Premium content from South Florida Business Journal by Jeff Zbar, SoFla Luxe
Date: Friday, September 7, 2012, 6:00am EDT - Last Modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012, 9:23am EDT
Larry O’Neil knew about SX Liquors even before CEO David Knight made a pitch to get his bottles on the shelves at Rocco’s Tacos on Las Olas. He saw local events, promotions and tastings Knight’s team staged in area restaurants and bars. He spotted Knight’s brightly painted 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine and 1957 Lincoln Premiere convertible along the boulevard.
“When he parked [the cars] out front, people would ask about it,” recalled O’Neil, general manager of Rocco’s Las Olas location. “That’s how the product got out there.”
Fort Lauderdale-based SX Liquors has used those wheels and promotions to build its brand. The products include Latin spirits – tequila, aged rum, and Cachaça-style rum – flavor-infused with what Knight calls “sensual and exotic ingredients.” Bottles contoured to evoke the female form have won awards for their design, he said.
The idea began in Silicon Valley in 2007 on – of all places – the back of a cocktail napkin. A veteran packaged beverage marketer who was running internal communications for eBay, Knight paired up with a top cocktail beverage website creator. Scouting area liquor stores, Knight saw that tequila and rum were popular. But their designs, flavors – even their names – were uninspired.
“No one had positioned product customized for females. We wanted to be sexy and different,” said Knight, who commissioned the design firm that had done Gatorade and Propel packaging when he helped manage those lines for Pepsico. “We told them to go to the perfume aisle rather than the liquor store.”
Knight found a master distiller in Mexico who had customized tequila for female drinkers. He experimented with the honey and lemon, creating what he called “tequila with all the body but without the face.”
With names like Samba, Calypso and Cha-Cha-Cha, the products debuted across South Florida in April 2011. In all, nine products are on the market. New flavors are a constant process. Those to hit the market next are coffee, vanilla and clove, he said.
Vodka is approved but hasn’t debuted. Flavors include azul, rosa and verde and infusions of vanilla, basil, coffee and watermelon.
“It’s almost an impossible market to break into with a regular vodka,” said Jason Savino, owner of Potions in Motion LLC, a Boca Raton event and product sampling firm. SX has “off-the-cart types of concoctions that will help set them apart with combinations that never have been done before.”
Sales broke the 1,000-case mark in 50 select outlets earlier this year. Then, Southern Wine and Spirits came on board to take SX from 80 local test markets to some 1,000 locations statewide, as well as Las Vegas. New York and New Jersey should debut Oct. 1, and Quebec by the holidays, he said.
He’s also scouting Latin American and Asian partners.
Why take on a well-established category like high-end tequila, rum and vodka? The three top-selling spirits today weren’t around 10 years ago, Knight said. People shift brand choice and seek innovation.