Branching Out and Changing Directions

Don’t let the title fool into thinking SWAM is expanding or changing directions. A little foreshadowing? Well..not yet. This is just an article on a pair of individuals with a common direction and a motivation to change.

In my business, I meet a lot of diverse people. On the more professional level, I also meet many passionate oenophiles but not quite like this duo. Meet Patrick Okubo and Elton Nichols, who I first met through an informal industry wine tasting.  At that time all I knew that they were two hard-core wine enthusiasts who loved to study about wine. Because of all that studying, they achieved certifications at a level that very few pass and will continue on to one day become Master Sommeliers. Today, they are advance sommeliers with an ease of explaining the intricacies of wine speak. Just listen to their radio show on Saturdays at 11 am on Honolulu’s Money Radio AM760, A Perfect Sip. They are not just a pair of wine geeks who talk on the radio. They are perfecting their wit and knowledge to be the next generation of Gary Vaynerchuk’s, The Wine Library, the most successful video blog about wine. With the success of their own show, Patrick and Elton are branching out into the direction of phone apps, twitter updates, iTunes and YouTube downloads and of course…blogs. I know their genuine love for wine and spirits have not made them into snobs but rather the Perfect Spokesmen.

Meet Russel Kealoha and Bully O’Sullivan of the Two Beer Queers, who all ready achieved success through their video podcast. From the short time that I’ve known them, I’ve witnessed their popularity sky rocket. I first met Russel and Bully on a Two Beer Queer beer run to SWAM. I had no idea that they were involved in a video podcast about beer. They were very low-key and didn’t clue me in until 13 episodes later. Using their techno-know-how, the Two Beer Queers paved their way into the social media limelight by creating their own iPhone app, interviewing the hot shots in the beer-world, and making public appearances with newsmakers and party people. Keep in mind this is just a hobby to them. The Two Beer Queers produced over 5o episodes and still going, but now are moving into other avenues of point of view. Just read Russel’s blog Awesome Online Money Making Blog. Changing gears have opened up the duo to experience more than just reviewing beer (belch) and I like where they’re going.

Both dynamic duos have influenced a direction in my business.  Watching their growth and accomplishments can only be worth following.

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Reflections of a Business Owner

This morning Russel Kealoha posted on Facebook an interesting article regarding Groupon.  I went further and read the blog in her own words.

I can relate to her experience with Groupon and credit her for posting it.  Business owners are apprehensive to share mistakes especially in a public forum where we can be criticized as being whinny, unappreciative, and idiotic.  After reading some of the comments posted, the blacklash can be overwhelming.

So what do I think about Groupon?  It has an upside and a downside. On the up, unlike traditional advertising, I instantly recognized what brought this customer to my store.  I’ve gained new customers and awareness of our location.  My Yelp reviews, Google Search, and Facebook Page ‘Likes’ have increased.  More traffic was directed to my website which led me to update and revise the site.  I’ve sold some hard-to-move inventory.  I’ve given my customers an opportunity to buy a gift certificate at 50% off.

On the flip side, SWAM is a retailer in a competitive business which solely retails liquor and tobacco.  Price margins are very important.  Thank goodness for Mom, I don’t have a payroll.  Because of our low overhead, we can be competitive with pricing.  Competitive pricing means lowering the profit margin.  No other liquor store in Hawaii has done a Groupon and that is why.  Why did I do it?  For the same reasons Posie Cafe did it.  I’ve been told Groupon customers will spend more than the Groupon value.  After five months in, I don’t agree with that sales pitch.  I should have known better when I noticed the shopping habits of my own mother.  On a deal, she rarely buys 10% over the minimum purchase. If the coupon states ‘get $10 off on purchase of $30 or more,’ she’ll cleverly buy as much as she can and stay at the minimum.  For SWAM, it’s an ‘Ouch’ moment and I’ve experienced many ouch moments.

Another experience is the amount of time spent reconciling the redeemed Groupons.  It’s our responsibility to be vigilant on duplicate printed Groupons.  Manually imputing the data helps to keep track of spending patterns and outstanding Groupons.  So far, I have not witnessed intentional Groupon fraud but I did see duplicates in a customer’s possesion that have been redeemed.  I politely reminded them not to use them. 

Also, I have not encountered the expired Groupon experience or the impending rush upon its expiration.  In Hawaii, there is a gift certificate law that requires a minimum two-year expiration date.  Groupon does make clear that once it’s expired, the Groupon can only be redeemed for what you paid. 

Fair Warning to all who have outstanding Groupons for SWAM.  The expiration date is August 8, 2011 at 8:00pm from then on the Groupon will be worth $10 until August 8, 2013.

