In this series, ActionCOACH Mary Ann Hauser (MAH) and team virtually sit down with business owners to learn how they are working through COVID-19. Check out their inspiring stories for tips on how to cope with and successfully recover from this pandemic as well as ideas on how to avoid making common mistakes. And be sure to look at special offers from these businesses – we can all use a little extra help right now!
BKN: Coach Beverly Kiser-Nutt
BB: Brooke Bloomquist, President of Blue Shark Vodka
BKN: What do you do and how long have you been in business?
BB: We moved from California to the east coast when I was a teenager. I graduated from High School in Greensboro, then moved to Wilmington for college at UNCW. After college I moved to New York which was truly the town that never sleeps – which gave me the desire to move to Hawaii. My parents came for a visit, and my dad and I started talking about this business while sitting at a Tiki Bar at the Sheraton Maui. We thought how cool would it be to put a shark in a bottle – kind of like putting the ship in the bottle. My dad was always an entrepreneur, he started Bobbing Head dolls in California. He also had a background in spirits and wine, as he worked with Seagrams in International Sales, as well as various wineries in California. He knew a little about distilling. Craft beers were on the rise in 2015, so we thought why not a spirit like vodka, something attention grabbing. Marketing is half the product, but we did it backwards. We came up with the package and then the product! I knew to do this business, I would have to move back to North Carolina – so my parents moved from Greensboro to Wilmington and I moved there from Hawaii to get things kickstarted. I have my master distillers license, so we went to work on the recipe. It took a year to develop the perfect one. The secret is NC sweet corn raised on our farm in Polkton, NC by Farmer Jeff and his family. We distill our vodka four times using reverse osmosis. Blue Sharks are known for being docile, so we called it the vodka that doesn’t bite! Our distillery is in New Hanover County, and North Carolina spirits are controlled by the ABC board, so all of our product is shipped to Raleigh and then it is up to each individual ABC store in each county to decide if they want to include us in their inventory or not. There has been a big learning curve understanding all the regulation and distribution processes. So we dreamed up this idea in 2015 and began producing and selling it in 2019.
BKN: Who is your best customer?
BB: We have a lot of best customers. Bartenders. Patrons. NC ABC Board / County Commissioners / Managers.
BKN: Biggest impact of Covid-19?
BB: The biggest impact of Covid was the loss of on-premise business at bars, followed by a bottle shortage - there was suddenly a huge demand for glass.
BKN: 1 or 2 actions you've taken because of Pandemic?
BB: We did a Shout out for Take out via social media in Wilmington to help boost business at local restaurants. We bought meals from local businesses to support them. We created energy with our promos for restaurants with the idea of buy dinner out, make your drinks at home. We also had plans to come up with a handle bottle of vodka, and a less expensive bottle without the shark. We moved up the latter one to make it more affordable for people – especially during Covid. After all how many bottles do you need with a shark in the bottom? They can simply refill their shark bottle if they like.
BKN: How are they working?
BB: We have had success with the actions taken during Covid.
BKN: Biggest learning since you've been a business owner?
BB: Expect the unexpected. Always need to be looking ahead and prepare for what may happen because the future is always unpredictable. Don’t give up.
BB: This year has been challenging for anyone, but for me I think what I find most inspiring today is my family. We've continued to have fun while we continue to grow and expand Blue Shark Vodka all throughout North Carolina, while making plans to eventually go nationwide. And you know family businesses are not easy, by any means - but how we can communicate freely to achieve our goals - that has been probably the most inspiring.