Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield are the co-founders of Owl’s Brew Mixer, a company built from the belief that tea and botanicals are the perfect base for extraordinary beverages. Jennie was selected as Specialty Food Association’s “35 Under 35,” and is a UPenn grad. Maria is a Forbes “30 Under 30,” and Skidmore College alum. After teaming up, these impressive women wrote the book Wise Cocktails, then took their love of drinks a step further by launching their own brand in 2013. They soon created the industry’s first tea-based cocktail mixer, and the rest is history. Most recently, the pair have been working on Owl’s Brew Radler, a mix of organic botanicals & tea spiked with craft beer, which is distributed along the East Coast. Jennie and Maria turned their passion–and original idea–into a successful product. Sound like something you’d like to do too? Below, they share their specific, industry insider tips on how you can follow in their footsteps. 

Jennie and Maria say…

 

  1. Find your passion!  Once you have had that ah-ha moment, the real fun has just begun.  Now you are tasked with creating a product that other people will love.  Do some market testing (this can be with friends, friends of friends, colleagues of friends, family, etc) — it doesn’t have to be formal!  Try to understand if you have solved a problem with this product and if so, who for?  Ask yourself (and ask them) — when they will need it; why they will need it;  and what they care most about in the product (organic? No parabens? Made from fresh ingredients?). These will all be incredibly useful data points when you begin to “scale up” the product itself, and as you work on the packaging, and your route to market.
  2. Design. This is where you have the chance to tell your story, what is unique about your brand, and why people should love it as much as you do. Be clear and concise, but don’t forget to let your brand personality show through. There are some wonderful freelance designers you can work with (especially on a budget!). Remember, packaging can be difficult and anything custom takes some time – in some cases you’ll need multiple components (bottle, label, cap, tamper evident seal), and you’ll be dealing with a different supplier for each item. Be patient. We used to say it felt a bit like putting a puzzle together, without the main image!
  3. Figure out how to make it. Once you find something you love, you’ll want to make sure your manufacturer is able to pack into your package. Depending on the industry, you’ll also need to make sure you are compliant and including the correct messaging on your package. Most of this can be found online on the respective government sites. You’ll also need to generate a barcode for your products. These are done by creating a profile on gs1-us.info. While there can often be no roadmap on how to make a specific product, we’d suggest asking people who are making similar products how they do it, and where they manufacture. You can also google around (you are looking for a manufacturer or a co-packer) in your specific industry. Make sure when you are speaking to each manufacturer you get an understanding of pricing, minimums, and sourcing (are you ordering the ingredients? Are they?). We’d highly suggest a small test run if you have high minimums. Creating something that brings your idea to life and hits on all the points you’ve been dreaming about is sometimes much easier said than done. If your product has a real USP (unique selling point) or point of differentiation, that also means it may not have ever been made before, or at least not with your specifications. Just remember not to compromise on any of the important things (why you made the product, or the value you identified when market testing).   
  4. Margins, shipping & more. Once you have a package and you’ve figured out how to make a product you feel ready to share with the world – the fun really starts!  First off, you need to build out your COGS (cost of goods sold), which should include everything from the cost to make your product to the cost to warehouse it before you sell it to your customer. Once you feel like everything is inputed, then you can build in a margin for yourself, and a price to the consumer. In many cases, you’ll need to build in a margin for yourself; for a distributor; and then finally for the retailer. We’d suggest talking to some people in your respective industry as margins vary per channel, and you need to make sure your margin will be able to support your business. You should also do a bit of market research and see what your competition is selling for, and make sure you feel comfortable with your price! A few other housekeeping items…you’ll need to figure out how your product is going to ship. Does it go in another case box? How many units per? Are you selling on a website in individuals? Who is shipping them out? You may need a “pick and pack” warehouse, and another warehouse who ships on pallets.
  5. Route to market. Think about your product launch: will you start locally only? Will you aim for a certain type of distribution channel to begin with? Formulate a strategy and make sure you build that into your Business Plan. Armed with your timeline, prototypes, and go-to-market strategy: start “moving some boxes!” If you are new to the industry, trade shows are a wonderful way to get started and meet buyers — or hit the streets.

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