One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a woman who used her job layoff as a chance to pursue her passion and create her own beverage line. Now the drinks she mixed up in her kitchen are the coolest creations on store shelves! -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
By the time Beth Parentice was in her twenties, she had found her passion. She’d been managing a Starbucks in Connecticut when she was approached by some young entrepreneurs who wanted her to help them open a new kind of coffee house -- one that also featured a cocktail bar. And it wasn’t long before she became their star mixologist, creating coffee cocktails that became best-sellers.
“I loved my work,” Beth explained, “but I was putting in 90 hours a week. My husband, Greg, and I were engaged, but the only time I could spend with him was when he came there. And I knew if I was going to keep making cocktails, I was going to have to continue working nights.”
So Beth decided to take a step back from the bar and create a new career using another ingredient she brought to the table -- recruiting great teams.
“I always had a really low turnover rate, so I thought I could work in human resources and have more of a 9-to-5 life, so I found a job as a corporate recruiter.”
And that worked out well for a number of years until the recession hit, and there weren’t a lot of jobs to fill. Suddenly, the woman who was known for placing people in high-paying positions found herself without one.
“It was scary,” Beth recalled. “I had worked my way up to a pretty good income and suddenly I had to figure it all out again. It was really my friends who pointed me in the next direction. Sometimes other people can see things more clearly than you can.”
What Beth’s friends saw was that she never let go of that passion she’d found behind the bar. She loved to entertain and to amuse them all with her creative concoctions.
“My girlfriends would call and ask what I was serving before they came over,” she laughed. “And I’d tell them the drink of the week. It was always something with fresh fruit -- a combination of things like blueberries and ginger. And I’d muddle it, so that when I added ice and vodka, the fruit would be infused and it would taste really fresh. I never used anything with artificial ingredients.”
Beth had so many ideas that she decided to begin a website with recipes for entertaining organically, which included everything one would need to set up their own eco-bar. It wasn't long before she was the one being recruited by corporations who had gone green and wanted her to prepare organic cocktails at their events.
So there she was, back behind the bar, mixing up fresh ideas. It seemed like a great way to get back in the game, yet control her hours, and there was the extra benefit of being able to test new creations before she put them on her website.
“At the events, I would try to tell people how they could make the cocktails at home, but they’d say, ‘I just want to go to a bar and have this drink. Do you have a bar? An eco-bar?’ I knew I didn’t want to go back to those hours. But that’s when I started thinking that I might have something more. So I started making my own mixes at home and bringing them to events -- mixes that people could drink with or without alcohol.”
“I even came up with a name for them and a concept for a logo. My husband thought I was crazy. He kept saying, ‘But you don’t even have a beverage or a bottle!’”
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And, at the time, Beth really had no idea what it would take to create a bottled beverage. “I started making phone calls and I found out that I would need to go to a flavor house. I couldn’t just tell someone to use ten slices of ginger, a vanilla bean and a lime. It was going to take $20,000 to $45,000 to produce each flavor. And then I heard that 85 percent of beverage businesses fail!”
That’s when she almost walked away -- but instead, the bubbly beverage maker decided to commit one week to calling every flavor house that she could find. And on the third day, she found someone who would change the course of her career and her life.
“I tracked down a person who worked in business development, and he said, ‘If you can get to California in the next four days, the team will all be at the Natural Products Expo. Each year they choose one or two entrepreneurs they believe in and they create their flavors for free.’"
So Beth dropped everything and began putting her cocktail creations in bottles -- right there in her kitchen. There was a ginger, lime and vanilla mix; one that included blackberry, mint and lime; and a third that was a combination of honey, pear and green tea. She created labels with the logo she’d come up with, put them on the bottles and took pictures. She then got on a plane prepared to introduce her product line -- an eco-friendly brand of beverages called SIPP.
“I handed postcards out to everyone at the company,” she said with a smile, “and told them what I wanted to do. And before I was through, one guy said, ‘You can stop now. You had us at the start. Send us what you make. We’re going to help you develop all three for free. Oh, and just so you know, we did the same thing with Seth Goldman, the creator of Honest Tea.’”
“I don’t remember much after that moment, other than running to find a place to call my husband, so I could tell him this was really going to happen!”
Beth flew home and wrote out her first recipe, and then the flavor house came up with four versions for her to try. She invited the same group of girlfriends over -- the ones who had encouraged her from the start -- and together they did blind taste tests. A few tweaks and SIPP’s first flavor, Ginger Blossom, was ready to be bottled.
“We were trying to get everything made in time for the next trade show, but then labels were delayed and we couldn’t get on the bottler’s production schedule. We had paid close to $4,000 to get into the show and we weren’t sure we were going to have anything in bottles.”
But somehow, at 9 a.m. the morning before the show, the first run of Ginger Blossom made its way down the production line. Beth and Greg loaded 30 cases into their rented van, before it even had a chance to cool, and made their way to the convention center.
The timing couldn’t have been better, because it was at that trade show that Beth got her first distributor and began making her way into stores. But it was one year later, when she returned with two more flavors -- Mojo Berry and Honey Pear -- that a group of mysterious men speaking in German began to circle her booth.
“We didn’t know who they were and I thought, ‘Are they going to steal my product?’ But then the third time they came back, they gave us their cards and told us that they were at the show looking for products to invest in.”
The men were from Emil Capital Partners, venture capitalists who rarely invest in anything with less than a million dollars in revenue. But in this case, they were willing to make an exception and a very large investment -- not only in funds, but as business advisors.
Today, only three years from the time that Beth first began, her beverages are in 400 stores throughout the mid-Atlantic region. A bottle of SIPP is given to every Wyndham rewards member that checks into 75 of their premier hotels. Disney is about to test Beth's gingery beverage in its signature lounges, restaurants and spas. And SIPP is on track to sell 1.2 million bottles in the coming year.
“There were so many times when I wondered whether I was cut out for this,” Beth said, “when people kept telling me what a cut throat business this was, but I had to rise above all that. I had to follow my passion. And I had to prove that someone from outside the beverage industry could accomplish this. I just took baby steps and each one propelled me forward.”
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