By Cheryl Durzy -
March 22, 2017, was the day we pushed the LibDib ‘Go Live’ button and forever changed three-tier distribution. The past 5 years have gone by so fast, yet also feel like 20 years worth of work. I look back on where we started to where we are now, and I am in awe of this team and the company we have built together.
To honor 5 years of being a wholesale alcohol distributor, I am highlighting 5 key milestones that put LibDib on the trajectory to where we are now. That path has enabled us to give thousands of wine and spirits brands distribution access, selling to thousands of buyers while covering over 50% of the drinking population.
Here are the 5 Key LibDib Milestones Over the Past 5 Years:
1. Our First Distributor Licenses - LibDib applied for our first distribution licenses in California and New York in the Fall of 2016. It was indeed a process, as it takes many many hours and much documentation to get a liquor license at any tier. From the start, we were working on two states simultaneously, and the team was consumed with endless hours of paperwork, background checks, fingerprinting, and various requirements by market.
This brings me back to the genesis of LibDib and why we built the platform the way we did--completely customized to the business of alcohol distribution. We built LibDib from the ground up because we knew that each state had different compliance requirements. Even our first two states were completely different. California was an at-rest state. New York was not, but price posting and brand registration was required. As we get ready to launch our 10th state (stay tuned next week), LibDib is a wholesale marketplace for ALL wine and spirits brands and we truly understand compliance and how to ensure every regulation is followed. As our CIO Rich Brashears said to me early on, “If you can write it down, you can code it.
2. Our First Day: We Launched as the Industry’s First Wholesale, Online Three-Tier Compliant Marketplace - It’s hard to believe but on March 22, 2017, LibDib was the very first licensed three-tier B2B online marketplace out there. Five years later, all of the major wholesalers have their own solutions for Makers and Buyers, including our strategic partner RNDC (more on that next).
Before our launch, we spent about 4 weeks pre-briefing the media and embargoed coverage until launch day. It was an incredibly coordinated and executed plan, and it paid off. We pushed the button, the press started rolling in, and the phone started ringing immediately. Emails flowed in, and wine and spirits Makers were signing up, entering products and submitting offerings.
I received some very memorable phone calls that day. The owner of the number one wine retailer in the country called to thank us for starting up. The president of WSWA checked in to make sure we were appropriately licensed (we were!) and then invited us to meet with and join the organization. Most importantly, Tom Cole, the CEO (at the time) of RNDC called me personally. Tom and I hit it off right away. It was inspiring to speak with someone with such depth of industry experience. That phone call confirmed for me that we were on to something really big. LibDib was filling a gap and providing access to all brands: big, small and everything in between. An inclusive marketplace was needed and it was welcomed by all three tiers: Makers, Buyers and Wholesalers.
We learned a lot that day. As many technology gurus have said, if you are not embarrassed by your MVP (minimal viable product) at your first release, then you released too late. You have to get it out there and start learning from the users. An importer, who today remains on the platform and continues to sell, called and said, “Hey, you don’t have a field for an importer.” Considering the volume of foreign offerings we have now, ummm yeah. That’s embarrassing to think we missed that. We immediately updated the software and here we are. Thousands of upgrades have been made to our platform since then and we are all SO proud of it. Our hard working engineers have made it the amazing marketplace and software tool that it is today.
3. Our Partnership with RNDC - In November, 2018, we officially announced a partnership with RNDC. That partnership certainly did not happen overnight. We worked on it together for about a year, talking a lot about our models, operations, technology, and the future of alcohol distribution. The alignment between the team at RNDC and LibDib was (and remains) something really special. We spent months meeting with family/board members and executives to hammer out a deal that would bring both LibDib and RNDC closer to our visions. For RNDC this meant digital transformation, as well as being a true leader in e-commerce when it comes to Supplier, Buyer and Sales Rep support.
This deal made so much sense, because the LibDib platform was initially built to support Makers, Buyers and the LibDib sales team. And by sales team, I mean our Maker brand ambassadors. So, while RNDC has the traditional sales model with feet on the street, meeting accounts and taking orders, LibDib Makers were out there meeting with Buyer contacts and providing information back to LibDib to take the order. The build was there and both distributors were able to capitalize on this best-in-industry technology.
RNDC also saw what we saw: The need to provide access to a market for ALL brands. Supplier innovation is moving fast. LibDib was built to support all of these new market introductions, test products, and specialty items.
RNDC and LibDib understood this and that’s why we’re great partners. The combination of LibDib and RNDC gave ALL wines and spirits brands access to three-tier distribution (for the first time ever). Today, LibDib acts as an incubator for new brands, and we pass along data and information to RNDC for national distribution. It’s a win-win-win for all.
I am super excited about what is next with this revolutionary partnership. We are now focused on next-level AI, data, algorithms and more. It’s really an amazing partnership and it just keeps getting better and better. Thank you to Tom Cole for that first call, and of course to Nick Mehall, the new CEO of RNDC, for his support and vision. It’s fun to be a part of.
4. LibDib’s First E-Premise Partnerships - If you have talked to me at all since January of 2020, you will know that I am very bullish on e-premise. I in fact have made several bets with an industry veteran or two that the future of building brands is not on-premise, it’s not off-premise, but it’s going to be entirely online. It’s coming sooner rather than later, and I would venture to say that it is already here.
In January and February of 2020 I met with the CEO’s of three of our key partners, learning more about their vision and how LibDib can help. Going with LibDib as the distributor for e-premise programs allows for Makers to utilize the saved dollars towards digital marketing spend to drive consumers to their site and point of purchase. More consumers and sales=more data about what markets to target for increased penetration with restaurants, bars and retailers. Consumers getting product first is a complete reengineering of how the brand growth process USED to work. It’s a new world and it’s bright for small brands and innovative products.
There are several partners to choose from when it comes to consumer fulfillment for e-premise orders by retailers: Speakeasy, Bar Cart, Thirstie, Liquor Store Front, Big Thirst. We work with all of these companies daily to assist our Makers with consumer sales via retail fulfillment. Each e-premise offering is a bit different when it comes to levels of service, data offerings and packaging, but all are great for Makers.
5. Our First Chain Account - The initial business plan for LibDib was really geared towards independent accounts. I figured there was enough business through those channels to create a sustainable business model. Fortunately there is, and that remains a large part of what we do every day.
What I did not anticipate was that large chain accounts, especially retail and grocery, would be very interested in our Makers and business model. However, hyper-local, family-owned, sustainable products are more popular than ever, and that’s what we specialize in. These chain Buyers appreciate having a direct line to Makers to discuss programming and plans, while utilizing LibDib to execute an efficient path to market. They can obtain these products at a good price for their customers. It’s a win-win all around. We are now doing business in all of the major chains in our markets. We also now provide an extra level of service for our Makers with chain placements. This includes faster fulfillment and product submission workflows.
If you think the first 5 years were good, wait until you see the next 5 years and beyond. Now that LibDib’s distribution business is thriving, it’s time to focus on the future. And, the future is all about data and insights. Utilizing data to drive business insights while building artificial intelligence (AI) that can be applied to product recommendations, order reminders and more. Expansion is also part of the LibDib plan, but that’s a given.
A big thank you to the 48 LibDibbers who work hard every day to do what we do. From engineers, to portfolio management, to innovation sales, operations, and of course the finance team. I am so lucky to be able to work alongside such amazing people every day to fulfill this crazy vision of mine: A path to market for every brand in every state, one case at a time. We are getting closer and closer to completely realizing that vision every day.