In 2012, Jackie Summers started the first-known Black-owned distillery in the U.S. and created the instantly popular Sorel Liqueur. Now Summers is taking some time to sit down with Park Street University to discuss some of the lessons he’s learned along the way and how he’s managed his relationships within the business.

 

Tell us about your business.

Jackie Summers: JackFromBrooklyn Inc. is a company that produces artisan liquor products, Sorel Liqueur being our flagship.

What sets your brand apart in the marketplace?

JS: Several things. The beverage it’s based on–sorrel–has been around for five hundred years. I’m the first and only person to ever create a shelf-stable version. Through this we get to tell a story of perseverance that’s endured for generations. Also notable: when I got my DSP in 2012 I was the only Black person in the USA with a license to make liquor. To date, I’m the first known Black person to hold that license.

Does your business have any causes it supports?

JS: The brand and I are aligned in that we are both here to tell stories of marginalized people in their own voices. Too often these stores have been obscured or erased. Both through Sorel Liqueur and my advocacy work, we aim to grant the largest possible platform for voices that had been silenced.

What’s the one lesson you learned during the pandemic that will stick with you?

JS: Focus on community. When we do well, I do well. Nothing is served by looking out for self. We survive and thrive together or not at all.

What is your best business finance tip for other brand owners?

JS: Don’t focus on your own profitability. Make sure everyone else is making money. When your distributors, retailers, bar and restaurants are making money from your product, you’ll make money. And spend whatever it costs to hire a solid accountant.

What is your best advice for a mutually beneficial relationship with your distributors?

JS: Forget you’re in the liquor business. You are officially in the relationship business. If you can’t create and sustain meaningful relationships, no one will care about your brand. Like any relationship, brands and distributors have to have mutually vested interests. You should have clearly expressed expectations and plans to achieve your mutual goals. Never expect a distributor to prioritize your product if you haven’t taken time to understand their needs.

What has been your most successful strategy for pitching a new retail partner?

JS: With retailers, shelf-space is critical and limited. Never place a product with a new retailer without scheduling a tasting. Prove you can sell out consistently, and you won’t just have made a customer, you’ll have made an evangelist.

What are the resources you can’t run your business without?

JS: The obvious answer here is capital, but unless you have a multidisciplinary team, you won’t know what to do with it. Production, distribution, marketing, PR, social media: all of these things need to be operating on a synchronous frequency. The best resource is always excellent communication.

Do you have a go-to book on business or leadership you recommend?

JS: The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. A Pocket Mirror for Heroes by Batlashar Gracian. How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp.

If you were starting a new venture today, what’s the first thing you would do?

JS: Call my Mom. Not so much to inform her, but to thank her for all the sacrifices made and the examples set. Without those who came before me I could do none of this.