Open for Business (Again): A Local Brand Shares Their Story

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John: Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Life is Digital podcast. I’m your host John Bianchi, alongside Mr. Parks. How are you today?

Jon: Good morning, John. How you doing?

John: I’m good, I’m doing good. How are you, sir?

Jon: I’m doing great. There’s a little raining out today, but otherwise not too bad. It’s another great day to be in here working on lots of exciting client campaigns, and knocking stuff out.

John: There you go. Well, on rainy days, it’s a good day to record podcast, and to tune in, listen and subscribe in the comments below to our podcast today. I’m really excited we have a special guest with us today. Drew Schenck – he is the CEO of Coladka. It’s a cola flavored vodka, and Drew has said he’s a long-time North Carolina restauranteur and bar owner. He could take us all the way back to 1983.

I think. If we wanna go back that far, but Drew welcome aboard, and so great to have you with us today.

Meet Drew Schenck, Owner of Coladka (Cola Flavored Vodka)

Drew: Thank you, thank you. ’83 I was sophomore in high school, but ’93, I opened my restaurant.

John: There you go. Well, I have to ask you, you’ve got a really incredible painting behind you. Is there some symbolism behind that, I have to know.

Drew: Oh, there is actually. Did not know you were going to ask me about that. That is my tribute to Picasso. That is Picasso and everything in that has some meaning. The fact his legs aren’t attached. You can’t see it but he’s actually painting over there and that’s because that’s really what he cared about. One of the things he said was, I breathe. I paint.

John: I think that it’s so cool. And you know, it’s interesting… Maybe in this hectic current climate and sort of the COVID, post COVID world, maybe that’s a great analogy for our conversation today. With something seeming out of place, but putting it all together and still making great art if that makes sense. So, so Drew – if I can ask you the first question. I have to know, What is Coladka? What is this cola flavored vodka? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Drew: So we designed Coladka and I know we’re probably going to talk a little bit about the whole COVID-19 and all that today. And so the first thing I’ll say about Coladka is we launched in September and really just got our feet. Our biggest month was February. That’s on-premise and off-premise.

So, this thing has just knocked the wind out of us as far as our momentum. We’ll come back.

So, we’re designed to be the next big thing. It’s a thick, sweet cola shot. You drink it like Fireball or like any of those that were kept in the cooler.

It’s a great bomb. We mix it with a sugar-free Red Bull or sugar-free Monster and it is wonderful. It’s all natural. It’s made with real brown sugar. No corn fructose syrup. No artificial flavorings. Kevin Barrett, my business partner in Coladka and Dram and Draught. He’s a flavor expert and he created the flavor.

I had this idea, I don’t know, eight years ago with one of my restaurants, Rally Points Sports Grille which is a big shot sports bar, what you would picture your neighborhood bar. And, I wanted to come up with the next big thing and the cola flavored vodka was it. Never could do it, but Kevin did it and it is delicious. And we’re in five states. We just got Vermont this week. So, six.

John: Congratulations.

Drew: Haven’t shift to Vermont yet. We’re waiting on the PO.

When I say we got in, we just got in. So this was our first presentation to a state virtual, so we got through the presentation thing. I was doing the video here. I just did a video. Kevin filmed it. He is going to edit it. We’ll see how it does because we’re presenting to Costco in Washington State for a trial with Costco. And that’s weird because we want to be in front of Costco, right?

You don’t want to just send a video.

Part of it is you got to know how to drink it. You got to make sure it’s chilled. Talk about some success stories, and that’s not possible right now. So that’s another way it’s affecting us. But we did our Vermont presentation, via video via sending it up for them to taste and everything and made it into the state. They’re looking at the sales of the other states, of course. So that’s Coladka.

John: That’s perfect. I think that’s a great background for probably one of our main topics today is kind of the state of small business from your side, the small business owner, right?

So you’re having to make that pivot where, yeah, you can’t take your product to someone, be there in the room with them and experience those other four senses, where they’re just visually seeing you present and then they’re taking… let’s say a taste or something like that. So what is kind of the state of small business right now in a sense of… what are some things businesses have to do to pivot in this new current climate?

How are small businesses pivoting in the new climate?

Drew: Well, this could be… do we want to have an eight-hour podcast?

John: I think people might get a little tired of that, but we could break it up.