Overall, the experience of Groupon was worthwhile.  Will I ever have another Groupon or Groupon like promotion?  The simple answer is … no.

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Our First Cigar Review

The NEW Alec Bradley “American Classic Blend”

This is our first foray into the world of cigar Blogs! Being that this is new for us we will be reviewing a new cigar! To give you a little background on the cigar, Alec Bradley – Alec and Bradley is actually the name of Alan Ruben’s two sons. Alan Ruben started out during the 1990s cigar boom with the love of tobacco. 15 years later his company has grown to become one of the premiere cigar producers in the world. Alec Bradley also produces some other great cigars under the AB name such as the Vice, Maxx, Prensado, SCR (Select Cabinet Reserve), Tempus and the Family Blend – named after the founders Alan Ruben (President), Ralph Montero (Vice President), and George Sosa (National Sales Director). On May 20th, we hosted “The Armed Forces Day Smoker” at O’toole’s Irish Pub in conjunction with our friend Danny Bonilla of Prudential Life Insurance. Life insurance sponsoring a smoker? Well we will save that for another blog. It was $20 per person limited to the first 30 people and it sold out in a week. We tasted all-American Bourbons from Jim Beam, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden and featured the American Classic Blend Cigar. Patrons of the smoker were ask to donate some sticks to our military boys overseas by way of BOTL (Brothers of the Leaf). The care package was sent out and we hope it finds its way.

Now on to the review by Mark Miyahira…

This cigar is made in the Placencia factory that produces some of the most sought after cigars in the industry including J Fuego, Gurka, Padilla, Rocky Patel and Casa Magna.

The size that I am reviewing is the Toro (6 x 50). The Robusto (5 x 50) is also available at SWAM.

Filler: Nicaragua – Esteli & Condega
Binder: Nicaragua – Jalapa
Wrapper: Honduras (Connecticut Shade)

Looking at the construction of this stick, it does sport a lighter shade of wrapper with very light veins giving it a smoother, higher quality look. The outer wrapper has a clean leather look and a double cap finish. On the first cut by my Xikar multi-tool scissors, the aromas before lighting are of earth and nuts with a touch of mint or menthol. The first light gives more nuttiness but the smoke is a creamy light feel. It starts up and I do get a savoryness (umami) with ‘kaki-mochi and arare’ (seasoned rice craker) flavor! Kind of strange to get that in a cigar but it’s not a bad taste at all! The draw is excellent with lots of smoke leading me to believe the construction is top quality. The body on the cigar through the first half is on the lighter side but the flavors are complex with a mix of nuts, earth, and grains and just a hint of cedar and spice on the finish. On the second half, the cigar builds up a little strength coming into the medium spectrum with more of those flavors coming across. The burn throughout the cigar is even without having to re-light or touch up any of the cigar. Total smoking time for the 6 incher is about 1 hour and 15 minutes (I smoke fast). Which brings me to conclude…

This is a great smoke for those of you looking for a lighter summer afternoon smoke that reminds me of a light to medium bodied Chardonnay (being from the wine industry) that is priced well below what it tastes like, for example, a Clos du Bois Chardonnay which is normally $10 a bottle and selling for $4.99 a bottle! I really believe that this is a great cigar for the price! We are selling them at $4.99 a stick! You can also purchase by the box of 20 at 20% off! We also carry the Tempus Terra Novo (5 x 50) that got a 93pt score and the Family Blend T11 Torpedo that scored 94pt. Heading out to a barbeque? Bring some kaki-mochi and an Alec Bradley American Classic Blend!

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New Product: Bulleit Rye

We were fortunate to squeeze in a visit from Master of Whisky, Tom Turner, and taste the Bulleit Rye last week.  By the way, rye whiskies are making a nice comeback into the market, hooray!  Back in 2004, Tom Bulleit started developing the Bulleit Rye. With requests from the trade, it became a priority to move the project into production.  The Bulleit Rye is 95% rye and 5% malted barley and aged between 4 and 7 years.  Turner explained that the 5% malted barley is used to enzymatically breakdown the unmalted rye seed.  Thus producing a touch of sweetness to the spicy rye. Delicious!! 

