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Home Marketing Moves Niche Marketing in the Non-Alcoholic Beverage Space: Ft. Molly Cheraso (Verbena Free Spirited)

Niche Marketing in the Non-Alcoholic Beverage Space: Ft. Molly Cheraso (Verbena Free Spirited)

October 10th, 2023

00:29
Madison Riddell:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Marketing Moves. I'm your host, Madison Riddell, and today's episode is all about niche marketing. We're talking the ups, the downs, the unexpected twists and turns that come when you're tapping into a new or unique market segment. Our guest, Molly Cheraso is a first time entrepreneur, branding expert, and an innovator in the food and beverage space. Molly recently founded the first non-alcoholic bar in Cleveland, Ohio called Verbena. The brick and mortar cafe, retail shop and dry bar aims to expand the perception of what a life sans alcohol can be through community and education. Molly, thank you for being here, and welcome to Marketing Moves.


01:17
Molly Cheraso:
Thank you, Madison. Happy to be here.


01:18
Madison Riddell:
Awesome. So before we get into it, I want to set the stage with some data because we are marketers, after all, and give our listeners a little bit of a sense of the industry that we're going to talk about. So for those who might be less familiar with the mocktail space, the non alcoholic space, there is a ton of growth happening. According to Nielsen data, consumers in the United States spent nearly $400 million on nonalcoholic beverages from 21 to 22. The demand from the younger generations is steadily growing. I think I saw stats like 20% to 25% year over year growth for the last couple of years. So I know that your background primarily was in corporate accounting, and these numbers are probably part of the reason I assume that you got into this space. But before we get into your background, which we'll circle to in a minute, what is your take on this significant shift? Why do you think it's happening?


02:09
Molly Cheraso:
I think it's two different things that are happening. One is that the products themselves have gotten a lot better. So most of the time if you come into my shop, we've got a whole wall of retail. The bottles are beautiful. They've been packaged and designed with Instagram in mind because most of them are new to market in the last three years. The one reason I think this is growing so much is just the options are getting so much better. I think when you say non alcoholic, people think of some of the legacy brands of, like, maybe a not very good non alcoholic beer you'd get at a wedding or a really sweet wine or a Shirley Temple. But what the products have come out with now, in a lot of cases, they're starting with the actual alcohol product. So they do this with whiskey. They do this with beer.


02:55
Molly Cheraso:
They do this with wine. So they take the alcohol product and then they take it through an additional process, a filtration, a reverse osmosis. They're really kind of secretive about how the processes work or like an additional distillation process to take the alcohol out. So what you're left with is something that started as alcohol. So it smells like it tastes like it. And if you're someone who's especially if you're not drinking and you've lost a lot of the palate for alcohol, it's going to taste very similar to the real thing. Not to jump too much into the marketing, but I kind of look at the products in two different segments. One being these products that are really trying to mimic traditional alcohol. And like I said just recently, they've gotten really good and they really taste like the products that they're trying to mimic. And then there's a whole new segment of products that just didn't exist before.


03:44
Molly Cheraso:
And these really are what we'd call them functional spirits. So they're products that you can use like alcohol. You can create a mixed drink, but they not only don't have alcohol in them, which is not good for your health, they have additional benefits. Plant medicines. We'll get into, I think, probably some of what those things are. But you're not only going to not feel bad, you're actually going to feel good and get benefits out of them. And they're not trying to taste like alcohol, but you can use them and create beautiful adult tasting drinks in the same way you could with traditional alcohol.


04:14
Madison Riddell:
So it sounds like there's so much meat to this. I think it sounds like there's a couple of reasons why you think it's shifting in this space. One, people are becoming more health conscious and know that maybe alcohol in moderation is okay, but extensively is not. And the aesthetics of it all, like we're making it better to look prettier, to drink more of a social experience with good ingredients. We had our podcast team here. Thanks, Kristen and Connor pick up some products from your store and we'll talk through a lot of the ins and outs of what the experience is like in a second. But I can definitely attest as a marketer, the branding on this product is it pronounced Avec? This Avec is gorgeous. Like the packaging is spot on. And when you say it's designed with Instagram in mind, it's definitely designed with Instagram in mind.


05:00
Madison Riddell:
So it says mix with a spirit or drink by itself. So is there also a market for kind of using this as a cocktail mixer? Is that common in the space?