Drew: I’ll try for the Reader’s Digest version. So, there’s a lot going on. I just got off the phone with one of the best breweries in town, Crank Arm. We were talking about exactly this, as far as if somebody wants glass, they can purchase glass. Plasticwear and you come in with a mask until you’re seated. Everybody’s trying to formulate what’s their reopen strategy. They have a pub as well and a tasting room.

We’re talking about it all the time. What are we going to do? When are we going to do it? I’ll give you an example of Dram and Draught. Kevin and I and our cocktail whiskey bars, we won’t know supposedly until Wednesday. We’re recording this on a Tuesday. We’re supposed to know from the governor tomorrow afternoon whether we can open Friday or not.

Well, with Dram and Draught, we use fresh juices. We have a prep to do. We couldn’t get a delivery because we don’t want to order a bunch of cases of citrus. It is a tough thing, but we’ll get through all that. I think for us… Well, I’ll speak for myself.

We weren’t designed to be a small business, we’re designed to be a big business. The stock is hurt, but we’ll get back on it and we’ll make it happen. For the Dram and Draughts that are open, which is Raleigh and Greensboro, we’ve got great staff and we were able to keep them working until they got their unemployments repivoted to grocery for a little while. We did some really good things for them and they appreciate us and we’ve got this “we’re in this together” vibe which is awesome. But we have Durham, which is suppose to be a CO, in the next week and a half. Durham. We don’t have a staff. We don’t have a reputation. We don’t have clientele. We don’t have anything. We don’t have furniture. So we’re in the process of spending a bunch of money at a time. We don’t even know that we can legally open.

So Durham is tough. I’ve got a project at the beach at Topsail Island with a different business partner. We’re less worried about that because the land situation and because the beach is already busy. I was down working on the project Thursday, and it’s already getting busy. So, we just… We’re in a state where we’re trying to pivot, trying to pivot, trying to take care of our people and trying to take care the people, meaning as a society. What’s the right thing for us to do? Should we be shunning the mask, 50% mask or all mask? It’s not been one of the light-hearted fun times in my business.

John: It’s safe to say that in this new climate businesses and business owners are going to have to be extremely entrepreneurial, make quick decisions then pivot based on current climate. Jon and I have had this conversation with just business owners even trying out certain types of digital marketing that maybe they haven’t tried in the past. And Jon, you can speak a little bit more to this and we had helped with promoting Coladka prior to COVID. So I know we’ve all worked together on amplifying the message. Jon, how do you kind of see that changing here with some of the things that Drew is talking about as we’ve potentially come out of this current climate?

Flexibility driving experimentation during COVID-19

Jon: Yeah, what I’m hearing, Drew, and you can corroborate this. It sounds like flexibility is sort of the word of the day. You’ve got to be very flexible, willing to change directions almost at a moment’s notice. Is that a fair assessment?

Drew: Absolutely.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, I’m getting that. I’m hearing that from others as well. And, partly because changing conditions. And you gave the example of the government and what they’re going to allow, what they’re not going to allow… But, then you got other business factors. Let’s just pretend none of this happened for the last two months. You just still have business factors that are probably impacting you.

I think that flexibility is what’s driving a lot of the experimentation, trying new forms of marketing. I guess I’m curious, obviously as John alluded to, we had all worked together a little bit right at the outset of this. But, what are some things that you guys are seeing that were working, or you’ve seen that have worked in the past that probably aren’t working today, but maybe some new things that you’re trying instead?

Drew: Well and I want to make sure I get back to that. I want to say this. One of the things that we’re kind of dancing around with this digital that I think is something we need to be thinking about – I say we as in the small businesses… We have to be able to pivot very quickly.

But, then part of that is going to be, “we have to be able to get the word out very, very quickly.” Here’s what we’re doing because we think a big part of this message is, “Hey, we are cleaning the space. This is how we’re handling any touchable areas. This is what we’re doing.”

That word’s got to get out. “We’re open.” That’s got to get out when we are open. So, I think the whole digital part of this and I’m glad if nothing else comes out of this podcast gettogether is we probably need to have a separate conversation and talk about messaging. We’ve got to be able to pivot, Wednesday afternoon to Friday. We work with Dram and Draught. We’re a great company that does that. We work with you and Coladka that does that. And, with Coladka, I need to be able to get the message back out to bars. Hey, we still want to be part of your program.

