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Entrepreneurs: Jason Kane and Larry Davenport
Company: Cocktails by Jenn
Spirits was a flat business in 1999, but Jason Kane and Larry Davenport were determined to put some fizz back into it. They had just seen their employer of a decade, Mark Anthony Group Inc., create a big success out of a new product called Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
And the two Vancouver-based liquor-marketing executives believed they could score the same kind of hit on their own.
“We were constantly asking ourselves, ‘Why can’t we do this? Isn’t there a better way to do this?’” Jason says. “We’d been around enough brands and enough new products, and learned everything that we could have learned from someone else. So we said, ‘Let’s apply it.’”
“Like a lot of people, we realized that the higher up the organization we went, our paycheck got more and more dependent on what one person thought of us. So what was riskier? That — or going out and developing our own new product for consumers, where essentially you have a lot of people controlling your destiny? To us, it was riskier to have a few people controlling it than a lot.”
Jason and Larry tapped every resource they could think of and scraped together $185,000 to sink into their company, which they called Refreshment Brands. They came up with a ready-to-drink, single-serve vodka-and-juice product that they called Glacier Bay, lined up a bottle supplier and drink manufacturer, and then hit the road to sell it to distributors and retailers.
They succeeded beyond their dreams. Sales of Glacier Bay over the first couple of years totaled a whopping $15 million before eventually leveling out at about $17 million a year. And in 2004, Jason and Larry innovated yet again, coming up with a new ready-to-drink liquor brand called Cocktails by Jenn that was oriented strictly toward women.
Cocktails by Jenn sold its first case in November, 2004. Once this brand, too, quickly reached millions of dollars in sales, a big company moved in to reward Jason and Larry for their work – and take over the line. Barton Brands Ltd., a division of the big alcohol company Constellation Brands, bought them out in October, 2005, for a price that Jason won’t disclose. And Jason and Larry remain with Cocktails by Jenn to lead the growth of the brand.
Jason and Larry’s Key Move: Create a New Product in a Tired Product Category
With Cocktails by Jenn, Jason and Larry succeeded in creating a new beverage brand because they came up with a fresh idea that took advantage of the knowledge and experience they already had.
After their success with Glacier Bay, Jason and Larry were looking for another hit so that they could keep their company ahead of their much bigger and better-heeled competitors. But this time, they thought much more broadly than when they had created Glacier Bay. By leading with their creativity and following with their industry savvy, they were able to create a wholly new product from a tired product category.
First, they determined that they had to create an entire brand platform rather than just a series of one-off products, as good as each individual product might be. And they decided that their target would be an underserved market in the liquor business: female consumers.
“We started to ask, ‘What would these consumers want out of products, out of a brand relationship, in this category?’” Jason says.
From shopping with their wives, Jason and Larry they understood the appeal of fashion to women, and they knew their success in this segment would lie in creating a brand that women would find fashionable – and talk about. They also assembled a group of freelance marketers and product developers to help them refine the notion.
“If we could create a cocktail that had great flavors, and good taste, in packaging that elicited fun and conversation, we thought we might have something,” Jason says.
In late 2004, Jason and Larry introduced Cocktails by Jenn, a line of 17%-alcohol, premium vodka martinis in fanciful flavors such as Tropical Blue Lagoon and Appletini, as well as seasonal editions including Key Lime and Chocolate Peppermint.
Maybe even more important is the colorful and innovative packaging. Cocktails by Jenn comes in a set of four, 100ml, single-serve bottles, accompanied by four sipping straws, that are sold in colorful “totes” designed to look like handbags, with a color-coordinated ribbon “handle” Each Cocktails by Jenn package also comes decorated with a whimsical, collectible enameled “charm” in the shape of either a shoe, a martini glass, an airplane, a ring, a cell phone or an ice cream sundae.
By creating a “girls’ night out” brand that made it easy for women to enjoy flavorful alcoholic beverages without any fuss, Jason and Larry found a fantastic sweet spot. And at a typical retail price of $14.99, they had reached a high-margin price point that would be difficult for a major, commodity-based spirits manufacturer to duplicate.
“Cocktails by Jenn has become a badge for a lot of women,” Jason says. “The brand has spoken to them.”
Jason and Larry’s Bonus Insight
With their first product, Glacier Bay, the partners enjoyed success because larger companies had left an opportunity on the table. All Jason and Larry had to do was pick it up!
The lesson for other entrepreneurs is to figure out how big competitors in their industry might be doing the same thing.
In Jason and Larry’s case, their insight was to create single-serve, ready-to-drink products that were liquor-based rather than malt-based. Though the former were very popular in Europe, big U.S. liquor companies had left that segment alone because they carry tighter regulation and higher taxes than malt-based products.
Jason and Larry jumped in with Glacier Bay in 1999, and its brisk sales quickly proved their instincts had been right. In fact, over the next couple of years, big liquor brands desperate for any kind of sales growth followed suit with their own competing new products.