05:09
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah. So some of our products like this, AVEC is a mixer. We also have Betty Buzz, which is Blake Lively's brand. I love her. She's got a brand of sodas. So some of the products like this, you could use them with traditional alcohol you could drink them on your own, or you could drink them with these non alcoholic spirits, yeah, they're basically meant to be versatile, and the whole space of non alcoholic is meant to be. Like you just said, the whole purpose of it is about inclusion and celebration. Alcohol traditionally, is a very social thing. So the purpose of these products is to be able to kind of incorporate them into your life in a way that just doesn't feel like you're having to withhold from yourself. It's not, like, a negative thing. It may be you're just trying to drink less.


05:52
Molly Cheraso:
So maybe you drink this one night with Tequila and one night on its own, or one night with Tequila and one night with a non alcoholic Tequila. It's just about kind of, like, finding what works for you. As people are kind of exploring their relationship with alcohol, how it makes them feel, the health benefits of drinking less or not drinking at all.


06:10
Madison Riddell:
I can attest I'm not a big drinker. I'll go, like, six months without a sip. Just naturally. Right. I'm not, like, a huge I don't like being hungover. I am also the person in the room that people might think I'm tipsy when I'm the most sober one, because I want to be, like, on the dance floor or socializing. So for me, when I think about how I would incorporate this, the things that I would look towards as someone who doesn't drink a lot but is health conscious is like, okay, am I going to sit down with this syrupy mocktail like we've seen over the last decade or so? That's basically all the ingredients of a cocktail minus the alcohol. And I think when I look at the drink that I'm holding in my hand, there's only 4 grams of sugar. The calories are low. There's only 20 calories. The ingredients, there's maybe ten ingredients in here. It's a short ingredient list. So from my perspective, I think this particular product and I'm assuming all the products you carry hit those notes before we start talking about what people can expect. I want to crack this open. Do you like this flavor?


07:07
Molly Cheraso:
I do. I love it.


07:08
Madison Riddell:
Okay. We'll do a little bit of ASMR for those who are into Instagram trends. See if we can click. I'm sure that was crisp. Let's do a cheers.


07:21
Molly Cheraso:
Cheers!


07:21
Madison Riddell:
Thank you for joining us.


07:23
Molly Cheraso:
My pleasure.


07:23
Madison Riddell:
Let's have a taste test. I mean, so good. You picked a good flavor, Kristen, because I love grapefruit, but it tastes like a paloma, and that's my favorite drink, and I didn't even tell you that, so it was actually my wedding cocktail. It's a good choice.


07:39
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah. So I'm just looking at the ingredients on this one. Grapefruit juice, pomelo, black pepper, bourbon, vanilla, smoked salt. Are you picking up on all of that?


07:47
Madison Riddell:
Yeah, and it really tastes good, this worked out that you guys picked this one because it really tastes like a paloma. That's almost always what I drink when I go out, is a paloma or just a grapefruit and tequila drink. And this tastes just like it.


08:02
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah.


08:03
Madison Riddell:
So I see what you're saying about adding in the alcohol and extracting. It doesn't just taste like I'm drinking grapefruit juice.


08:08
Molly Cheraso:
Right. And this one's a little bit mild, but some of them go heavier on the black pepper or ginger or different peppers and spices that give you that burn in the back of your throat that people typically associate with alcohol.


08:21
Madison Riddell:
And I do feel it a little bit with this one, like, not intense.


08:23
Molly Cheraso:
But a little bit.


08:24
Madison Riddell:
Yeah.


08:24
Molly Cheraso:
Some of them really leave, like, a burn in the back of your throat in a nice way of, like it's just what makes a drink feel complex and adult. A lot of our drinks have, like, bitter or sour flavors, and we're trying to balance that with some sweetness. And many of them have a lot of different flavor profiles going on with them. So they're a lot they offer a lot because it's a lot of complex flavors without it having to be, like you said, overly sweet, overly syrupy. So you can have a really good tasting drink and not feel like you're depriving yourself or missing out on anything.


08:57
Madison Riddell:
It really tastes good. I really like it, and I'm not lying. I'll be honest with these listeners.