So, it’s a lot of pivoting. What was your question though?

What use to work v. what works now in today’s environment

Jon: We’re really just kind of thinking about what are some things that were working previously that now probably won’t work in today’s environment, or maybe even going forward?

Drew: Yeah. And, that for Coladka is a big deal. Because, what was working was tastings in liquor stores. When are they going to allow those again? I don’t know. And, bars where you’re literally the center of attention, where you come out and you’re buying some shots and you’re giving out some t-shirts, and you’re just part of the whole party. When is that going happen?

So, that absolutely for Coladka has changed. We had reps in the field out in bars. When are they going back out? In Georgia, we lost in Georgia. When I say lost, we didn’t really get to launch. Our general sales meeting with Savannah distributing was April 2nd in Atlanta and 3rd in Savannah. 120 reps and we didn’t get to go. They canceled it. So, when are they going to have a meeting with 120 people again? I don’t know the answer. So, that was totally changed. Then it comes, Jon Parks, to what are we going to do to get the word to them? Well, that may be some video production, and it goes directly to the reps – sell to seller, right?

And, we’re talking about that. We need to really, really think through that, but then how do we let the public know? Because, we’re a new brand. They’re going to a liquor store that’s may be doing curb side. What are they gettting? Jack Daniels, right? Smirnoff, right? They’re getting their go-to stuff. They’re not saying, “Hey you have anything I could try.”

So, that’s how it’s changed for us. We were in the midst of liquid to lifts. Oh, and festivals. We were going to be at Jimmy Buffet in Charlotte. We had the Wine Festival, The Man Expo at Dorton arena. We had all this stuff. We had all these festivals with our big band and our tents and all that, and when is that coming back? So, that’s the part of it. Now with Dram, it’s a lot simpler where, if the rules are 50% capacity, we’ll make great drinks. We have great whiskey for 50% of our capacity, for beer for 50% of our capacity, clean and do everything we’re supposed to do.

That’s a little bit simpler and we don’t have food. So, that’s a a lot simpler of an adjustment, Now, how do we adjust to 50% of the revenue, 30% of the revenue? That’s going to be where we have to make some decisions over the next two, three months, I don’t know.

Luckily, we’re positioned and I’m very thankful, better than a lot of people. We ran pretty well beforehand and weren’t over-extended, or anything like that, so we’re good for the next few months. But what if this is six months from now? We’re having conversations about 50% capacity or shut down again for two months a year from now. Nobody’s in that position. Even those of us that are kind of tight with the stuff. We’re not in a position to sit here for a year.

John: It’s a great point, and I think from just our prep conversation. This is where we were talking about potentially using digital to target the right people. So previously, advertising, you could do a lot of mass marketing. We could just try to get a lot of impressions. Now, would you say this is fair to say? And Jon, you can hop in here as well. This is where digital can actually be that targeted arm to find those people that are the most likely to engage with you and your brand from even the restaurant side, but also especially on a brand side, a product side, like Coladka.

Getting your business story out there in the marketplace 

And, then maybe I’ll just throw this onto the other side as well. Drew, would you agree that this is an area where, as you said, where brands have to tell a unique story?

They have to stand out from other products. Or, even restaurants, they have to stand out. Why should somebody come back, take that cash that they’re going to spend and go specifically to your spot to do dine-in with all of the cleanliness things and social distancing? Would you kind of agree that this is important for businesses to think about in the basics of marketing? What is your message? What is your unique position? How do you serve customers and clients differently? Like Jon said that maybe you did before.

Drew: Absolutely. We were talking about the whole pivoting quickly because you may have to get this message out on Wednesday, and by Monday it may be a whole new message. It’s going to be, being able to do it quickly, the right people and again, cost effectively. Because we’re not in a position to say, “Okay we’re not a car dealer.” Back when car dealers were packed and doing great. They could say, “Oh, we’re going to get a message out this week.” Let’s get the full page in the N&O. Let’s get to this. Let’s get our radio ads and you spend a $100,000 and you get the message out. Or, whatever they would spend. We’re going to have to spend hundreds of dollars not thousands.

