After Rebranding Itself, Spirit Hub Finds Itself in Good Spirits
Spirit Hub has a list of best practices it expects its distillery partners to follow, including offering authentic products in terms of flavor, quality and product process.
People liked the name well enough. “BigFish Spirits” was fun and out of the ordinary. It caught your attention.
But several months into his online business — which aggregates craft spirits from distilleries around the world and sells them through a proprietary digital platform based in Illinois — BigFish Spirits CEO and Founder Michael Weiss realized the name just wasn’t resonating with consumers. Weiss liked the name, his employees liked it, and the company’s distillery partners liked it. And it’s not even that consumers didn’t like it — they just weren’t sure what the name was meant to construe.
Of course, the name BigFish originated from the “big fish in a small pond” adage. “Small businesses want to grow and be able to make a name for themselves,” says Weiss, adding that his objective behind the name was to help the small independent distilleries that BigFish Spirits was partnering with to grow in their respective markets — their ponds, so to speak.
But if your consumers weren’t able to grasp that, then Weiss knew he had to do something.
“We had to be able to articulate who we are as a company immediately upon somebody coming across our brand, and we felt that ‘BigFish Spirits’ just wasn’t doing it,” he says. “We felt as a brand that we really needed something that would speak to the consumer and educate them instantly so that their interest level would be peaked.”
So Weiss and his team went back to the drawing board to come up with a name that manifested its meaning — and a name that would resonate more with consumers. In February, the company re-introduced itself as Spirit Hub. But it wasn’t just a name change, it was a total rebranding.
“The core reason why we named it ‘Spirit Hub’ was because we wanted to focus on the spirit and the true essence of the distilleries we partner with — their people and the stories behind their brands,” Weiss says.
The change has allowed SpiritHub to “reconceptualize who we are and what we stand for,” says Brian Feener, the company’s chief operating officer. “It’s about pushing the craft spirits movement, not just about being a retailer of craft spirits,” he adds.
Every Distillery Tells a Story
Weiss officially began BigFish Spirits in 2017, but it took about two years to build the online platform of the business and to address other details that come with starting such a business. Those included gaining partnerships with distilleries and obtaining the first-ever legally compliant retail liquor license issued by the state of Illinois to allow the company to ship liquor directly to consumers buying it online.
That part of the business hasn’t changed. The company is always looking for new partners and it will need to obtain liquor licenses from other states as it expands its business beyond Illinois. But what has changed is Spirit Hub’s mission to tell the stories of its nearly 200 distillery partners through its online content. To Weiss, these craft spirits companies are the jewels of the industry — diamonds, if you will — because the products they manufacturer are rare, stately and difficult to find.
Spirit Hub dedicates a section of its website to the distilleries and provides background on their origins and their products. For instance, among many narratives, there’s the story behind Pittsburgh-based Maggie’s Farm Rum, which goes: “In the 1920s, with companies like Heinz calling it home, the Strip District was the economic hub of Pittsburgh. Now, it’s home to innovation. Technology companies call it home. Right down the road from all those tech giants, you’ll find Maggie’s Farm Rum. Crafting the first rums in Pennsylvania since before Prohibition, they’re innovating in their own right.”
And then there’s the story behind Lexington, Ky.-based Barrel House Distilling Co.: “There’s a barreling house in Lexington, Ky., that dates back to the late 1700s. Over the centuries, it’s been home to a number of legendary distilleries. Today, it’s home to Barrel House Distilling Co., an award-winning distillery founded by two lifelong friends that wanted to bring bourbon back to Kentucky.”
The website also features cocktail recipes, educational videos and flavor profiles. Weiss says Spirit Hub is working to bring an unprecedented amount of information and access to help inform customer purchases.
Weiss stresses that the products Spirit Hub sells — from vodka to bourbon to whiskey to tequila to moonshine to rum — aren’t often found on the shelves of the corner drug store. “All of our products are always top shelf,” he adds.
Spirit Hub’s customers are spirit enthusiasts looking for new experiences, Weiss notes. And because they are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been and are educating themselves about trends and flavors, there’s a growing audience for what Spirit Hub sells.
“People want to experience something different … something uncommon,” Weiss adds. “And an uncommon craft spirit is probably something they’ve never tried before because they haven’t had access to it in the past. So what we’re doing is giving them that access. That’s why we exist.”
The Real Deal
Spirit Hub has a list of best practices it expects its distillery partners to follow. At the top of the list is for the distilleries to produce an authentic product, Weiss says. Authenticity has to do with many things, such as flavor, quality and production process.
“Our customers trust the fact that we’ve vetted the brands that we’re carrying,” he adds. “We do a lot of research around the brands to ensure that they’re authentic. And it’s up to us as a brand to deliver on our promise of authenticity and excellence — and we take that very seriously.”
Spirit Hub also expects distilleries to be transparent. “How do they manufacture products, and where do they manufacture them?” Weiss asks. “What flavor profiles are used?”
Spirit Hub also holds itself to its own best practices, one being the continued development of its proprietary digital platform, says Feener, who calls technology “a critical part of our landscape.” Because it’s proprietary, Spirit Hub has more control over customer relationship management (CRM), which has enabled it to practice personalization with its customers to increase their satisfaction and build loyalty.
Weiss actually calls Spirit Hub “a technology-first business,” and cites the importance it has played in enabling the company to navigate the regulatory landscape. Spirit Hub is not only Illinois’ only legally compliant online craft spirits retailer authorized to deliver straight to consumers, it was the nation’s first online retailer eligible to do so.
Feener points out that many independent distilleries have had issues getting their products into new markets because of legalities, but can now do so thanks to Spirit Hub.
Speaking to the Customer
Spirit Hub plans to expand to five more major markets this year: Massachusetts, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Indiana. International expansion is also on the horizon. As far as the rebranding, Weiss says it didn’t come cheap, but he and his team believe the bang they are getting from it has been worth the bucks spent.
“It was something we felt we needed to do to grow our business on a national level,” Weiss adds. “For us to do that, we needed to say who we are and really show the world what it is that we are here to do.”
Weiss also credits Spirit Hub’s more than 20 employees for not only buying into the rebranding, but doing what they needed to do to make it a success.
As one might expect, the stay-at-home order inspired by the coronavirus was a boon for Spirit Hub’s business simply because more people were drinking spirits at home while hunkering down. But Weiss believes some of those new customers will be repeat customers because they were satisfied with their online experience at Spirit Hub and wowed by the craft spirits they received.
And about those customers, for whom the rebranding was initiated. Well, the customer response to the “new” Spirit Hub has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Feener says. And the name has a good ring to it.
“What we have is a name that’s much clearer,” Feener states. “We have a more cohesive brand identity that speaks to the customer.”