Client Articles - Written by on Friday, August 7, 2009 14:33

Business Owner Finds Niche Importing Specialty Beer, Liquor

San Diego Daily Transcript, August 7, 2009
By Erin Bridges

Even in this tough economy, some luxuries are still affordable.

Henry Preiss, who started Preiss Imports in 1987 with the help of his wife, says he offers one of those products with the beer and liquors he imports.

Alcohol has not been as affected by inflation as other consumer products, he said, which helps it remain a nice treat that won’t break the bank.

“We like to call it the affordable luxury,” Preiss said. “There are plenty of people today who trade down. I’ll take the $10 alcohol because I want to drink something.

“Then there are those people who say, you know, I don’t’ drink that much, why should I trade down? I’ll spend $20; I’ll just drink a little less. And it (becomes) the affordable luxury.”

Preiss is looking for customers who want to learn about what they’re drinking, know what sets it apart and enjoy it for the quality beverage it is.

His roughly 500 different products aim to please that customer. Whether it’s a unique lemon liqueur from Italy or a cherry liqueur from an Italian family who fought to stay in business through wars and relocations, Preiss is focused on importing high-quality products.

“Unlike the large companies that do really big brands and everything is media driven, we do the things that are more about craftsmanship and personality and heritage and history and passion, which is really quite different than producing a product that the goal is selling millions of cases,” he said. “There’s room for both — there’s lots of room for both.”

While on the one hand, the consolidation of larger companies has made is harder on Preiss Imports and other small importers to succeed, Preiss said it also has had its benefits.

Preiss Imports had to find a need in the market it could fulfill without being outdone by the larger companies. The husband and wife team settled on looking to smaller family businesses and specialty liquors to sustain their business.

And over time, that decision proved more fruitful than they could have known.

In the past seven or so years, Preiss said there has been a trend toward more cocktails, requiring more than a basic liquor and a mixer. Mixologists — those who create new drinks by combining many different types of liquor along with juices and food items — are gaining popularity across the country.

“For those creative drinks, you need a large assortment of products and a lot of those products are never going to be huge volume items,” meaning global companies have little interest, Preiss said. “So here we are in a really good position to handle those kinds of products.”

“You do something to survive and it ends up that you do something that people are coming to you for. So we’ve become a company people come to to buy premium specialty liquor products.”

Mixology is a relatively new trend, but Preiss said he thinks it will stick. He compares it to the wine trend in the 1970s, when Preiss first began working full-time with his father’s importing business. Despite other trends since then, wine is still a big seller. In fact, the United States now is the top wine consumer in the world.

“Young people today have a greater exposure to premium beers, premium wines, premium spirits than any generation prior,” Preiss said. “So why wouldn’t it stick around? Once you’ve had good, why go back? Once you’ve had great, you never want to go back.”

As the trend continues to gain momentum, Preiss is looking toward growing his business. In October, he took
on two new partners with established reputations in the industry.

With their expertise and experience at the table, his five- to six-year plan is to see his $10 million business grow
to a $50 million business.

To work toward that goal, Preiss has focused on the company’s branding during the last few years.

Every bottle brought into the United States must include the name of the importer, among other information. Preiss hopes that as more mixologists, business owners and consumers begin recognizing his brand, business will continue growing.

“It’s working for us already with these mixologists,” he said. “Those people see our logo on there, and it means
something to them because they see it a lot.”

Trying to reach everyday consumers is more difficult because they might not see as many different products as the mixologists. But the brand should help.

“They’re not going to be able to read all those French and Italian products on these things we’re bringing in,” he said. “I want them to get comfortable with this as a brand to look for.”


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