09:03
Molly Cheraso:
Some of the products are meant to kind of give you, like, a natural buzz, and they may use things like caffeine or L'Theanine to give you that. But my experience is, as I'm drinking these, especially if I'm out with friends, I still feel buzzed. Like you were saying, it's weird. I think it's something of we always assume that buzz is coming from alcohol, but I think the more you explore and play around with not drinking, you might find that, oh, I'm still feeling buzz, and it's because I'm just out and I'm having fun and I'm being social and I'm giving myself permission. And it's interesting that buzz and that great feeling. A lot of times it's not coming from the alcohol, and I think people don't realize how much they depend on it when you really don't need it.


09:43
Madison Riddell:
Yeah, I'm completely on the same page. You're talking about the flavor profile and these complex aspects of choosing the right products and making sure that you're not kind of shorting the audience on getting the right experience. So it sounds like you put a lot of time and energy into curating the right brands to represent. How did you learn all of this? And I think you can shed for our listeners a little bit of light on your background coming from the corporate accounting finance world. I assume there was some market research involved in this process. As a data person, I'm sure you are, but how did you learn about all these different elements to selling non-alcoholic beverages?


10:19
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah, really just a lot of experimentation on myself and that's the whole reason I opened the shop was that my husband and I had been exploring nonalcoholic products for a few years and loving them and wanting to share them with everyone and they just weren't available locally. So that's really what kicked off this whole process. My husband stopped drinking during the pandemic, like you said. I'd been working in banking for 17 years.


10:42
Madison Riddell:
Wow.


10:43
Molly Cheraso:
But always wanting to open my own business and just hadn't kind of found what the right opportunity was. So we’re so excited about these products and just, I mean, Instagram’s algorithm figured out that I was interested. It just started feeding me all this?


10:57
Madison Riddell:
Yes.


10:58
Molly Cheraso:
And I was just ordering everything I could. And then I read about shops in New York City that had opened that were dedicated just to selling all these products that I kept ordering. And that was sort of my AHA moment of like, I wish we had that here. I want to talk to someone. I want to sample stuff. I want to see it all in one place. I want to be able to do some comparison shopping. It was still COVID. I couldn't go to New York at that time. I did end up going about six months later as part of this research. But that was really the AHA of like, if I want this, there's got to be other people locally that would be interested in these products too. And right now it's a big gap in the market because no one is offering all of it in one place.


11:34
Madison Riddell:
So you knew I want to start a business. You weren't sure what category that would be in. And it sounds like it was not necessarily a happy accident, but it was something led out of your own personal interests and passion.


11:46
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah, exactly. And so once I kind of had that aha moment, it was still another year and a half before I left my corporate job. And that year was really spent dedicated to researching if I thought it could be feasible here in Cleveland. So I knew it was working in New York and in LA. And in some other bigger cities Chicago, Houston, Charleston. But what I didn't know is if it would work here in Cleveland. So I started by doing some focus groups just at my house. I invited women over focus groups? Yeah. And just showing them these products. Most people had never seen them before. Didn't know that there were so many new options. And at that point, I only had a handful compared to what we have now. And just got feedback from them of like, okay, they're beautiful. This is good to know about, but I need to taste it, I need to experience it.


12:33
Molly Cheraso:
And once they went through that, then they were really interested in finding out more and trying more products. So that led to a year of doing pop up events around Cleveland, just collecting a lot of anecdotal information. So, like you said at the beginning, there's really good national statistics on the NA beverage market and the fact that it's growing, but there's no Cleveland. You know, it's a distinct region. It's a big drinking town.


12:56
Madison Riddell:
Growing.


12:57
Molly Cheraso:
Yes, it's growing. And I just didn't know if it would work here because I know I've grown up here. I've known the social pressures around drinking and how it's such a central component of so many of the things that we do for fun. But as I went out and talked to people and did these pop up events, I just had so many people coming up to me saying, I haven't drank for X number of years, or I'm exploring this. Thank you for bringing this here. I heard that over and over again because just literally no one was trying to cater to that audience. And I don't think big alcohol or restaurants or bars realize just how big that audience is because they've never been catered to, and they really haven't been studied previously.


13:37
Madison Riddell:
And so for you, it sounds like. Did you casually drink before you started down this venture? Right. You said your husband was training for a marathon.