John: I think that makes a lot of sense. And, Jon, obviously this is a conversation we’ve had about how businesses can even start to just get into game that digital does provide a, maybe an easier pathway revenue-wise, on the runway for businesses to get involved but capture some market share. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jon: Yeah, I would, and I think a lot of what I’m hearing here in our conversation today is just the need to really make sure that you know yourself, right? That you really understand what it is that your business brings into the marketplace because well, tactics may shift and change from day-to-day or week-to-week, you still have to understand what it is that makes you and your business uniquely you. And if you can’t adequately communicate that you’re going to struggle at all times so really honing down that message is important. It sounds like that’s really what you guys have been working on doing these last many months and you were probably well positioned to step into this time. You knew who you were. You knew what you did, right?

I think if you know those things, then the digital pieces will fall where they need to go. We can certainly work with clients to help them identify where their audience may be and that may start at a macro level, and we dwindle that down to really find those very niche areas. But, if you don’t start with that good firm, story that that understanding of what it is that you bring into the marketplace… no matter what level of targeting you do, I think it’s still going to be a struggle at any term.

Drew: Yeah, that’s more branding, right? And, sticking with your brand and being true to your brand. And, then there is this pivot part, where it’s like, just, “Hey these are our hours.” Because we may not be open what we were open. And so, there is this whole… Just the information out to the people like these are the hours you can come in, so it’s challenging. And, thankfully, you were joking, John, about 1993, you know, we didn’t have internet, so when I opened my first restaurant and somebody could correct me and there was internet. I don’t know. I didn’t have internet.

What was going on in ’93, was there anything or was it just like dark? So, when I opened Remington Grill in 1993 to get the message out… we literally had to do mailing. You had to do radio, and it was a much slower process to get a word out. So, today at least, we have this digital and where you, Jon, can take and say, “I want to hit people this age and these things that they have talked about on their social media and kind of tell them… boom. But yeah, that’s huge. So, I think we’re actually at a better place than we would have been pre-internet, but we didn’t have visibility even 10 years ago.

Jon: This is a fairly recent introduction into the marketing spectrum, but I think it does make it considerably easier to be able to adapt and flex to some of these changing conditions for sure.

And I will say just because this is in my wheelhouse. So 93, was the release of the first, what we would call the modern Internet browser, so you are right there on the cusp.

Drew: I wasn’t, I can tell you, I was not.

John: See, that’s why I like having conversations with Jon because I learned something that I would never ever had even researched on.

Jon: It’s called the Mosaic browser. But that’s probably about as far as we want to go.

Key Takeaway 1: Flexibility and Adapting to Change

John: Well, as we come to a close today, I wanted to give you both an opportunity to maybe leave the audience with a couple of main points. So, Jon, as you were just kind of finishing up here, what are a couple of main points that we can take away on this idea of flexibility? Getting your message out quickly and to the right people? Can you give a couple of main points for business owners and then, Drew, I’ll hand it over to you because I have a few other questions as well.

Jon: Yeah, absolutely, we’ve definitely already hit on… again, I think is the word of the day right now, is flexibility and just being able to adapt to the changing conditions. But, I’ll probably also say, the other message that I’m taking away from the conversation today that I think I’m hearing is don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to try some new things, to explore new areas, because you just don’t know what’s going to work. It doesn’t mean, and Drew, we can go back to your example. With the car dealership, you don’t have to take $100,000 and go and drop it on advertising, but you might be able to take $200 or even up to $2000 and try on a new channel and just see… Does that open up some additional leverage for you? And, I think that’s where businesses are going to have to be especially we start to look at coming out at this time and things begin to re-open a little bit.

We can’t underestimate just… I was going to say psychological damage that might be a little strong. There’s probably a little bit of mental fear or something. “I’m not sure I really want to go out just yet,” or “I’m not sure I want to be around a bunch of people.” I think businesses are going to need to work to flex with that, but also help people overcome some of these concerns. And, Drew, as you’ve said, “You can come on in. We’ve taken care of the cleanliness. The guidelines are in place. This is what the rules look like. This is how we’re doing it. This is what we’re doing to take care of you.” So, I think you’re going to have to really just walk forward and not be afraid.

