Francisco Tonarely is the CEO and Co-Founder of Grand Brulot VSOP Cognac Café, handcrafted in the Cognac region of France. He’s been in the spirits industry for over 30 years and has served in the C-Suite at Seagrams, Bacardi, and more. He’ll talk about the ultra-lucrative business of booze, how its changed over the years, and how Grand Brulot went from an idea to an award-winning brand.

Grand Brulot’s flavor profile:

“Grand Brulot is an award-winning VSOP full-proofed cognac, aged and blended with coffee. VSOP stands for Very Special Old Pale and it’s aged minimum four years. Ours is aged six years, and that’s because, when you’re a small brand everything has to matter. So, I wanted to make sure that everything in that bottle made sense and had a purpose. So, the liquid had to be perfect. … The coffee is an example of when we developed it, I said, ‘We do what’s right, not what’s popular.’ Sixty-seven percent of the world market for coffee is Arabica. Thirty-three percent is Robusta, because Robusta is more bitter. When we were doing the testing Arabica didn’t work well because cognac has an inherent sweetness, so we chose the Robusta, which is more bitter.”

The complexities of bringing liquor to market:

“In the case of spirits, there’s what’s called a ‘three-tiered program.’ I’m a supplier and an importer, and then I have to sell to a distributor, and then they in turn are the ones, by law, who have to sell it to retailers. … You can sell online, but it’s done through a wholesaler, a distributor.”

How to define “mass success” in spirits:

“A brand that’s well established, that becomes a target for acquisition, it’s at a 20,000-case threshold. Once you hit 20,000 cases, and you’re competing in a segment, and you’re showing double-digit growth rates, and you’re showing sell-through in, let’s say, fifty accounts per market, and you see rotation, then that’s an acquisition.”

How to find your niche in a crowded industry:

“When I was involved in tequila, it was five million cases largely controlled by salsa and Cuervo, limited cocktail-ability, limited price points, a young consumer, and what was driving tequila was basically the association with Mexican food that was growing. So, when I got involved with Grand Brulot, one of the things I told my partners and investors was, ‘This is a parallel universe to tequila. So, here you have 67% of the market controlled by one player, you have another 15% by the other players, and then you have us. And we’re competing for what I call the ‘non-franchisable territory.’”

The biggest lesson he’s learned in business:

“The biggest lesson for anybody is to become better at finding people to do the things that are necessary on a consistent basis. One of the surprises is, when you pay well, or at least pay the best that you can while always being upfront, and people are selling you on all the things they can do and all the things that they supposedly did, and what’s so sad is (that they don’t actually do it). And all those things that were supposed to get done, don’t. So, that would be the biggest surprise. And I’m not naïve. I’ve worked in large companies my whole life. But, when you’re an owner, and an entrepreneur, maybe our fault is that we try to measure people as to how we are.”

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:

“Don’t do anything where you’re not waking up thinking about it and going to bed thinking about it. If it’s not something that is really taking hold of you then find out why, and then find out what are those things that you are constantly thinking about.”