2006 College graduate Joe Maiellano takes mixing drinks to a whole new level.
Maiellano has worked with his wife and their two business partners since October of last year on The Homemade Gin Kit, which allows buyers to transform a bottle of store-bought vodka into a homemade bottle of gin.
“Like all good business stories, this one started out with me and a friend drinking,” joked Maiellano.
Maiellano — swept up in the avid Washington, D.C. craft cocktail scene — sought a way to apply his penchant for tinkering with drinks and infusing his own gins at home.
Over some homemade cocktails last October, Maiellano and his friend, Jack Hubbard, discussed the possibility of opening up their own gin distillery. When they realized how expensive this would be, they sought a cheaper alternative.
Hubbard had the light bulb moment when he recognized a potential product in Maiellano’s homemade gin recipes. The Gin Kit was born as a method to “give people the tools and the knowledge to [mix gin] themselves in their own kitchens,” Maiellano said.
The idea is simple: customers use the kit to infuse a bottle of unflavored vodka (not included) with juniper berries for 24 hours. Then, they add in the mix of botanicals that includes herbs like rosemary and bay leaves. After the botanicals have steeped in the vodka for 12 hours, the gin is ready to strain and consume.
Maiellano, Hubbard and their wives spent the next few weeks assembling and packaging 250 kits — each of which included elegant Italian bottles, a funnel and strainer, juniper and a medley of botanicals.
At first, Sarah Maiellano — Joe’s wife and business partner — admitted that she had no idea what the market for their product would be.
“We thought we might sell 250 kits from Christmas to Father’s Day,” she said in an email. “When we sold 2,000 over the holidays alone, we knew we were onto something.”
To date, more than 6,000 kits have been sold and Maiellano predicts that the company will make a half million in sales by the end of the year.
In less than eight months, Maiellano and his team have graduated from their condo kitchen to a warehouse space with a fulfillment team to assemble their kits.
Sarah Maiellano noted that the company has spent almost nothing on advertising during its run, relying solely on word of mouth, social media and positive blog and newspaper reviews to generate interest in the product.
“Social media has played a huge role in our success,” she said. “People are constantly tweeting and posting on Facebook about the gin kit.”
With demand for the product increasing, the company has big plans for the near future.
Joe Maiellano has busily been brewing up new recipes so that he can offer “new blends and flavor profiles for people that have already bought the kit.”
While the Homemade Gin Kit is currently available on a bevy of online sites — such as UncommonGoods.com — Maiellano is also in “talks with a number of large national retail chains to be in their stores by the holiday season.”
“This will double or triple the volume we are moving practically overnight,” he said.
Along with an increased emphasis on brick and mortar retail in the US, the company also has its sights overseas.
“We get a ton of requests for the kit from commonwealth countries like the U.K. We are finding barriers right now with customs [for example], but we hope to eventually work the bugs out and open up a huge international market.”
Despite the success of the Homemade Gin kit startup, Joe Maiellano’s journey to young entrepreneurship is untraditional: he majored in Italian at Penn and has very little previous experience in business.
“I am not a Wharton guy and my business partner was a poli sci major, so neither of us really have a business background,” he said. “We have made a few mistakes here or there but we have been learning as we go and meeting each challenge head on”
Despite his minimal business background, Maiellano attributes some of his success to Penn’s liberal arts education, which has enabled him to “at least hold a conversation in about any subject, ” an essential tool for marketing. Maiellano notes that he has also received helpful advice from fellow Wharton classmates.
One of the critical lessons he has learned is to ignore the skeptics.
“I meet a lot of people that say why would I spend 50 bucks on this thing, when I could just spend 20 dollars on a bottle of gin that’s perfectly fine. That’s not my target customer. If I have to convince you why this is a good idea, I am wasting too much time, because I have 10 other people who look at this and it just clicks.”
For now, Maiellano and company are reaching a larger demographic of gift-givers and avid cocktailers that want a more customized and hands-on drinking experience — and Maiellano is excited for what the future will bring.
“Even the distillery is still not quite out of the question,” he joked.Comments powered by Disqus
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