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How One Liquor Brand Impresses Its Most Important Customer: Bartenders

How One Liquor Brand Impresses Its Most Important Customer: Bartenders

A fit bartender is a happy bartender.

Image credit: Novo Fogo Cachaç
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This story appears in the August 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

“Bartenders are our best salespeople and the opinion leaders,” says Dragos Axinte, founder of Brazil’s Novo Fogo Cachaça. (Cachaça is a spirit made from sugarcane juice.) That’s why liquor companies typically ply them with contests, free trips, premiums and cash. But as a small player, Axinte couldn’t keep up with that. So he offers yoga classes, 5K runs and softball games. There’s no firm tie to sales, but Axinte says it matters: Revenue in the first quarter of 2016 is up 164 percent over the year prior. So why’d it work? 

Did bartenders buy into it right away?

Our first event was a 5K run at Portland Cocktail Week in 2011. My wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and it triggered my sensitivity about health. I saw bartender friends who were on a tough road of excess and wanted to do something. So we paid a $20 entry fee to cancer research for any bartender who showed up and finished -- we got 50 people and a dog!

That sounds like a success. Where did you go from there?

We do Bartender Sweat Sessions for 10 to 150 invitees -- SoulCycle classes in New York, or renting an indoor soccer arena on a Sunday. We even had a yoga instructor develop a 90-minute class for hospitality workers, so they can learn how to stretch prior to a long shift.

You’ve also helped smokers, right?

Oh, yes! It started with my friend Casey Robison [beverage director at Barrio in Seattle]. He was trying to quit. I said, “Hey, Casey, if you quit for three months, I’ll take you to a Sounders [soccer] game in Seattle,” because nobody can get tickets. He called three months later and we went to the game and dinner. It was so great, I thought we should do this for anybody, so we offer event tickets and dinner to anyone who quits. We’ve had about three dozen bartenders quit. It’s an honor system, and the stories are very emotional.

And you think this helps sell cachaça?

Definitely. If bartenders burn out quickly, we have to develop relationships with new bartenders. More important, when we change lives, the reward follows. I know we are on the right track; bartenders from Brooklyn to Sacramento walk up to me and say, “You are the guy who does cachaça and yoga, right? Thank you for what you do for us.”    

Edition: December 2016

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