13:45
Molly Cheraso:
Like I said, I grew up in Cleveland. I did a lot of drinking in my younger years. I used to live on west 6th street and go out in the warehouse district. So, yeah, that was a big part of my life for a long time. Then I had kids, and were home for the pandemic, and just my lifestyle had changed quite a bit. But my husband and I had started using alcohol or a cocktail at the end of the workday to kind of transition from work from home to now it's our evening, right? We're relaxing at home. So we felt like we were drinking more, and my husband, like you said, was training for the marathon, and that's when he decided to try Dry January. And that was in 2021. Okay, so things are moving quickly. So that was really what kicked it off.


14:25
Molly Cheraso:
We're about to start at the shop. One of our big marketing things is Sober October.


14:30
Madison Riddell:
Love it.


14:30
Molly Cheraso:
So I find that these sort of branded 30 day experiments for people is a great way to just kind of, like, dip your toe in and see, is this something that feels good for me. In my husband's case, he was running better, sleeping better, feeling better, and it stuck for him. For other people, it may be like you, you’re going long periods of time without drinking, but it's still something when you're at a wedding or a big celebration, you still want to imbibe. It's really a personal decision, but yeah, that's how we got to this point.


15:00
Madison Riddell:
Yeah. And that's kind of where my head was going as well is that there are so many different reasons that you might choose not to drink or like you said, you could choose not to drink on a Monday and then drink on a Wednesday. There's no rules, it sounds like from your perspective, and I definitely agree and I think that someone might hear non alcoholic bar and think that it was founded out of like a mission. Maybe you were never a drinker, you had religious reasons or a complex story on why you're not drinking alcohol. But I almost think it's more genuine that you were just like, hey, this is an untapped opportunity, there's a lot of people who can relate to it. Do you find yourself kind of dipping your toe into that mission led side of the business? Now that you're interacting with customers who maybe have a more personal story on.


15:42
Molly Cheraso:
Why they're not drinking, it's definitely become more mission based and just wanting to build a community and a place that people can go that's not centered around alcohol. Because like I said, Cleveland is full of places you can go if you do want to drink alcohol or if that is a central focus. But in the evenings there's just not that many options. Most coffee shops close. Most places it's really centered around a bar or alcohol. So it's been more about creating that community. Like you said, there's a lot of different reasons that people don't drink and we're finding that there's people in recovery that are coming here and finding a safe place and a welcoming place. But it is also I just did an event on Sunday night and it was a lot of Muslim people and they'll say to me, I've never drank alcohol.


Is this what wine tastes like? I have no idea. So it's been fun to interact with them in that market and just kind of give them a new, beautiful experience. So, yeah, I found it's such a really diverse group of people that are coming in all different age groups. The data is showing that it's kind of younger generations aren't drinking. But I've got people coming in that have been in recovery for 30 years and they're just really excited that someone's kind of focusing on them for once and that they're in a place where they're not going to get judgment or questions. It's more that they can be themselves and offer up whatever information that they want. So it is just meant to be a very welcoming, inclusive environment and community. We've been doing a lot of different events. Like tonight we have our second book club.


17:10
Madison Riddell:
Oh, awesome.


17:12
Molly Cheraso:
So that's a monthly event that we're planning to do just to give people an option of a place you can go and people you can talk with and explore this and like minded people.


17:21
Madison Riddell:
Yeah, I think even I'm guilty myself. I need to buy a couple of packs just to have on me when I'm hosting and things like that, because I'm guilty of carrying a drink to show the world that I'm drinking, but not drinking it so that nobody asks me, why aren't you drinking? Or do you want another drink? Whatever. And the ice gets melted, and it starts to blow my cover a little bit. But I can totally relate to everything you're talking about. And I think as you're touching on the target audiences, the reason that we are thinking the theme of this episode is niche marketing is because as marketers, we're always searching for little niche pockets. Some clients come to us that have they think everyone's their target audience, and we have to pull those reins in. We know as marketers that your budget goes further if you can find one particular group of folks that are going to resonate with the brand, articulate your messaging, your unique value proposition to them, and curate your experience for that group rather than spreading too thin.


18:14
Madison Riddell:
However, as somebody who's leading a business on the other side of the spectrum, I know how hard it is to cut off an audience, so to speak, right. And feel like, is there untapped revenue potential with people who are big drinkers? Am I cutting off probably the majority of folks in Cleveland or folks in the country? Let's say like 70% of people probably drink that are over 21 or maybe under 20. But how do you feel about that? Was that something that was tricky to navigate as you were looking at market data?


