Gabriele Galli, Mason Estep and Shea Wilson aren’t strangers to campus nightlife. These motivated entrepreneurs have devoted themselves to recognizing trends and understanding what makes college students tick. Their latest undertaking: telling their peers all about the wonders of Sech’s.
“My mom was always drinking weird things like Kinky, and our generation is pretty straightforward. They’re talking about sex, let’s make a drink called Sech’s,” says Estep, a fifth-year marketing major at Ohio University. “Sechs is six in German, and originally it had 6 percent alcohol, but we found students wanted a higher alcohol content.”
The three co-founders of Sech’s have known each other since their Celtic days at Dublin Jerome High School. Wilson, a recent Ohio University graduate, and Estep approached Galli in September about their cocktail in a can, hoping to tap into Ohio State’s market. Galli, a marketing major at Ohio State, eagerly joined the team and just a year later the three confirmed an important business lesson: Sech’s sells.
“We sold 1,000 cans at our launch in Athens,” Estep says. “We sold 400 on Dec. 4, refilled orders and sold 600 the second day. We were very pleased with the results, and we expect sales to accelerate in the spring with fest season.”
Sech’s opening weekend sales were helped by the founders’ relentless promotion, creation of mixed drinks like Sech’s Bomb and Sech’s Sunrise and plenty of market research.
“You don’t see a lot of flavored malt beverages coming out, and when you do they’re from one of three huge public companies,” Wilson says. “But we didn’t want to be another craft beer, we wanted to be a party drink.”
With the drink ready to hit shelves, Sech’s targeted mom-and-pop stores, making weekly visits and building a relationship until getting a purchase order. Sech’s is now in 20 stores and bars across Columbus and Athens.
Getting the product from mind to matter required a great deal of support and capital, which they acquired through these established relationships and infectious ambition.
“We produced 100,000 of the cans, which cost a lot of money. We used crowdfunding to promote the drink itself and get preorders,” says Estep, who took a year and a half off of school to work for Standoffer, a crowdfunding investment marketplace. “Getting investors for manufacturing was more selling ourselves. We speak entrepreneur to entrepreneur so they respect the hustle. People invest in people.”
Through relentless hustle, the Sech’s founders spent thousands of hours tasting hundreds of mixes in dozens of flavor houses before unanimously settling on what is now known as Bombacious Berry. The rest of the process from taste to launch was not nearly as fun. In the heavily regulated liquor industry, new licensees have to go through state liquor control, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and get state and federal label approval while coordinating everything with the private-label manufacturer.
Estep says the little kinks in the road piled up, but were always manageable. And some kinks, in the case of TTB label approval, they drove straight through.
“The [federal government] was taking forever, so we drove to Washington, knocked on the door of the TTB and didn’t leave until they approved our can,” Estep says. “After a two-hour conversation we finally got our label approved on the spot and went home with a smile.”
Another setback came recently, as Sech’s had parties and promotional events lined up, just waiting for the manufacturer to put it in the cans. They awoke the next morning to an email, and their hearts sunk when they saw production had been delayed two months. But the Sech’s founders cracked open some Bombacious Berry and used this as motivation to work harder.
“It was difficult telling investors about the delay. It’s hard to deliver disappointing news to people counting on you,” Galli says. “We used the time to refocus our business plan and create more goals for the future. With Sech’s, we’re always working hard even when we should be relaxing. There’s no distinction between work and play when you love your business.”
Some of the goals on the horizon for Sech’s include being on every major campus in Ohio by August, then moving on to Big 10 campuses. The cocktail in a can also has promotional events at local campus bars, Bullwinkles and Midway, in the coming months and will also be rolling out a new flavor in spring of 2017: Morning Sech’s Mimosa, which has tested well as a game-day drink.
“The taste of Natty in the morning on game day is not good. People would rather have a mimosa,” Estep says. “One of our main advantages is not just being local but being students. We’re not a bunch of 55-year-old men trying to say what little boys and girls like to drink. They don’t know the market like we do and we’re seeing it trend towards cocktail in a can.”
Between market research, promoting their business and handling classes, time management has become a well-crafted tool for the founders. At Ohio University, Wilson and Estep found help with specialized studies that allowed them to pick the classes that helped them the most, and receive credit hours for work on the company. At Ohio State, Galli says he would like to see more opportunities in Fisher for entrepreneurs to receive credit hours for work on their companies. Currently, Sech’s is working on partnering with Fisher for credit on marketing and design internships.
Galli, Estep and Wilson all attest that their success as young entrepreneurs came from their drive and passion for Sech’s.
“You have to be ready for rejection, know when to push harder and when to move on,” Galli says. “Winners are dreamers who never gave up, and we are where we are because we never gave up.”