Into The World Of Rebel Coast Winery With Josh Lizotte
Hear from Josh Lizotte, CEO and Co-Founder of Rebel Coast Winery. Here, Josh talks about the birth of Rebel Coast, and how it grew in the cannabis world
CEO & Co-Founder, Rebel Coast Winery
Josh is a California native, born and raised. Having been the finance and cannabis space for a decade, Josh has built an expertise in both fields. Josh assures the mayhem of running a cannabis business is kept to a minimum at Rebel Coast but makes sure there’s a little bit of controlled chaos to keep things lively.
In a talk with Cannabis Drinks Expo, Lizotte talks about how Rebel Coast Winery came about to be, and how he and the Rebel Coast team has worked together in growing marketing, sales, and building the brand to where it is now. He also shares some of the challenges Rebel Coast faced, and how they overcame them.
Tell us a little bit about Rebel Coast Winery
Rebel Coast started as a traditional winery in 2012. Buy bulk wine, blend it, brand it and distribute it nationwide. In 2017 we had the idea of making an infused wine and did about a year of R&D on the formulation. After a lot of trial and error we had a product that tasted good and had the effects we were looking for. We released our first batch in late 2018. Since then we've produced four more batches and it gets better with each iteration. In August of 2019, we released our rosé and it’s been a huge hit.
According to you, what does the Cannabis Drinks Market look like?
The drinks market is still very small in California, it only accounts for about 2% of sales. Beverages are a relatively new product in cannabis, especially cannabis wine. Consumers still aren't fully aware of the differences between beverages and edibles so education is key for us and all beverage producers. We have seen an uptick in sales over the last few months and we see beverages becoming a large part of the industry within a few years.
What does it take for an initial round of funding for a new business? and funding once you're in the business and scaling?
Raising money is no easy task. To fund a new business there are a few key items you must have: a strong business case along with a product that is needed, an in-depth three statement financial model that includes an income statement, statement of cash flows and balance sheet for at least three years. Once you have the funding, you must execute. As an entrepreneur that takes investment you have to execute on the plan to pitched to investors. You also need to realize that you cannot do this on your own. Hire people that are smarter than you. We all have our specialties so you need to build a team that complements what you're good at and fills the gaps in your expertise. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help, especially from your investors. They believed in you and want the company to succeed, so do not hesitate if you need help or just need to bounce ideas and concepts off them.
How do you find more dispensaries for your brand?
We pull licensing information directly from the CA Bureau of Cannabis Control and keep an updated database of licensed dispensaries in the state.
How do you support dispensaries to help them sell through?
We help our retail partners in every way we can. We provide Rebel Coast swag, like corkscrews, T-shirts, rolling papers, etc. We also do a lot of customer appreciation days with our retails. We have a rock star brand ambassador team and they're constantly hosting tasting events. These events allow us to educate the consumers and give them a sample of our non-infused wine before they buy. People love free samples and we've noticed a solid sales increase during and after these events.
How should a deck to a distributor or a dispensary look like?
The deck should really be your brand book that describes who the brand is, what products you offer, and how you will help the potential partner succeed by carrying your brand.
What are some of the common objections you have from dispensaries when you pitch to them?
Its too big, we don't have enough space, that doesn't fit our demographic, the list goes on and on.
What is the current legal landscape in Cannabis Drinks in California and Chicago?
Beverages are completely legal in both California and Illinois. California is obviously a much more established market but Illinois is wide open to establish brands.
What was the major problem that you've faced in scaling your cannabis-infused drinks?
Space is the biggest issue. Beverage production takes an enormous amount of space so that really limits where we can make our products. We have 6,000 gallon tanks and our bottling line is 30 feet long. Then storage for 60+ pallets of glass and finished goods. We're actually building our new 12,000 sq. ft. facility right now so we can easily scale with demand.
What marketing do you get the best return on investments in or Where all do you market?
Our best returns come from in-store events and retail merchandising. Not only does this promote our brand at retail sites, but the dispensaries also like that we are a very engaged brand. So we get more exposure to consumers and it makes our partners happy.
Challenges you face in marketing cannabis drinks?
Marketing in cannabis is extremely limited in general. We use Instagram but we have to be very careful on what we say. We can't directly say "Hey come buy Rebel Coast at Harborside", that violates Instagrams policies and we can get shut down, which has happened in the past.
Tell us a little about your sales and distribution strategy, what do you cover in your sales meetings, their routes, their targets... how they are helping their dispensaries in sales?
Our sales strategy has changed over the last year. At first we just peppered the market and got in as many dispensaries as possible. That put a huge strain on our team and we weren't able to give the dispensaries the brand support they needed. We realized that we need to give as much support as possible to retailer so now we have a bigger sales team and are more strategic on the accounts we try to enter. Our meetings cover new accounts to target, issues and pushback our reps are having with accounts and how to overcome them.
Where you can sell cannabis wine? is it just the dispensaries?
We can only sell our cannabis wine at licensed dispensaries.