18:43
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah, and what I found is that I ended up targeting things sort of based on my own biases. So the shop itself, if you come into it's a very beautiful experience. There's flowers, it's botanical, it's feminine feeling. And I kept saying that all along. I wanted a name and a feeling that was very feminine. And people would say, well, aren't you kind of excluding a big part of the population?


19:06
Madison Riddell:
Yeah.


19:07
Molly Cheraso:
No, I mean, there's still, of course, men are welcome, but there's not that many spaces that are built with a woman in mind, and it's just meant to be that very it's feminine in its essence in terms of, like I said earlier, it's all about welcoming you in, making you feel instantly comfortable. You're in a beautiful space. So that was kind of one avenue. I went right down the bat, was like, I know I want to be focused on women.


19:34
Madison Riddell:
Okay.


19:35
Molly Cheraso:
Of course men are welcome. The other thing is like and this kind of goes along with it, I get a lot of pregnant women that come in, because once you're pregnant and if you had been drinking and then you're not, it's like you feel like you're missing out for 910 months. So we get a lot of people that are kind of out in their last trimester on kind of their last hurrah. So that's one segment we've really focused on. I mentioned earlier, the Muslim population here in Cleveland has been really underserved in terms of these options. And so I've been working closely with someone named Aman Ali who runs the fashion talks and just trying to partner with her as much as I can to try to bring these products to them and serve them. And then the recovery community, I find, is more sensitive in terms of what people are kind of open or works for them.


20:25
Molly Cheraso:
I don't want any of our products to be a trigger for anybody, or I don't want it to be a crutch. But if it is something that makes their recovery process easier and like you said, makes them feel like they're more included because they can be holding something that looks similar to what everyone else is, and if that's something that aids in their recovery because they're not feeling socially excluded or any isolation, then we're definitely there for that. But we kind of leave that open to people on their own because everyone's recovery journey is very different. We're not doctors, we're not recovery experts. We can tell you about the products and give advice from that perspective. But I'm not going down a route of trying to say this is why alcohol is bad and this is how you should do recovery.


21:08
Molly Cheraso:
That's definitely not the path that we're headed down. It's much more about being open and inclusive. But still, like you said, knowing these are the target markets that we think the way our approach is the best fit.


21:20
Madison Riddell:
So it sounds like from a niche perspective, you're not excluding groups. From the perspective of, okay, if you drink, you can't come here and now, that's not a target market. It seems like Niching down is actually going to allow you to scale. You already rattled off four really tight segments that you can build a messaging strategy for. You can build a story too. You can curate your content. So are you starting to do that with it sounds like you're hosting a lot of events. You have social media profiles, I'm sure you're active on. What kind of tactics or channels are you using to resonate with each of those groups?


21:52
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah. So from early on, and even from doing the focus groups right off the bat, I just knew that my eventual target market today doesn't even know that this market exists. They don't know about these I'm there. Yes, they don't know about these products. They don't know how great this is. They don't know how good the options have become. And so there's just like, so much education to be done, and I want that education to be fun and more about an experience. So that's why we've been doing so many different events. I just want to get people in the door so they can see the products, see how beautiful they are, experience the space, feel how welcoming it is, taste a drink like this say, oh my gosh, this is really good, this does taste like a paloma. And I think once people start to have that experience, then they will adopt a lot of this lifestyle for themselves.


22:42
Molly Cheraso:
That's what happened. I'm speaking from personal experience because that's what happened with me. It was like I had been in a wine club and then I started discovering all these products and was like, actually I'd rather feel good and not wake up with a hangover. So I'm choosing to go down this path. So yeah, the events are really just meant to get people in the door and just kind of starting to open their mind to the options and experiences that we have available. And I'm hoping that once they have that experience, they'll kind of be convinced and sold on it and become repeat customers.


23:15
Madison Riddell:
Yeah. I think for a good portion of our consumer side of our business is focused on eCommerce brands and a challenge with eCommerce brands is if you have a product like this, we've worked in the food and beverage sector in the past. If you can't taste it or if it's another physical, tangible item and you can't hold it or smell it or experience it physically, it can be really hard to create that first purchase. So I think from your perspective, focusing mostly on the brick and mortar side, using events and allowing people to try before they buy I think is a really good strategy. I believe that you guys are also building an eCommerce presence as well, right?