Key Takeaway 2: Buy Local

John: That’s very well said. And, Drew, I’ll hand this over to you. So what are a couple of main things that maybe other business owners could gain value from hearing your perspective in this new climate? To say, like you said, “Focus on your messaging, be flexible.” What are some key things you would give advice to another business owner that would help them during and then as we move out of this new phase when it comes to their marketing, their exposure and revenue generation.

Drew: Drink Coladka.

John: There we go.

Drew: The truth is I’m probably not in a position to give all of us… And I say “us” which is the guys that own small businesses and entrepreneurs.They know what to do. Let me say this… I may not be answering your question. I’m going to say this. Buy local. I used to say it. I used to kind of attempt to do it. We have a bitters company here. We would buy some of their bitters and feature it in a drink, because they’re local. Our tile company was a tile company that’s based out of Chicago. Well, there’s a local tile company, and I’m beating myself up a little bit just because there were some places where we were giving it some attention and giving it some lip service. I don’t know how I’m going do it, because we’re just like everybody else. Amazon’s on the front porch every three days. I don’t know what to do, but I’m going to figure it out and I’m going to make it. Even if it’s a sacrifice, I can’t have that piece of equipment or I don’t get that because I can’t get it locally. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but one of the things I would say is buy local. Support local businesses and conserve cash. Because this ride isn’t over.

Jon: Yeah, what you shared there, Drew, as a point, I think really worth extending out just a little bit about this idea of buying local. You’re right, that’s a message that we’ve heard for many years, and it’s almost just becoming kind of a slogan, then whether people are actually doing that or not, but I think there’s a message there, for other businesses.

Make sure that you work that in as a part of your unique value proposition, right?

Letting people know that we are local. This is who we serve. Build those relationships with other businesses in your area and make sure that they understand that you can deliver just the same greater quality of service as that business based in Chicago or that has manufacturing halfway around the world, whatever it may be. That’s a really good takeaway for us out of this time. I think everybody’s starting to become a little more well-versed in supply chain management. So these days, just understanding that you need to work that in as a part of your story.

Drew: And, in a big way. Even the computer that this is on is Lenovo. Well, I kind of need a new computer, because we’ve been using it a lot. We’re here. Well, shouldn’t I be looking to see who builds computers locally? Now, they may be buying parts from all to the world, but at least if I could get the profit for the actual box to stay in Raleigh because you’re probably not going to get your motherboard built in Raleigh, North Carolina. But there’s some guy somewhere in Raleigh, I guarantee it, that’s built really nice boxes, really good computers, and I seek him out. If I pay a little bit more for the computer, I pay a little bit more. I’m telling you every single thing I buy, I’m going to look at, can I get it locally? And, I’m still probably going to drink my coffee out of a YETI. There will be some things, but I’m going to look at everything and say, “How can I support somebody locally?” And again, on the YETI, who’s got the local supply store? who’s At least at the retail level, I could get it there rather than doing the simple click, click, click and have it delivered. Supply chain, again, get it shipped to Raleigh and as a pallet, and then I buy one rather them shipping it all the way as one mug.

So yeah, we’ve got to… That would be one thing.

And, then I would say the last thing I would say as a word of encouragement is this too shall pass. There are people who did very well during, after, right after the Great Depression and any of the other crashes we’ve had. We, personally, my circle, we’re putting our thinking caps on how do we come out of this as best as we can and if we fight to come out of this ahead and we end up at it, even or just below even… Hey, we’ve done something. So, we’re fighting to figure out how to become better, how to become more streamline, how to buy local, all of this stuff and hopefully, there’s a chance to come out of this ahead.

John: I think that those words of encouragement are excellent for small businesses and business owners to hear. As we close here, I love this idea of being flexible, I love the idea of being timely and fast. Instantaneous with your messaging. And, that’s something that the new tools we have with digital marketing allow you to be very frugal and spend your money wisely to get that message out quickly to a lot of folks, but be targeted to the right people and then, ultimately build together and work together to grow our unique messages and our unique service propositions for our businesses.

Drew, thank you so much for hopping on. This was a truly enjoyable chat. I love learning about from your side, what you’re seeing and how that kind of fits into the world that we’re involved in. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the podcast. You’ll see the links in the comments below. Thank you, Jon, as well for being here. We’ll be back next week and look for this up on our podcast and channels and also up on YouTube. So, thanks so much folks. Talk to you soon.

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