When Florida Gulf Coast University pre-law junior and DII hockey goalie Mike Reed can’t be found on campus or in the crease at Germain Arena, he’s out exploring his most recent venture. In November 2014, the 24-year-old Reed launched his own company, American Barrels Bourbon.
“I’ve been working on it since I was a freshman at Indiana,” Reed said. “It’s taken three years from conception of the idea to drawing out sketches of the bottle in my dorm room at IU until I held the first bottle in my hand. It’s a young bourbon. Bourbons are traditionally marketed based on age. Over the last five years or so, there’s been a big upswing in bourbon for consumption in America and exports.”
With the increase in demand, younger bourbons are making their way onto the market. Reed has made it his mission to grow his business and be one of the most successful new bourbons marketed as “a beautiful blend of American tradition and American pioneering, welcome to the new age of bourbon.”
American Barrels Bourbon is made in Charleston, South Carolina, where it’s filtered through a distinctive, post-barrel, ultrasonic refinement process creating a taste profile its shelf-mates only wish they could achieve, according to Reed.
“The distillery I work with in Charleston uses a unique filtration system that produces my bourbon smoother and richer in a fraction of the time than our competitors. That is also where the bottling plant is. We produced 48,000 bottles on our first run.”
American Barrels is described by Reed as an element steeped in American Tradition. The bottle is designed to look like a shotgun shell, with a blown glass American rattlesnake wrapped around it. The etched glass, stressed-looking metal and the dog tag that hangs around the neck of the bottle is something that many people won’t be able to pass by in a store and not do a double take.
“Two of the things in this world Americans are quite proud of are their whiskey barrels and gun barrels; American Barrels tributes both,” Reed said. “With this in mind we artfully designed our bottle fittingly as a shotgun shell, one coiled by and embossed with a classic American icon: The rattlesnake; and our motto, Live Free or Die: a True American Spirit. Our marketing image alone mirrors a large demographic slice of America’s culture.”
Reed might be studying pre-law, but he considers himself an entrepreneur. He has a variety of ideas. Launching AB was the first idea he was ready to roll out. He hopes the success of the company will prove fruitful so he can watch his other projects come to fruition. Reed said that starting AB wouldn’t have been possible without his parents.
“My parents were nice enough to give me the capital to start this up because they believe in it,” Reed said. “I’m lucky enough to have the parents I do who have confidence in me and faith in the success of this company.”
As the owner and operator of American Barrels Bourbon, Reed holds a plethora of titles. He is not only the CEO, but also the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Marketing Officer. However, he can’t possibly manage all of the tasks at American Barrels while balancing it with hockey and pre-law studies.
“I handle almost everything with the company,” Reed said. “I have a small distributor who is working that end of the company for me. Because of the legal aspect, I can’t be the owner and distributor.”
Local boutique distributor, Modestino Beverages, has been great in helping kick off the brand, and they continue to help the company expand here in Southwest Florida, Reed said. In addition to distribution, there are only a couple areas where Reed doesn’t play a major role in the company.
“I have friends very involved in social media and web building, so they are helping me with that. The computer end or the financial end is not something that I do well,” Reed said. “My mom is the Chief Financial Officer; she handles all of the accounting. Technically, I’m the Chief Delegating Officer. However, because I’m the only official employee, there really isn’t anyone to delegate to yet. At some point, I will have employees.”
Getting into technicalities, Reed does have a couple employees with the company when considering his friends and family who help him out. He also has Colleen Bailey, the head of marketing and promotions with the Barrels Babes.
“I met Mike through a mutual friend when he was first making batches of American Barrels,” Bailey said. “When we started out, he wanted me to help market a bit, and I was doing promos. He quickly moved me up to managing all of the events for him. We do a lot of promotional events, such as handing out t-shirts and samples of AB. We’ve done events at Dixie Roadhouse, The Ranch, a couple of concerts; we’re doing an event with the Redneck Yacht Club.”
Bailey and the Barrels Babes can be found at almost all of the events that American Barrels is involved in or sponsors. There are several events. According to Bailey, people can find the Barrels Babes at The Ranch where they’ve been every Saturday throughout February. Bailey and the Babes will continue at other promotional events including at Rusty’s in Estero with the Redneck Yacht Club.
“We’re sponsoring Countrylife Music Festival later in spring,” Reed said. “We do promotions with the Barrels Babes almost every weekend. They set up at different venues. We are planning a big photo shoot for the Barrels Babes in late spring for a calendar. We’re still recruiting local women who want to get involved for promos, the social media campaign or both.”
Reed knows that marketing is a large portion of what is making his company successful. He’s using every outlet possible to get the company’s name on the map. Online, American Barrels can be found on several social media platforms and its website at www.americanbarrels.com; on Instagram at @americanbarrels and for the The Barrels Babes @thebarrelsbabes. Consumers can check them out on Twitter using the @AmericanBarrels handle and Facebook also, American Barrels Bourbon. At American Barrels’ website, consumers can find the retail locations for AB, including its newest retail distributor, Total Wine and Spirits.
“With an alcohol business, 90 percent is marketing and 10 percent is what’s inside the bottle,” Reed said. “That 10 percent is equally important because that’s what brings in repeat consumers. We knew what we were looking for when crafting the recipe. People don’t just buy it once; they come back because it’s not something that they ever doubt buying. We set out to do that, and that’s what we accomplished.
“It’s no secret the bottle is a knockout, but it’s what’s on the inside that really counts,” Reed continued. “American Barrels Bourbon Whiskey is ultra smooth and rich in flavor with a perfectly balanced caramel-vanilla finish. And at 90-proof, it’s been accused of being ‘too drinkable.’”
Reed said that with marketing on the upswing, distribution is the key to growing the business. He’s working to get the company picked up by a larger distributor to reach a greater market. He’s dedicated the first quarter of 2015 to expansion. He’s talking with distributors in different states, such as Michigan, Texas, Indiana, California, Maryland, New Hampshire and in the Washington D.C. area to expand nationally. In Florida, he’s branching out to areas in Naples such as HobNob and spots at Mercato. There are 13 bars in downtown Orlando that are set to begin carrying the product. He’s moving east into Fort Lauderdale, and he’s not stopping there.
“I did ship to Alberta, so I’m international now,” Reed said. “As of Feb. 1 people in Canada, at least in Alberta, are able to buy it.”
For Bailey, getting involved with AB was a no-brainer. She discussed the things that keep her wanting to stay on board with this growing company.
“One, it’s a great bourbon. Two, the idea of a college kid starting his own company at such a young age is very inspiring,” Bailey said. “I really like Mike as a person. I’m already involved in the hospitality and bar industry, so it just seemed like the right fit. It’s taken off very well. I’m honored to be a part of this growing empire, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for American Barrels Bourbon.”
Reed said that even though his original business model has been changed and rerouted, it isn’t something that’s hurting the company or holding back plans to move forward.
“Ironically enough, the growth curve is like a hockey blade,” Reed said. “The first 100 accounts are slow and steady, and then after that expansion behind exponential exposure. As I expand, it will continue to grow faster. We got a slow start, but we’re pretty much on track. I’m still learning as I go.”
Learning as he goes can be tricky. As a student, he is still maintaining homework and grades. As a starting goalie for the ACHA DII FGCU hockey team that currently sits at No. 2 in its division in the nation, he has a lot on his plate. Being the CEO of his company is another tally on the board that makes Reed a unique member of the Southwest Florida community. As far as balancing it all goes, Reed only had one thing to say.
“I don’t sleep much.”
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