23:51
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah, we're working on that. But like you said, these products are tough because a lot of them are like big bottles. So it is sort of a barrier to entry. Like when I was ordering things off of Instagram, shipping was expensive or it was like a really large minimum order. And that's why it is so nice to have the brick and mortar experience because you can try something before your purchase. These products are not cheap either. I mean, because a lot of them go through additional processing. They're the same price, if not more than alcohol counterparts. So we're talking about spirits that run from like thirty dollars to fifty dollars a bottle. So it's not a small investment and shipping is difficult. I was just opening boxes at the shop yesterday and out of twelve bottles, one was broken and so that's pretty common occurrence.


24:33
Molly Cheraso:
So the shipping component of this is just tough. I am considering going down the eCommerce platform road, but I guess I haven't decided if I want to ship nationally. I just don't know that I'm going to have the volume that it would be worth it. I definitely want to make it more available locally. I'm working right now with a partner on getting like a delivery option available and order online, that kind of thing. And then I'm thinking once the website is up and running, it may. Just be local shipping. Just because the damage yeah, the shipping costs and the damage potential is just like really high. And there's some larger companies that are a few years ahead of me that are already going down the high volume route. So I don't know, we'll see how that plays out. I've built a platform on my website where I could easily ship nationally.


25:26
Molly Cheraso:
I'm just not sure that's the lever I want to turn on based on what I've been seeing with my own shipping here.


25:32
Madison Riddell:
Yeah, I'd love to see you open more physical locations near my house, preferably. Are you east side or west side? West side. Okay. But I think if you guys do go down the eCommerce route, I think that something we've seen with food and beverage clients is it can be difficult to maintain an average order value, an AOV that is high enough to allow for a reasonable cost per acquisition for marketing channels. And I think since you are in a little bit more of a luxury we can call it luxury space, maybe more premium alcohol and you're selling in packs, you're talking about at least an AOV of 40 or $50 for most products. If you guys go down that route, we'd love to help you get there. I think you'll have a little bit of pliability, at least in the AOV, which is good.


26:13
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah.


26:13
Madison Riddell:
But we've heard the shipping is really tricky.


26:15
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah. The benefit that we have as opposed to like, okay, so this brand we're drinking is called a VEC or there's a great brand called Three Spirit or another great brand called APLO. So they're only selling their brand. So if you're going to their website to order, you're going to have to get like six bottles of that to get free shipping and you don't even know if you like it. Whereas with us, at least, you could be trying six different products.


26:37
Madison Riddell:
Like a mixed pack. Yeah, I love that.


26:38
Molly Cheraso:
And we can put together curated things of like, here's how you can make our version of an Aperol spritz or our version of a Pimm’s cup.


26:49
Madison Riddell:
I lived in London for a while.


26:50
Molly Cheraso:
Oh, you did? Then we have a drink on our summer menu that's about to end, but it's called the Crown. That's our version of that. It's really good. But anyway, so we do have that opportunity of like we can mix and match. We can say, here's a great recipe and here's the six or three, whatever products you need to make this. Because I think that's the other thing. People come in and they're like new to the products and they don't know how to use them. And a lot of them, once you open them, you have to refrigerate them and they don't want them to go to waste. So what they're needing is someone that's not just saying, like, this is a great product, but also, here's how you use it.


27:22
Madison Riddell:
Education is critical.


27:23
Molly Cheraso:
Yes.


27:24
Madison Riddell:
Yeah. I think opportunities for you guys, a mixed pack or a try before you buy a subscription box could be awesome to help with AOV and help people learn and touch and feel. We've seen that a lot with brands that are transitioning from brick and mortar to an online presence. So I think a lot of that could make sense. But additionally, tapping in the educational component of how to use it, how to mix it, what the flavor profiles are. Even just talking to you for maybe 1020 minutes that we've been talking, I already feel like I'm learning, and I'm so excited to buy some for myself. So I think that's all a really good strategy. And it sounds like you guys have a lot of runway. I can tell through just you talking what I've seen in the physical space, what I've seen with your social presence.


