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Francisco Tonarely on The Art of Monetizing What You Love

Francisco Tonarely is the CEO and Co-founder of Grand Brulot and is an inspirational business leader who has learned how to monetize doing what they love. They took some time out to share their insights with Rob Barratt, Co-Founder of The Industry Leaders.

Can you begin by telling our audience a little about yourself, your business, and what led you to pursue your particular passion as a profession?

I am the CEO and Co-founder of Grand Brulot, which combines the finest VSOP Cognac with rich Robusta coffee from Ecuador. I’ve been in the spirits space for over 30 year, having served as senior vice president and global head of the tequila division of Seagram Spirits and Wine Group; vice president of marketing for Bacardi International for Latin America and Spain; and marketing director of Latin America, Caribbean and Puerto Rico for Pepsi-Cola International. I also served as president and chief executive officer of Stock Spirits Group USA, a spirits production and distribution company, which ultimately sold for four times its original valuation.

I am continuedly inspired by the challenges of building brands as well as the complexities of bringing products to consumers.

In 2015, my friend and current business partner, John Bernbach, called to ask my thoughts on Cognac/Brandy blended with coffee. After some due diligence which clearly showed a great new opportunity within the high growth and highly segmented cognac, we found that we could innovate on the original and offer new drinking occasions, extending the consumer franchise while evolving classics and offering something unique —a 200 year-old tradition for today’s consumers.

I'm curious to know, what was the defining moment that made you realize that this passion could actually become a business? How did you identify the unique value it could bring to others?

This passion dates back to the beginning of my career. It has always been creating a business around an idea not the other way around. In the case of Grand Brulot, I saw many of the same factors we encountered in tequila while I was Global Group Head, Tequila at Seagram Spirits and Wine group when we launched Don Julio, created 1942. Grand Brulot would compete in a segment dominated by few large players, limited but expanding cocktailability, opportunity to reach a wider audience, growing consumer interest, etc.

The category had strong margins, attractive price points, high single digit growth projecting double digits, and growing excitement from the large players to invest in the consumer and generate noise in the category. Since we started creating Grand Brulot, the cognac category doubled volume to almost 10 million cases over a 5 year period.

Grand Brulot was built focusing on the ubiquity of coffee, the growth of coffee and the resurgence of the espresso martini. The latter facilitates brand engagement with the consumer as well as the bar and restaurant community.

Grand Brulot offered the consumer and the trade super premium 80 proof, high quality spirit with very low sugar and exceptional taste. Our purpose was to offer a full spirit not filled with sugar that could play a protagonist role in a cocktail. It was also meant to offer a profit opportunity to all those in the value chain.

Every entrepreneur faces obstacles, especially when turning a passion into a business. Can you share some of the initial challenges you encountered and how you overcame them?

Building effective, efficient sales and distribution partnerships, attention at the distributor level in a crowded field, breaking through the competition at the bar/ restaurant, building a team that embraces all aspects of the business. There are always challenges.

For me, I take it one step and one decision at a time, sometimes with lots of trial and error, commitment and passion are hard to interview for.

Hard work, finding great talent, investing in the market, and providing great quality service when strengthening relationships are key.

Monetizing a passion requires a solid business model. Can you walk us through how you developed yours, and the key factors that make it successful?

You need to have a superior product with consistent quality and sustainable story, strong margins to weather market headwinds, solid supply chain management, sales execution with professionals that are close to the market, reliable distribution partners that offer the scale a single brand requires and funding to sustain market advancements.

Many people worry that monetizing their passion may take the joy out of it. How have you managed to balance the business aspects with staying true to what you love?

Success on the P&L is directly related to success in the market. Every market breakthrough is a success and a source of joy feeding the sense of accomplishment. Every time I see a bottle of Grand Brulot on the menu at a restaurant, bar, on the shelf at a store, it is a reflection of all the work and dedication that has gone into its development and execution.

As your business grew, what strategies did you employ to scale it while maintaining the core values and essence of what made it special in the first place?

We hired more good people to work directly for Grand Brulot and concentrated resources on best performers, all with a clear understanding of our vision to build relationships, not transactions. We ensure that all of our partners benefit from the purchase and sale of Grand Brulot, as well as strive that all of our customers are able to experience a new great tasting cocktail.

Your journey is truly inspiring. What key insights or pieces of advice would you offer to someone looking to turn their passion into profit?

Ensure that the idea and passion that accompanies it has a business opportunity behind it, a need, solves a problem, etc. and can be scaled.

You need hard work, tireless energy, focus.

Build a committed team, each member MUST add value, preferably each member knows what they don't know and thus the magic happens. Everyone picks up where the other leaves off and the exchange, driven by intellectual curiosity and interest, drives the opportunity.

Ensure you have clear communication, up to date market understanding of trends and potential hiccups.

Reflecting on your journey so far, what are you most proud of? What future developments or projects are you excited about in your business?

Delivering a first class product to the best bars, restaurants, stores in France, UK, and 10 states in the US. I want to ensure that the brand and its plan delivers on its promise to investors. 2020-2021 had challenges that we overcame.

For those interested in learning more about your journey or connecting with your business, how can they get in touch or follow your work?


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