- Created on Monday, 04 August 2008 10:33
The end of 5th Street in San Leon, TX, is about as far as you can go before you run out of solid land. Beyond it sail shrimp boats and freighters. This is where Matt and Kelly Railean founded their distillery. This is where they make "original" Handmade Texas Rum™.
I wouldn't blame you if you think I'm a sot, not after writing about Louisiana rum in a previous post.
In the blogosphere, though, one thing does lead to another. So I found myself with an invitation to visit one of the two rum-makers in Texas. Railean Texas Gulf Coast Rum is hand-crafted in a different style than Old New Orleans Rum and the brand is marketed differently, too. (Yes, there's been a certain amount of tasting going on – this helps me differentiate among brands. Really.) Why miss a chance to observe this brand effort on the basis of the Four Ps* of Marketing anyway? And it's just down the "Highway of Death," I-45 South.
These Texas rums are new. The Raileans got their financing in the Year 5 and their permit in the Year 7: Their clear White Rum came out in December last year, the first marketable liquor off their shiny German-made column still. Railean Reserve XO (the amber rum) has just been introduced. Matt Railean is the distiller; in fact, he's Texas's first "Master Distiller." Kelly Railean is the marketer – her background as a First Level Sommelier, with more than a decade's experience in wine and spirits, means she knows how to go door-to-door.
The initial, Four-P decisions, though, have been joint ones.
One: Product. They wanted to match their product – the rums – with the audiences they saw on the horizon. They believe there will be a market for fine-tuned, hand-crafted rums just as there is for single-barrel bourbons and aged tequilas. In creating the product, they went for "dry" rum recipes. There's no sugar left in the specially created 720 molasses when it goes in the still. The two varieties are less sweet than most rum – the flavors are rich though not syrupy (the Reserve XO has some sherry-like overtones). So far, bartenders and restaurant owners say they like the Railean rums because they're different, with an up-market feel and taste that's distinct from mass-produced rums.
Two: Positioning. The brand name – Railean – is the family name. The makers experimented with different name options, using both friends and liquor-industry colleagues as sounding boards. I'd say there's no more vanity here than any other entrepreneurs; and a good deal of realism. If you can't have the brand equity of a Bacardi or Captain Morgan, you have to build your own. They also understood from the get-go that San Leon doesn't have quite the throw-weight as New Orleans. Rather than load up the rums with pre-conceived notions, "Railean" is neutral...so Matt and Kelly are willing to let their stakeholders help build brand loyalty and image. (I think the jury will be out for a while yet on their brand positioning effort.)
Third: Presentation. In this case, that's the label design. Look behind any well-stocked tavern bar, or the "Rum" section of a good liquor store. You're going to see a lot of labels showing black bats, pirates, sugar cane and more pirates. After considerable thought and a huge number of designs, Matt and Kelly looked out the window of the Buccaneer Tavern in San Leon and saw the hundreds of monk parakeets flying around the power poles and palm trees – the little green parrot ended up as the Railean mascot and the anchor of the product labels.
Fourth: Promotion. Kelly Railean is convinced on-premise sales will build the Railean brand and that's where most direct tasting and promotion efforts are concentrated. I wrote in a previous post about "marketing one bottle at a time;" bars and restaurants are where the 30-to-50-year-old professionals nurture their liquor brand devotion. The company wants to foster this personal relationship with the brand; admits it's hard work and intends to follow through with it all the same. In the absence of a million-dollar budget, the Raileans will use word-of-mouth to foster brand loyalty.
Forty-plus years back, John C Aspley wrote about the advertising manager of a large manufacturing company who said: Sales promotion moves the product toward the buyer, while advertising moves the buyer toward the product.
The Raileans are using sales promotion – and sweat equity – to construct their brand's success. Their achievement will be handmade, for sure.