28:04
Madison Riddell:
Let's remind the listener. She opened on July 7, so less than six months ago. And this is episode seven. And her lucky numbers. Seven, which we didn't know. This is all a happy coincidence. So seven. Seven is the theme today. But so early in your brand journey, I've already heard so much about Verbena locally, just word of mouth, and I can see that you have a consistent brand voice you guys are trying to go for. How did you curate that? Do you guys have brand values that you stick to? Have you done an exercise around brand voice or visual guidelines?


28:37
Molly Cheraso:
Early on, I hired Studio Chartreuse, which is a local design firm, and I worked closely with them. First on just the name. Originally, the name of this shop was going to be Free Spirit CLE. But early on, they were like, would you be open to changing the name? And I was like, yeah.


28:54
Madison Riddell:
I feel like we just got an insider story.


28:56
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah, because there are brands called Free Spirit. There are brands called Three Spirit. Free Spirit is, I think, a cool name and a lot of great connotations. But it would get confusing because it's something that's already being used. So when they said, Would you be willing to change the name? I was like, yes. I hadn't opened. I didn't have a website. It was an easy choice.


29:18
Madison Riddell:
It's harder when you're like a 200 year old brand there.


29:21
Molly Cheraso:
This was easy. And they have someone on their team that's like a specialist in naming. So right off the bat, I kind of had told them, and some of the things I've already mentioned, I wanted to have a feminine feel to it. Celebratory, botanical, inclusive. I even had used the word Italian. These were kind of the feelings I wanted to evoke. And they sent me a long list of names, and we kind of narrowed it down, and we ended up with Verbena, which Verbena is an herb, a flower, so it definitely hits that botanical and feminine and beautiful connotation that I wanted to get across. And then we called it Verbena free spirited because I still wanted that something that would tell you, like, this is about non alcoholic, and I like the connotation of, like, this is a choice that a lot of people are now making for themselves.


30:08
Molly Cheraso:
It's like a way of thinking differently. So it does, I think, also bring into this connotation of, like, are you a free spirited person? Are you willing to open your mind, try things differently, be a little bit out of the norm? So all of that was behind the name. And then working with them, they also created my logo and the brand colors. I mean, they gave me options to pick from, and this is where we landed. So it was cool to work with them because it was a logo, it was a font, it was the colors. And then I also had them work with me on the actual interior space at Berbina. So the brand feel and what's on the website and the social translates directly into the shop. So one of the cool things they did is we connected me with a local company that built this amazing custom light fixture oh, cool.


30:58
Molly Cheraso:
That's over our bar. I love that it's one of a kind, and it is actually, like, a chartreuse color, which is in my color palette. So just like, little details like that were important to me. And then when I went to hire the team, I've got eight employees right now. I went into it with telling them I have no food service or industry experience. I've led teams for a long time. I can do leadership. I have a vision for what I want this brand to be, but I really need your help in bringing this to life. And the team that we hired all have a similar kind of perspective in terms of, like, it's a very feminist cafe. It's mostly females on the staff. Again, the words that I keep coming back to about inclusion and celebration, like, I want our employees to feel that, and I want every customer that walks through the door to feel that.


So everything was designed with that kind of as the central point of how can you walk into a space, look at a website, look at a social that's very positive and welcoming, and that was sort of the North Star were following.


32:07
Madison Riddell:
And I think that totally shines through. And I'm not just saying that because I'm sitting in front of you, but I think that inherently, maybe this is a bias because I am a woman, but I think the mindset's a little bit different. I think there can be some masculine components to drinking and feeling like you have to partake. So I think it's both a strategic and special way to honor women, to kind of welcome them into a space that maybe they'll be more open minded to and then they can invite in friends to expand their horizon as well. So I think from the branding I've seen, I can see all the things that you're talking about coming to life. And I think it's very interesting. We've talked about in a couple of our episodes, when is the right time to start partnering with outsourced marketing folks or branding folks or design folks, whatever we want to call them, to help articulate exactly what you want to go to market with.


32:58
Madison Riddell:
And there's a lot of pushing and pulling on this. It's a little bit of a controversial topic, like, do you need an agency early on to stand things up like you just described, or do you need to stand things up on your own and then work with an agency once you have available capital to reinvest in marketing? So I think it's cool for our listeners to hear that it sounds like you partnered with the right people at the right time that understood your message and story, which is highly critical when you're partnering with an agency and it's even allowing you to make the right hiring decisions.