On a side note, Turner pointed out that whiskies in the 1980’s declined in consumption.  Distilleries shutdown and production was reduced.  Like many trends, they fall out of fashion and then years later there’s a revival.  Whiskies, beers (aka craft beer), gins, and cigars are making a fashionable comeback with new packaging and higher price tags.  Certain distilleries that are considered the main component in popular blended whiskies are playing catch up in their single malts. Many 10 year whiskies are being held back to become a 12 year just to keep up with the supply.  Yes, whiskey does need time to age so for the vodka folk, keep your comments to yourself, thank you.  Not only has the demand drove prices up for an aged product but what about the raw materials??  Grain and fuel prices have only gone up due to the wrath of mother nature and the nature of politics.  With rollercoaster economic trends, how long will this ride last?  Hopefully for my sake, longer than my lease…

Back to the Bulleit Rye, currently we are sold out.  In Hawaii, the 750 ml will arrive in late June.

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Allocated Schmalloacted


Allocated wines or beers in the fine wine business are like having aces in your poker hand. You want them but they’re not always dealt to you.

So what does ALLOCATED mean? By SWAM’s definition, it means setting aside desirable and limited items to qualified businesses or individuals. For example, a ‘mailing list allocation’ usually implies to individual consumers. Wine clubs normally offer an allocation of their exclusive wines to their best customers. Being on an ‘elite’ mailing list for some is a status symbol but it comes with a hefty price tag.  Mark was once on the Harlan Estate mailing list. He skipped his allocation one year because the wine had become unaffordable. Then the following year he did not receive an allocation notice. Go figure.

Then there’s something called ‘restaurant allocation.’  Most of these wines are not exactly limited nor highly sought after, but are priced specifically for ‘wine-by-the-glass’ promotions.  Some restaurants dislike when us rascally retailers carry wines on their list because patrons will soon discover the price difference. To protect the restaurant’s margin, there are wines allocated specifically to them.  That’s fair.

Getting an allocation from a distributor is simply a reflection of support for the brand.  That usually suggests buying into the more undesirable or overexposed stuff in their portfolio.  Cherry picking from the retailer is frowned upon by the distributor. Don’t worry…I’m not bitter because I don’t get an allocation for Sam Adams Utopia or DRC.  It is what it is.

Poker is not my profession but it is a game of patience and strategy which are key to winning without the aces.

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Just Arrived: Hijos de Villa Tequilas and Mocambo Anejo Rum

I try not to ruffle any feathers but some may question my ‘obsession’ with bottle shapes especially in the shape of firearms.  I personally don’t own a registered firearm or a paintball gun because some might agree that it might not be a good idea if I did.  Unfortunately, I have not tried the Just Arrived tequila from Hijos de Villa nor the Mocambo Anejo rum prior to posting like other ‘experienced’ bloggers would.  My apologies for my hastiness, but pictures are worth more than my opinion. 

Not only do Hijos de Villa make tequila in ‘cool’ bottles but they’re the first distillery in Mexico to have a pear tequila liqueur with a pear in the bottle like the european ‘poire williams’ brandy. 

Also pictured are the AK-T Tequilas not from the Hijos de Villa distillery, but I just had to feature them as well.  One great thing about having a gun shaped bottle is posing with it!

Wait is this a shameless promo for next year’s Dirty Guns Event, March 2012? Paintball, Drew Estate Cigars, and Tequila in Guns!!  And Drew Estate if you’re reading…Liga Privadas baby!!! 

Tequila or any other spirit in an unconventional bottle is just for show. But so what!! Are we always suppose to be straight-laced?? <CAUTION> These photos are not meant to portray SWAM as ‘gangsta.’  We are just easy-going, fun-loving people with a good sense of humor.  But don’t mess with asian girl with the lei….

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The Retractable Awning Debate

Real customers with real suggestions on a rainy evening, afterhours at SWAM… 

First of all,  the bright idea of an awning in front of the store to relieve them of the plight of rain drops melting their sugar-coated bodies prompted a suggestion to install one.  This had to be one the most ludicrious building improvement ideas I could ever propose to my landlord.  But to no escape, the suggestion became a topic of exterior renovation and to the point of funding the endeavor.

No matter how much the loyal regulars want to help me, I just need to look them in eye and say “Are you ____ kidding me??”  Yes, I can honestly be that frank.  Seriously, a retractable awning? I love the benches, though.

When SHOP*MINGLE*CHILL figured in to be the mantra of store, I never expected ‘chilling’ at SWAM would be a regular past time.  Always appreciative for the company regardless of rain or shine, but you can lay that awning argument to rest.  It’s in the round file.

P.S. To Bully and Russell (aka Two Beer Queers)…You’re still not getting the awning in front of the store!

BullyOSullivan Bully O’Sullivan

narrowly missed a hydroplaning truck on h1 & nearly sliced off my fingers washing dishes — all b/c @swamwine doesn’t want an awning
iBlala Russel Kealoha

A dingo almost took my baby, someone tried to eat my musubi, & a bird pooped on my car… all cause @swamwine didnt have an awning…
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