How a Start-Up Distillery Generated Six-Figures in Sales During a Pandemic

Kozubas_StillShot2 - Papa Maciej Jacob

In a year when growth in the beverage alcohol industry seems tenuous, craft distillery Kozuba & Sons found a path to massive expansion. Operating out of sunny St. Petersburg, on Florida’s gulf coast, this family business crafts traditional Polish spirits: vodkas, whiskey and cordials. And while other small-batch distilleries were hedging their bets, Kozuba & Sons saw an opportunity. In June of 2020, they chose to completely overhaul their approach to the market.

It paid off. In a little over two months, this family-owned distillery has sold $180,000 in products and has secured almost 80 new accounts. They are now in the process of presenting to major chain stores and have goals to reach 10,000 cases over the next several months. Figures and projections like that might sound like magic or luck (or a combination of the two), but if you ask the Kozubas, they’ll tell you it was just smart business, a strong game plan, and old-fashioned determination. 

The Kozubas (Zbigniew “Papa” Kozuba and his two sons, Matthias and Jacob) came to the U.S. in 2014 with the dream of opening a distillery that produces high-quality European-type spirits. They were not new to the spirits business— they laid claim to the first family owned and operated micro-distillery in post- war Poland. However, they were new to the U.S. alcohol distribution process. 

They struggled to find the right distributor. They approached the top four distributors in the U.S. and got denied by each of them. Either the distributor wasn’t bringing on any new products or they didn’t want to bring on a brand that wasn’t selling 20k cases of spirits per year. Eventually they found a distributor in Florida and got into 200 accounts locally, but they couldn’t expand beyond the local market. Why? Their distributor was heavily incentivized to promote and sell other brands. 

“Our distributor incentives were dropped into a big pool and we quickly realized we couldn't afford to continue like this,” said Matthias Kozuba. “We had the pricing wrong and the strategy wrong and we had to go back to the drawing board.”

That was the first time the Kozubas learned to pivot. It saved their distillery. 

A New Way to Distribute Spirits: LibDib

The Kozubas took a step back and closely evaluated their whole approach, including products, pricing and distribution. They partnered with two local businessmen, Jesse Javens and Steve Riordan, to help them with their business planning and execution. They also hired Edge Beverage Consulting to help with their approach to the market. 

James Williams of Edge Beverage Consulting suggested the brand go with a newer distributor, LibDib. LibDib’s model fit with the brand’s strategies and goals.

James says that the secret sauce to Kozuba’s success was “a combination of Kozuba’s willingness to take honest and open feedback about pricing, product development, and sales strategies--as well as the ease of working with LibDib.”

In other words, it was all about how well they pivot and how well they are able to get products to market. 

“We had the pricing and brand story all wrong,” said Matthias Kozuba. “We were used to the more expensive European products. We took a step back and decided to focus on our family and Polish heritage. We developed pricing that worked great for buyers and our target customers.”

The company introduced B Square Vodka, Coast Vodka and Camo Box Vodka— vodkas in a box. These were innovations that the brothers say Papa Kozuba was always pushing for. It gave them eco-sensitive products that were also shatterproof and light weight. They also developed a line of high-quality cordials and whiskies. 

“We’re very creative in our product lines,” adds Jacob Kozuba. “We’re constantly watching the market trends and identifying what comes next.” 

Edge took these new spirits and developed a sales strategy that included one to two sales reps in each of the key markets. This would give them the right amount of “feet on the street.”

They also introduced the Kozubas to wholesale wine and spirits distributor, LibDib. The flexible LibDib distribution model fit the brand’s needs. Edge Beverage would work on presenting the new Kozuba products to chains and retailers, and LibDib would handle the three-tier distribution efforts when it comes to compliance, taxes, billing and collections. 

Edge says that Kozuba’s products are best presented in person, so from there, the team hit the proverbial streets, selling into accounts. The packaging was clever and the pricing was competitive. 

In addition, LibDib’s pricing model was incredibly attractive and the extra margin allowed the distillery to have their own sales team for hire. 

“Distributors these days really just do logistics and LibDib does logistics really well,” says James of Edge Beverage. “We usually are head-butting with our distributors because the supplier and the distributor have their own ideas of what needs to happen in the account and it doesn’t line up. With LibDib, we control the field, as well as our relationships with accounts.”

Kozuba’s Rebranding Strategy

Kozuba took their rebranding a step further, by offering retailers the ability to replace products through LibDib. “We made mistakes but we actually fixed our mistakes with our buyers,” said Jacob Kozuba.

The Edge Beverage team has since built a sales team around the brand. Associates have been trained in California, Florida and Illinois and soon they are going into Colorado and New York. Quality, price point and the Kozuba story are driving their spirits sales. 

Edge Beverage points out that any brand starting out should know that the brand story is what ties people to products and ultimately leads to a purchasing decision. Once there is a story, brands need feet on the street. No matter which distributor you’re with sales comes down to YOUR sales people. They are the ones making the relationships. 

James adds, “You can’t create this beautiful car and put it on autopilot. Someone needs to drive it.”

By working with LibDib, Kozuba and Edge have been able to sell and build buyer relationships quickly. Associates are walking into at least 15 accounts per day (sometimes 32 accounts). They say it’s about numbers and getting in front of buyers.

“My preferred mode is LibDib,” says James. “When I was a sales guy, I dedicated a day and a half per week to follow up with our distributors. I don’t have to do that here. We sell it, we submit the order, it gets delivered. There’s no intermediary between us.”

The entire Kozuba team is pleased with the path they are on right now. The rebranding of their spirits products is completed. The relationship with Edge has been very successful in placing salespeople in key, targeted markets. And, LibDib has provided a great platform that is a new alternative to a traditional distributor model.

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