How Keeping Wine Cold Became a Hot Business
Entrepreneur: Orlando, Fla.-based Ben Hewitt, creator of the Corkcicle, and partners Stephen Bruner and Eric Miller. Corkcicle was designed to ensure "perfectly chilled wine every time," keeping white wines cool and bringing reds down to the ideal sipping temperature.
"Aha" moment: Corkcicle emerged from Hewitt's love of white wine (particularly chardonnay) and search for an effective, convenient cooling method rather than an ice bucket. "I never understood why people couldn't figure out a way to chill the bottle from the inside," he says.
Garage days: After selling his HR outsourcing firm in 2010, Hewitt set up shop in his garage. He cut open a gel pack purchased at a grocery store, poured the contents into a plastic test tube, glued a rubber cork to the top and popped it in the freezer. "It worked very well, and it was fun to test," he says. He showed his creation to Bruner, a former colleague, who suggested that Hewitt alter the product to resemble an icicle. Hewitt followed the advice and enlisted an engineer to reimagine the design and coordinate manufacturing in China. He added Miller to the team as a sales expert.
Cold, hard cash: Hewitt and his partners invested an undisclosed amount of personal funds in the business, along with seed capital from an investor friend, and opened a line of credit. "We're very seasonal, so we might borrow on that line up until November, and then it will go back to zero," Hewitt says.
Cheers! Corkcicle hit the market about nine months after Hewitt created it. More than 1 million have been sold, and the company reached profitability within its first year. Corkcicle is now available at roughly 4,000 U.S. stores (and in 10 other countries). While it's in a few large chains such as Bed Bath & Beyond, independent retailers account for 80 percent of sales. "The mom-and-pop gift stores, they're the ones that kind of built our brand for us, and so we're very respectful of them," Hewitt says. "We never went after big box."
The grapevine: Corkcicle's three-person team focuses on product development and protection, branding and marketing. Everything else--PR, accounting, fulfillment and customer service--is outsourced. Due to its network of contracted help, the company was able to ramp up production quickly to meet demand after Corkcicle received major media coverage and was promoted by Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. "We're able to be very nimble in how we can get products to market," Hewitt says.
Customers: Corkcicle's target market is 35- to 50-year-old women, a strong gift-buying demographic. "That's also the population--that age group--that's starting to enjoy wine more," he says.
Drink up: The product, available in classic cork and a variety of colors, is sold for $24.95 on Corkcicle.com. The company introduced two additional items this year: the high-end Corkcicle One, a stainless steel cooler and aerator; and Chillsner, a drink-through cooler designed to fit a beer bottle.