Rebelling Against Tequila: A Conversation with Kirk Gaither of Selvarey Rum
The alcohol space is crowded in the creator world, and it feels like every celebrity and their mother or significant other has their own tequila brand these days. In a world where it’s easy to go with what’s popular and working well, going against the grain and trying something new is valuable.
We talked to Kirk Gaither, the Executive Vice President of Sales & Operations at Bruno Mars’ rum company, Selvarey Rum, about creators, helping run a rum business and what the future of the industry might look like.
Here’s what he had to say.
What did the first days of SelvaRey rum look like?
Celebrities are always interesting.
It took a few years before they were ready to bring on a full team. Two and a half years ago, we released completely new packaging on the rums and added in two new SKUs. We did that in conjunction with Bruno launching the Silk Sonic album. That was how it all started. I was brought in to help commercialize the business and set process and policy. Having a sales and a marketing background totally helps.
But I do think there is truly almost celebrity fatigue at this point around some brands that are out there. Some work with brands better than others.
How involved is Bruno Mars?
It’s been an interesting run because some celebrities are extremely involved in what they do and they want to have contact up and down the organization, and some celebrities just want to deal with the founders, and that’s what we have with Bruno – an owner that is intimately involved, but involved at the high-level things. He’s involved in the marketing, the appearance, look and feel as opposed to the guy who wants to go out and see customers and do the day-to-day.
How has working with a well-known creator helped you optimize brand growth?
It helps because of his breadth of fanbase. When we launched the new packages, it was very important to him that we had national distribution, which drove us to account partners like Loewe’s Hotels and XRG. He never wanted his fans to not be able to get it, and that’s really helped propel a lot. When he posts, we see an uptick in sales. He doesn’t post very often, so when he does post, it’s extremely important.
He’s just very careful with over-saturating his fan base with a lot of content, no matter what his project is. He does everything himself, and it’s not like he has somebody curating something every day, which in my opinion, is good. It’s much more meaningful.
How has the company shifted since you got involved?
The company started in 2010 by three brothers. One of the brothers, a journalist, was in Nicaragua and he fell in love with rum. The brothers went on a search and found a maestro, a gentleman named Don Pancho Fernandez, who ran Havana Club in Cuba for 35 years under Castro. He had been let out of the country by Castro and went to Panama to set up his own distilleries.
A couple years after the brand launched, Seth, one of the brothers, got introduced to Bruno, and that’s when he got involved – he tasted the rum and fell in love. It was never something that he intended to do because it was fashionable. He fell in love with it because he’s from Hawaii. One of the things he says is “I’ve never seen anybody drink rum and have a bad time,” and that’s what got him into it.
When you joined the team, what were your first areas of focus?
My first area of focus when I came in was honestly to get us up and running in Las Vegas. Bruno does a residency with MGM. We were transitioning the marketplace into all this new packaging, and getting everything going was my first foray – to make sure that was up and running for his residency that had been dead for a year and a half.
In conjunction with the new packaging, we transitioned distributors. We did a national rollout on that, then focused on building a team and putting a sales team in place with people who can support the sales team.
Are you happy with how the company is growing?
It’s been slow growth. We brought everything in-house and have aligned with a national distributor.
We're fortunate in the fact that COVID didn't mess with our supplier very much because we had a lot of supplies stateside when we launched the new packaging. We have a continuous stream from Panama. We don't have to have to worry about the in-stock out-of-stock game.
It’s been a later thing for us to go off-premise. That really was driven by the launch of new products and new packaging. The real focus was to drive towards outdoor venues that are rum-consumption, locations – pools, patios, those kinds of things. While we went retail, we absolutely hung onto our on-premise piece of business.
We’re a little backwards from what a lot of startup companies are. A lot of them really target that off-premise business to get the volume up. And for us, it was about are we ready to go off-premise in a great way to have the right brand awareness? And do we have the right tools to continue to create that brand awareness?
ALEXIS BENVENISTE IS A NEW YORK-BASED WRITER AND EDITOR WHOSE WORK HAS BEEN FEATURED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG, VANITY FAIR, AND OTHER OUTLETS.