You may have noticed, but there’s not a lot of good reasons to go to the liquor store anymore. It feels like a new beer, wine, and spirits delivery startup is setting up shop every other week, and with all of these options, you’ll probably never have to leave your apartment again (for booze at least)! But which one are you going to go with? Which service strikes your fancy? This is where Klink comes in. Unlike many other liquor store to your door services, their first goal is not to just deliver a product, but an experience. They don’t want to bring a liquor store into your living room (because, honestly, that sounds kind of horrible), they want to be your cool, alcohol-educated, party planner. We sat down with two of Klink’s co-founders, Jeffrey Nadel and Craig Bolz, and their D.C. community manager Tim Hedberg, to talk about what sets Klink a part from the rest, the D.C. bar and restaurant scene, and improving the liquor store experience. Now all you need to do is invite a bunch of friends over, and let Klink take care of the boozy logistics.
How did this all begin?
Jeff: Craig and I went to preschool together so we’ve known each other for a little while. Then we became really good friends in high school and ended up parting ways in college. I went to school at Penn in Philly and Craig was in Orlando at the University of Central Florida. We parted ways but we stayed in touch. We were talking about this and some different ideas and eventually this became what we had to do. It was all we talked about. We had to do it. For a little while, when we started the company, we were all in different locations. It was incredibly difficult. Then we committed full time and we’re all working in the same place. It’s awesome.
What’s an average day like at Klink?
Jeff: A day in the life could be anything from working with our retail partners and finding the best retail partners, to working with to helping customers and working on bigger deals. The life of a start up CEO definitely involves a lot of variety. It’s interesting.
Craig: A day in the life is definitely super volatile. It’s funny, we actually launched specifically in Washington D.C. when myself, Jeff, and two other partners were living together in an apartment in Columbia Heights for four weeks.
Tim: These guys work in Florida and I’m our full time, based out of D.C., community director, so my days are very different from theirs. I do anything from running around to local bars and restaurants trying to find new and interesting local products, to being at events where there’s going to be a potential to talk to clients. Even more on the ground marketing, whether it’s flyering or doing social media. It’s kind of a little bit of everything.
You guys are currently serving Orlando, Ann Arbor, and D.C. Why so spread out?
Jeff: We started the company in Orlando. In many respects the reason was that Craig was in school there and it made the most sense from that perspective. Everything we do is very much guided by our customers. Our inventory size has doubled since we launched in D.C., just from customer input and requests. We’re really aggressive about listening to our customers. So when we were in Orlando and Ann Arbor, we started to get tons of calls and emails from people in D.C. At least a couple a day. People were saying “You have to come to D.C.” At this time it was cold and it was snowy and there was a serious desire for us to be operating out here.
We had been crazy about D.C. for a few months, but we hadn’t pulled the trigger. We love D.C. The highest per capita wine consumption certainly doesn’t hurt, but the culture is awesome. We finally said “All right, we have to give this a try,” and that’s when the entire team hunkered down in this apartment in Columbia Heights. We spent just over a month here re-launching Klink. Our company was named something different when we first launched, so the current iterations of our site, and our apps, and our brand, and everything was really launched in an apartment in Columbia Heights. D.C. is really like a second home to us.
Considering how drastically liquor laws and regulations vary by state, is it difficult working out of three different locations?
Jeff: Regulations are a huge challenge in the industry and before we ever launched we spent ten months doing nothing but structuring the business legally and figuring out how to structure it in a way that wouldn’t work in Florida, but would allow us to scale to other places too. Every market is going to have slightly different regulations that we have to deal with, and we’re very diligent about doing our research and making sure we’re compliant, but at the end of the day, we’re confident that the way we’re doing business is compliant.
Over the summer when we launched, literally a few days after we launched, we had a competitor that had also launched in D.C., and they were shut down a week later because they weren’t doing it legally. We pride ourselves on that. Others will be shut down, others will come and go, but we’re not going anywhere.
There are a lot of different beer, wine, and spirit delivery services opening up shop in D.C. What makes Klink different?
