Making Spirits Bright: How One DTC Aperitif Brand Is Putting the Customer Experience First Amid Shipping Uncertainty This Holiday Season

You’ve heard it before: this holiday season is going to be different. 

We only need to look back six months for clues into how this holiday season will be different for consumers, retail businesses, and all the industries that support online shopping like manufacturing facilities, freight operators, fulfillment centers, and shipping carriers. 

Consumers have already felt the impact on shipping. A recent article reported that 75 percent of consumers surveyed were worried about shipping delays with products purchased online. Others expressed a lack of clarity around shipping timelines. 

These issues are only expected to grow along with sales projections. According to ModernRetail, Deloitte is projecting that holiday ecommerce sales will grow between 25 to 35 percent this year, compared to 14.7 percent last year. 

Wise ecommerce businesses are preparing to deal with these shipping challenges now. But what exactly can brands do to ensure a smooth customer experience this holiday? 

I spoke with Woody Hambrecht, the co-founder of Haus, an all-natural direct-to-consumer (DTC) aperitif brand, to hear how they’re planning to manage potential shipping delays during this period of projected growth. 

 

Leslie Wong: Tell me more about Haus and how it came to be. 

Woody Hambrecht: Haus is an all-natural aperitif sold primarily direct-to-consumer, we’re actually the first spirits brand of our kind to sell online. We launched about a year ago, and we make every bottle ourselves in Sonoma, California. Our vision is to be a totally different type of alcohol brand, so we approach everything from product to brand to distribution differently than the status quo. 

While most people today are looking for transparency and responsibly-sourced ingredients in the products they purchase, these values have been largely ignored by big alcohol brands. So we decided to create something different. Everything from the fruits, herbs, and botanicals that go into every bottle, to the experience of ordering it online, to the unboxing experience is totally different from any other beverage brand created to date.

 

Leslie: I think you’ve definitely introduced a new category and way of enjoying alcoholic beverages. When the pandemic hit, people were home a lot and many people started cooking, making cocktails, and entertaining at home in small groups. Did you see that trend through your demand and sales? 

Woody: From the beginning of 2020, our sales have grown about 5x. We’re incredibly grateful for that and recognize how lucky we are. 

I think there are a number of reasons that play into that. For one, we’ve been selling directly to consumers since the beginning, so people have been comfortable purchasing from us directly online. With everyone stuck at home for much of this year, people have generally embraced buying more food and beverage products online. It’s a significant shift in purchasing behavior. 

Thankfully, from a logistics standpoint, we were able to keep up with the growth because we control our supply chain and handle all of our production in house. We even grow some of the ingredients we use. From producing to bottling and fulfillment, we control every step of the process, so we didn’t have any sort of infrastructure problems.

 

Leslie: Even still, I’m sure it was challenging to keep up that spike in demand. 

Woody: It definitely wasn’t easy. The best piece of advice I can give any other company that produces their product is to try and get ahead of it. Try to foresee any potential bottlenecks and address them before they become actual problems.

 

Leslie: It’s certainly worth the effort. When the pandemic hit, did you adjust your communication strategy or messaging at all? 

Woody: Something we’re proud to have created during the pandemic was an initiative called The Restaurant Project. We partnered with several restaurants and worked with their chefs to co-create specific aperitifs for each restaurant. We sold the bottles online and donated 100 percent of the profits to our restaurant partners. 

That wasn’t necessarily a communication change, but we decided to pivot our focus for a few months to support the restaurant industry. We were able to help keep our industry going and also connect with new customers. 

Besides that, we’re just hyper-focused on customer experience at every point in the journey, from the product to unboxing to support, when it’s necessary. Even prior to the pandemic, we were really vigilant in communicating any sort of potential delay or hiccup with our customers and getting ahead of it. 

Most of our communication is through email. Whether through marketing emails through Klaviyo or customer support, we approach every customer interaction with great care and authenticity. At the end of the day, it’s all about that human-to-human connection.

"Most of our communication is through email. Whether through marketing emails through Klaviyo or customer support, we approach every customer interaction with great care and authenticity. At the end of the day, it's all about that human-to-human connection."

Woody Hambrecht, co-founder, Haus

Leslie: Has the growth you’ve seen this year and during the coronavirus impacted how you’re planning marketing or operations this holiday season? 

Woody: Increased demand has taught us a ton about production and distribution efficiencies. Not to sound like a broken record, but the best thing any growth-phase brand can do is be over-prepared. We’re anticipating where we’ll need more resources and support now—from inventory to product to packaging—so that our team is fully equipped to handle the holidays.

