Sarah and Josh Opatz of Sonoma County’s Young & Yonder Spirits win Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards distillery co-founder category
The winners of the distillery co-founders category in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards say developing contacts with customers digitally during the pandemic was a key lesson.
How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?
Before starting Young & Yonder Spirits, we both worked in San Francisco in different industries.
Sarah worked in graphic design and Josh worked in finance. Josh grew up in Healdsburg and his parents have extensive experience in viticulture and winemaking. We knew it was only a matter of time before we would pursue a similar path.
However, we found our true passion not with wine, but with distilled spirits. We love the variety of spirits, flavors and enjoy the challenge and the technical skill required to develop high quality distilled spirits.
How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?
We have influenced the industry in a few ways, particularly in how we’ve built a multi-channel revenue model that captures value in a variety of different ways, from production and sale of our own products to the production of other brands and everything in-between.
We also capitalize on our tasting room in a variety of ways to maximize revenue potential for the business, including retail and private events.
We are also exemplary in our ability to produce and sell a wide range of craft distilled spirit products. A lot of distilleries develop and produce one or a few types of spirits, but we demonstrate that you can diversify your product portfolio and offer excellent quality across the product line.
Lastly, we offer exceptional customer service and an approachable and educational tasting experience that builds brand loyalty and engagement.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?
The industry has changed a lot in the last five years. Consumer education has continued to grow, particularly regarding brand authenticity, which has been beneficial to the growth of authentic craft brands.
However, deceptive consumer tactics are still widespread in the industry and larger brands continue to market themselves as craft due to the lack of definition of what the term “craft” means.
Distributors have also continued to put pricing pressures on craft brands through discount driven sales strategies of their larger brands.
In response to these changes, we’ll mention two ways that we adapt.
First, we continue to optimize our pricing and sales strategy to position ourselves as “craft competitive” in the marketplace and continually use public pricing information to inform pricing decisions so the market doesn’t move away from our brand.
Secondly, about a year ago, we initiated a rebranding of our packaging to simply and clarify our brand story and increase product information on the label so consumers had better information for decision making on a purchase decision.
How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?
The pandemic has played a material role in our business this year. The impact that we’ve seen affected more revenue channels than we had hoped for.
First, we closed our tasting room, which impacted retail sales, club growth, and slowed brand engagement.
Second, bars, restaurants, hotels, and to some extent retailers have slowed ordering on higher priced spirits.
Third, our private event business and custom distillation services business also drop offs as well.
How have you responded to the challenges and opportunities of the virus-influenced economic downturn? How much are these measures making up the difference in sales?
We responded in a few ways.
First, we started to produce, donate, and sell hand sanitizer. We also spun up an online store for retail sales to offset the tasting room closure. We also became more creative on our retail product mix, and enhanced our gift and cocktail kit sets.
Additionally, we’ve also taken this time to repair and upgrade some production inefficiencies so that we could increase our production volumes and efficiencies.
Which of your adjustments and initiatives do you think you’ll continue past the pandemic, and why?
We continue to develop and improve upon our ability to manage engagement directly with our community in a digital sense, a tool we probably didn’t appreciate enough while the tasting room was our main brand engagement point prior to COVID. Retail product mix and creative, time bound offerings will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
How are the North Bay wildfires and power shutoffs affecting the outlook for your business?
We believe that it’s a contributing factor to our concern about diminishing tourist/economic activity in our area.
Each fire impacts us in many ways, our community, our health, our respective business operations.
We in the North Bay have had a stretch of terrible fires and unfortunately, they make national news. It impacts prospective tourism, particularly in what used to be reliable high-traffic times of year, fall season/harvest.
We continue to worry about external market impacts like these, as it feels like it’s been back-to-back-to-back incidents since 2017.