring in snacks or food to create a positive impression and make the training memorable. Engaging with staff through pre-shift meetings is another opportunity to pitch your product. Utilize these moments to convey your top selling points and even have the bartender create a cocktail special with your product for that day. The more the staff knows and practices selling your product, the better brand ambassadors they become.
How do you stay updated on emerging trends? How are you generating fresh ideas?
Kiowa Bryan: To stay updated on emerging trends, I subscribe and read various publications like Shake, Punch, VinePair, and Imbibe. Additionally, attending events like Bar Convent Brooklyn (BCB) and Tales of the Cocktail provides an international overview of trends and market share. However, these events might not be feasible for everyone due to the cost and time commitment. Subscribing to newsletters like Shanken is a more accessible way to receive daily industry updates and trends, allowing you to stay informed even on busy days.
As far as cocktail trends go, are there any things that you’re keeping an eye on?
Kiowa Bryan: I have to admit, I’m surprised how long the Espresso Martini trend has been going on. Unfortunately, I quit coffee this year, so I can’t enjoy it as much as I used to. But I do love it, especially the classic martini. I’m glad it’s still prospering. The Martini, in general, seems to be making a comeback, particularly non-traditional versions like clear tequila martinis, Pisco martinis, and other variations. It’s shifting away from the Dirty Martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives and tabasco sauce, which was popular for a while but not as much in the craft cocktail world. Now, it’s about creative twists on the Martini using different spirits.
I’ve noticed that jello shots are becoming trendy again, but with an upscale twist. At a recent event in Los Angeles called “Art Beyond the Glass,” our biggest cocktail event, which benefits a different charity every year, showcased some creative jello molds. We made little jellies, like gummies, but infused with alcohol, and they were delicious. Another booth had a 70s theme with jello molds made from Mezcal, raspberry, and white chocolate. It was a unique and enjoyable experience, bringing back that nostalgic feeling of the 70s dinner parties. Besides the LA event, I’ve also seen upscale jello shots at BCB, which indicates the potential resurgence of gelatin-based cocktails and desserts. Additionally, I think cream liquors are making a comeback, with vegan versions using coconut or oat as a base. At a previous BCB event, I tried a delicious oat-based cream liqueur that left a lasting impression. These innovative takes on classic ideas are shaping the current trends in the cocktail scene.
How are you using social media to engage with influential accounts and expand your brand reach?
Kiowa Bryan: That really goes back to the relationship aspect again. Everything I’m saying is about relationships. On social media, it’s the same type of relationship as going into a bar, although face-to-face interaction is a different animal. You need to be present on social media and engage with your accounts. It can’t be a one-way street. If they tag you in something or showcase your product, show your appreciation by thanking them, liking their posts, commenting, and sharing their content. Utilize their posts as user-generated content for your feed. Your accounts are looking for business and if you can help direct traffic and customers to their establishment, it’s a mutual benefit.
I try to follow every single one of our accounts, especially those that place significant orders for our products. This way, their content appears in our feed, and we can consistently engage with them, even if our product is not featured in a particular cocktail. This regular communication shows that we care about their establishment. For larger accounts with dedicated PR personnel, it’s essential to be on their radar. Engaging with them regularly increases the chances of being considered for features or write-ups in magazines. It requires effort, but dedicating 20 to 30 minutes a day to engage with accounts in your feed is worthwhile. As a brand, I recommend following all your accounts to easily keep track of their activity and engage with them regularly.
(Note: The transcript has been revised for grammar and clarity while preserving the original content.)