Jeff: We’re not a liquor store to your door service. We think that the liquor store experience, in many respects, is broken and is not as great as it should be. I don’t think there are many people who get super excited about getting in the car and going to the liquor store. We really recognize that. So what we want to do isn’t bring products from point A to point B, and we certainly don’t want to bring the experience of going to the liquor store to your house, I don’t think that would be very pleasant. We want to bring an incredible experience to you, something you could never get from a liquor store, and really empower hosts. So many of our customers and so many of the people we deal with are people who want to entertain. Whether it’s having one person over for dinner, or having a party with 100 people. Our job is, how can we empower those people and give them the tools to entertain fantastically? One of the ways is beer, wine, and spirits, because they’re awesome. Another way is, okay, what do we add to that? Are their cocktail recipes, food pairings, are we sending out mixologists, and giving away free tea based cocktail mixers, and liquor infused cupcakes? I think that’s what keeps our customers coming back.
Craig: We’re all about creating new experiences and partnering with new local brands. I know one thing we did recently in D.C., is for St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day we partnered with a company called Crunkcakes and gave away free liquor infused cupcakes. Then we also worked with Kangaroo Boxing Club, one of the best local BBQ places, and we were giving away pulled pork sandwiches. People in D.C. can definitely expect more offerings like that. That’s something we’re absolutely huge on.
Tim: We ended up carrying Crunkcakes in our store, like right out of the app, after we ran the promo because it was so successful. So we’re interested in more than one off promos with these companies.
I’ve been in D.C. for three and half years and it’s only now, as I’m really getting to know the local community, mainly the bars and restaurants, it’s shocking to me how friendly, how open, and how interested people are in each others businesses. I come from the non-profit world, and I’m going to these meetings with these restaurants and they’re actually asking me questions like “How’s the company doing? Where do you guys need help? How are you going to grow?” I was pretty impressed. I’m pretty excited, more so now than ever, about living in D.C., because I’m getting to really see the cool side. This subculture that a lot of people miss when they come for the museums or the political stuff, there’s this whole other vibrant scene. It’s really fun to be apart of.
The liquor store experience can be pretty terrible, but I know, when I think of my favorite liquor store, I enjoy going there because the staff are really smart and helpful and I learn something new every time. Do you guys see Klink focusing more curation and helping people learn new things, like that?
Jeff: We’re all laughing over here because you’re saying exactly what we’ve been saying. You hit the nail on the head. You’re right, most liquor store experiences aren’t good, but the ones that are because they have really well trained, well educated, helpful, friendly staff. We’re going to replicate that experience, and take it to another level on mobile. Right now we’re working on finishing up a complete platform relaunch, which essentially does everything you just said. It incorporates a big focus on curation and discovery. What we recognize is, Craig and I have been in way too many liquor stores than we like to admit at this point. What we see all the time is that at the good stores with really good staff, people go in and they leave with something other than what they thought they were going to buy when they walked in. Maybe they leave with something different, or something additional. We want to be really connecting customers with awesome products that we can tell the stories behind and that we can stand behind. Right now there is a lot of functional focus on “Okay, you know what you want? Here’s the way to get it in the quickest most frictionless way.” The direction we’re going in the very near term is, we’re going to still do that if you know what you want, but we’re also going to connect you to the best products and really help you discover amazing new products.
So how are you going to do that?
Tim: Part of that, I’m the one on the ground in D.C., is actually meeting all of the people that are here in this space and figuring out what makes sense for the D.C. community. What are the brands we can partner with in the near future? What are brands that we can help out in a more substantial way by making sure there’s awareness around their product. I’m working here locally, and we’re bringing people on in other cities to do the same kind of thing.
Jeff: The one thing, like I said, is that people want to be connected to good products, but the other thing that was realize is that people could use a lot of help in figuring out, with context, what the best thing to buy is. You might not know what exact products you should buy, but what you do know is that you’re having a dinner party and it’s going to be fancy and you’re going to have 12 people coming. So we’re gonna take in that input on our new platform and we’re going to connect you with the best products for that specific situation.
Ultimately, we want Klink to be an unparalleled experience for users. We want Klink to be a no brainer, the best way to buy beer, wine and spirits. I think in many respects we’ve made a lot of strides toward that goal, and we’re just going to keep pushing it, keep improving the user experience, and keep enhancing the experience that customers have. One of the things I alluded to before that is a really strong pillar of our company, that I think is unique in this space, is that we don’t think our job stops once the delivery is made. We really try to take ownership of the experience. We want to be the ones that hear from our customers later in the night or the next morning. Whether it’s an email or a tweet saying “That was an awesome night. Thank you.” When we get that kind of feedback from customers it gets us so excited. Obviously, a very aggressive expansion is in our near future. Right now, D.C. is such an amazing market and we love it and the feedback we’ve gotten, and we’re going to use everything we’ve learned here to really blow this out into a ton of different cities.