"The best thing any growth-phase brand can do is be over-prepared. We’re anticipating where we’ll need more resources and support now—from inventory, to product, to packaging—so that our team is fully equipped to handle the holidays."

Woody Hambrecht, co-founder, Haus

Leslie: I’ve heard from brands that they’re changing their marketing strategy and encouraging customers to shop earlier this year in response to shipping delays. Do you think the influx of shipments, in general, will impact the way your team is preparing for this holiday season? 

Woody: I’m expecting this is going to be the busiest holiday season that shippers have ever seen and our goal is to get ahead of that.

We’re being really proactive with our communication to customers. We’re giving ourselves more of a buffer and we’re encouraging our customers to buy a little earlier. If you want to get a last-minute gift, we recommend doing that a couple of days earlier this year than you would have last year. 

We’ve also staffed up over the last six months or so. We’ve added a number of members to our production team and this summer, we’ve leased a new production facility that’s about two and a half times the space that we have currently. We’re already starting to prep packaging in preparation for the holidays. 

We’re fine-tuning and thinking about all the production details to see where we can get ahead. If one package takes us 40 seconds to build and fill, it’s thinking about how we can turn that to 30 seconds. That’s the sort of stuff that we’re thinking about right now so just be a little more ahead of the game this holiday season. 

I think the world has changed but customer expectations haven’t really, so it’s on us to do better and become more efficient. 

"I think the world has changed but customer expectations haven't really, so it's on us to do better and become more efficient. "

Woody Hambrecht, co-founder, Haus

Leslie: This moment in time has shown how helpful it is to have ownership of your supply chain. What about the relationship with your shipping carrier? 

Woody: Having a close relationship with your shipping carrier is critical. Make sure you have an open line of communication with a partner you can trust.

We’ve been working with FedEx for over a year and a half now. Having dedicated reps and contact with senior management that we can get on the phone with us at any time allows our team to get ahead of any potential shipping delays and deliver proactive communications to our customers. You should also make sure you’re working with a carrier who has the ability to scale with you as more and more packages are going out every day.

 

Leslie: What advice do you have for other brands who are worried about maintaining an excellent customer experience through the holidays? 

Woody: It’s all about planning now. Be super proactive. When it comes to planning, inventory is a dance. 

You want to be prepared but don’t want to put all your cash into inventory and then have it sit there, so you should also be mindful of that.

When you have to make a hard decision, always put the customer first. Seventy percent of our sales are organic and most of that is because somebody’s friend posted something on Twitter or Instagram about how much they love Haus, not only the product but our overall customer experience. So, you’ve got to put your customers first. 

If you send them a box and it gets lost in shipping, don’t wait until that shipper finds the box, just send the customer another one. Be proactive.

"If you send them a box and it gets lost in shipping, don't wait until that shipper finds the box, just send the customer another one. Be proactive. "

Woody Hambrecht, co-founder, Haus

Leslie: Great advice. Lastly, what’s been the difference between having a DTC beverage brand and one that sells through retailers like beverage brands have traditionally done? 

Woody: We have a very high reorder rate and that’s because I think there’s a connection to the brand, to the founder story, and to the values of the brand. With larger brands, it can be hard to understand what those values are. 

For me, it’s important to know who I’m supporting and understand the values of the brand rather than supporting some corporate machine that dumped a whole bunch of money into advertising.

I ran my own independent wine and spirits brands prior to Haus, and I went through the traditional distribution path, working with distributors to reach the end drinker. At the end of the day, I didn’t have a relationship with the people enjoying the products I made. They didn’t know who I was or how the product was intended to be consumed, and I really had no way of knowing what they wanted. That’s why this model is so important for Haus. It’s so much more than just selling online. It’s about having a direct relationship with our customers and being able to grow our products and our brand based on what they truly want. It’s a first for an alcohol brand.

It’s really interesting to see how the world has shifted and how people connect with brands. I think now more than ever people are really interested in the people behind the brand and their values. This new kind of customer ultimately demands authenticity. I don’t think that will go away any time soon.

"It's so much more than just selling online. It's about having a direct relationship with our customers, and being able to grow our products and our brand based on what they truly want. It's a first for an alcohol brand."

Woody Hambrecht, co-founder, Haus

Read more on planning for Cyber Weekend shipping challenges in light of the coronavirus.

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