On Our Way!
Well, it’s been quite a ride so far at Tenn South Distillery! I’ve been on board for a little over a year now and we’ve seen so many changes… and fortunately quite a bit of growth.
But from day one it’s just felt like one big learning experience… and I hope that never changes. So often learning spurs growth, although in this business, it seems that the more I learn, the more I still have to figure out! I feel lucky we have a strong and dedicated staff who are committed to helping make Big Machine Vodka a solid staple in the world of spirits.
I’m a big believer in teamwork and quality people. Together our team is constantly forging new paths, building new systems, generating new ideas, executing, stumbling, and most importantly, finding our feet again. A great example of this was our first title-sponsored NASCAR race last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There were challenges, successes and a whole lotta learning!
But first, to provide a bit of context about why we’re involved in auto racing… well, with my brother and me, racing is in our DNA. We grew up racing, and then expanded into the racing business. Among many other notable activations, I established primary sponsorship to help launch the IndyCar career of Danica Patrick in 2001, and my brother had his company Big Machine Records sponsor Dan Wheldon for his 2011 Indy 500 win. We sponsor professional drivers and we also both continue to race cars ourselves. So, it was a natural transition for us, once entering the spirits business, to have Big Machine Vodka be the title sponsor of IMS’s iconic NASCAR race, which is now called the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard powered by Florida Georgia Line. We like to mix the things we love, in this case it’s racing, music and spirits.
The great part about sponsoring big events is of course the brand exposure. We get seen on TV, radio, outdoor, local engagements and we get opportunities to offer fan education about the product. The challenging part is the wide range of activation and coordination. Putting our brand name on an event doesn’t mean we get to sit back and watch it magically come to life. There are endless opportunities to multiply our exposure (like hanging a 50-foot-tall banner on the side of the Conrad Hotel), obligations to partners and clients, sweepstakes, booth setups, contests, media, doing press, personal appearances, side events and, of course, including our distribution partner. This last part is critical so they can work with retailers to make sure they understand the unique qualities of our premium product, help us get them excited about all the marketing and promotion we are doing, and to make sure the retailers are carrying the product!
While we had a lot of things under control in our inaugural run, one major aspect was out of our control – that ever-present risk for outdoor events – the weather! As soon as forecasts began to be displayed publicly fifteen days prior to race date, it showed great weather – right up to race weekend, but rain on the actual three days of the event. In my experience, weather forecasts always fluctuate by a day or two in one direction or the other. Not this time! Every day, a wet forecast sat parked on September 7th, 8th and 9th. The three days of our race weekend. And not only did the forecast never stray by a day or two, it was actually spot-on… RAIN! And I mean R-A-I-N!
Yet somehow, even with weeks of rain being forecast, the IMS announced that race ticket sales were up for the first time in 10 years, and by double digits! But we had a hard time entertaining any of those folks in the downpours. In addition to the race on Sunday, we also had scheduled activities which required outdoor participation, including a bar crawl on Friday night. It turned into an unattended sit-in mostly populated by our own staff.
The larger issue was the concert. We had scheduled our first installment of FGL Fest, our outdoor music festival headlined by Big Machine Recording artist Florida Georgia Line. This coordination wasn’t quite so new, as the prior year I produced for our record label a concert for the Big Machine Records 400 with the Chain Smokers, Major Lazer, the late Mac Miller, Pretty Lights and others. That concert went off without a hitch, but this rain was pounding. I took a few staffers and we drove the grounds at 1:00am and it was virtual swamp; there was no way we would get the show in.
Fingers were still crossed for Sunday’s race as we stood up on the stage pre-race. My brother as Grand Marshall, myself, and our rising superstar artist Carly Pearce, who was to sing the National Anthem all stood together, with our hopes cautiously optimistic as we got through driver introductions. Almost on cue, the rain poured from the sky before the drivers could even get to their cars.
We sat for hours waiting for a break in the weather, and it never came. NASCAR finally announced postponement until Monday. Now what? Three days of activations, including booths with trivia and giveaways, machines setup all over the speedway to serve our Frozen Vodka Lemonade Slushies (yes, they ARE as good as they sound), and a whole floor full of VIP guests in the renowned infield Pagoda.
Finally, we had to call it a day and pack it all up. But fortunately, the next day cleared up enough, but with a much-reduced crowd.
We have two more years in the deal, so we thankfully have a couple more chances to execute, but the first year was indeed a learning experience!
Thanks for reading,
Executive Vice president, Tenn South Distillery, home to our Big Machine Platinum Filtered Premium Vodka!