Keeping Customers Off Amazon: Q&A with DTC Beer Accessory Brand BottleKeeper

Here, DTC Daily speaks to Adam Callinan (pictured below), CEO &  co-founder, BottleKeeper, a cold beer accessory brand that  earned one of the largest deals in Shark Tank (America’s version of Dragon’s Den, for our UK readers) history. 

You were one of the biggest deals on Shark Tank – why did you choose this method of funding, over other, more traditional avenues?
There are a number of reasons that Shark Tank made sense for us but, frankly, the capital was the least important. Having been profitable since year one, without any previous investors or debt, left us in a place where needing a small influx of cash wasn’t super important — note that I’m not suggesting that a million dollars isn’t a lot of money, just that a million dollars wasn’t going to significantly alter the near term trajectory of the company. There were two other reasons that made an appearance on Shark Tank an interesting opportunity. The first is that having the chance to bring on someone like Mark Cuban or Lori Grenier (among others) into our fold, whom have been enormously successful at scaling businesses and possess hard-to-replicate networks of connections, just made a lot of sense given where we were as a company. The second reason, which is surely no surprise, is the exposure. Nearly 100% of our revenue at the time of taping was direct-to-consumer – with our single largest company expense revolving around customer acquisition — so having an appearance on the show could (and did) have a significant impact on our DTC sales (and had zero customer acquisition cost).
You’ve just started selling through major retailers – why the change, and how has it been going?

For the first 5 years of the company we were maniacally focused on building a DTC business that focused on the customer and their experience with the BottleKeeper brand — which can only be completely controlled when selling through your own site. During that time we had a lot of retail interest and responded by telling them we weren’t quite ready but they could join a waitlist for when the timing was better. By 2018 we had grown our DTC business significantly and also had seen growing concerns over Facebook and the scrutiny they were coming under regarding data, which was our primary marketing channel, so we agreed that the time had come to diversify our revenue models by very strategically entering the physical retail space. We spent most of 2018 strategising about this expansion, ensuring that we were choosing the right partners and putting tech in place to help manage it, and began shipping retail orders in Q4 — which has grown really fast. For frame of reference, we were in just over 200 stores by the end of 2018 and grew to over 4000 stores in the first six months of 2019 — and these are all retailers that we’ve hand selected.

Adam Callinan, CEO & co-founder, BottleKeeper

The likes of Amazon are always mimicking innovative products like yours for lower prices –  how do you stand out against this, and build brand equity?
To start, we try to keep our customers on and off Amazon — although that’s becoming harder and harder to do effectively. From a brand perspective, it’s very difficult to give a customer a unique BottleKeeper experience when they’re buying on Amazon because we have very little information on that customer and virtually no communication due to the strict limitations put in place. In reality, they’re really Amazon’s customer, not ours. Effectively showing our fun brand voice can really only be done when a customer makes a purchase at or views a piece of content that we’ve produced for social media or TV. Our brand voice does live throughout our package labelling, which is certainly better than nothing when it comes to Amazon purchases, but the on-site and post-purchase experience that our direct customers get is significantly more personal, which is a big part of our brand.
Following your Shark Tank backing, when do you think you would seek additional investment?
It’s a bit hard to say as we haven’t historically looked to outside financing to grow the company, although I do think there is a time and place for taking on additional growth capital and investors. What I can say is that we’re growing more open to the idea of raising a more formal round of financing in order to put ourselves in a position to take more risks and pour a bit of fuel on the fire.
What’s next for BottleKeeper
There are two main areas that we’re focusing heavily on; physical expansion and product expansion. We’re doing well on the physical expansion part of that, particularly with respect to domestic physical retail, but haven’t yet made a big impact on international distribution or launched an entirely new product line — although we do continue to innovate on our existing and growing BottleKeeper lineup. We have a number of new cold beer lovin’ products in the pipeline that we’re really excited about, one of which is expected to launch in early Q4 of this year that will help to expand and diversify our customer base.