33:27
Molly Cheraso:
I went into this, it's just me. My husband still works and he's a wonderful support partner, but he is not a partner in my business. I'm the sole owner. But I came from a background of working in teams and working in a big corporation where there was a marketing department and a finance department and a legal department. So I was used to being in an environment where you could leverage people who had expertise. So when I started this and it just being me, I knew that I wanted to bring in people that had that expertise. And it was wonderful that I brought them in so early because they truly are like partners for me. I still meet with them, run ideas past them. We just went through a process of ordering merch and they helped me design it. And so it's just nice to have that kind of continued support.


34:10
Molly Cheraso:
And they've also been able to introduce me to other experts. So like hiring an accountant, hiring someone to build my website, all of that.


34:17
Madison Riddell:
You don't do your own accounting?


34:19
Molly Cheraso:
I don't.


34:21
Madison Riddell:
That's good.


34:22
Molly Cheraso:
No. So there's a lot of different balls in the air with owning your own business. But what's so nice about that is that it has not just my employees, but just having that larger team of support around me is so important for me. I'm not somebody who likes to work on their own. I'm more like extroverted in terms of I get my energy from working with other people. So I'm glad that I have people trusted, people that I can bring in that have been there from the beginning and know what I'm trying to do and can give me really good advice.


34:50
Madison Riddell:
I think finding the balance as a business owner between things that you have to roll up your sleeves on and do yourself with leveraging expertise from people who know their specified field is the most powerful thing that you can do. So I love what you're saying, and I think that a lot of our clients kind of are cut from a similar cloth, and it's something that we actually look for in clients. One of our niches or what we use to qualify a client is are they ready to trust outsource expertise, and if you're not, it can be really difficult to scale. So I know that you're early on in this journey, but I see so much potential. I'm sure that we're going to be having you back on the show a couple of years from now, and you're going to be taking over the non alcoholic community, not just here, but across the country, I'm sure.


35:34
Madison Riddell:
What do you think your five to ten year vision is? Can you give us a little bit of a sneak peek on where you want to take this thing?


35:41
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah, I don't know. Like you said, we're about three months in. I do think that there's definitely potential for additional locations. I've seen this starting to pop up in different I've had there's a couple that they came up because they want to visit my shop, because they want to open a similar concept in Columbus. I do think we're going to start to see it opening. You see similar things opening in other markets. So I think that's one thing that's there for potential or additional locations here in Cleveland, because I do get this a lot of I grew up on the East Side, so people are like, I can't come all the way to Ohio City. You got to open something near us, or same thing on the West Side. So I think if the demand is there, I would love to open additional locations like we talked about.


36:26
Molly Cheraso:
I'm still kind of figuring out where I want to take the eCommerce platform, and then I don't know, I'm just kind of open to see where it heads. This has all been, for me, just such a natural evolution. And you mentioned earlier the lucky numbers. I'm someone who's very much open to signs from the universe, and if I get them, I follow them. And that's how I've gotten to this point. And it's happened rather quickly now that I've been, I guess, open to that, whereas before I was on a much more defined career path. So I honestly don't know. But I'm open and excited, and I've just been having so much fun and can't wait to see where it goes.


37:01
Madison Riddell:
I'm excited for you. I think that if I can add to your list, I'd love to see you guys open your own or concept, your own non alcoholic beverage that's branded you. I think that the ready to drink space, which is these cans that are mostly on the alcoholic side of the spectrum, are a big growing market in general. So I think that could be an awesome opportunity for you guys, too. To wrap things up, we love to do some rapid fire questions. So first thing that just comes to your mind, Instagram or TikTok?


37:30
Molly Cheraso:
TikTok.


37:32
Madison Riddell:
Blogs or videos?


37:34
Molly Cheraso:
Neither.


37:35
Madison Riddell:
Neither. Morning coffee or late night spritz?


37:39
Molly Cheraso:
Morning tea.


37:40
Madison Riddell:
Perfect. I like that. So will tea revival. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I think that there's a lot to be taken away from this episode. If you are a first time entrepreneur, if you're a marketer that's looking at a similar product and trying to figure out how to make a splash, if you're a mom trying to juggle things, I think that you can learn a lot from Molly and her story. So thank you guys so much for listening. Molly, where can people find you and find the brand if they want to learn more?


38:06
Molly Cheraso:
Yeah. Our website is verbenafreespirited.com, and the best way to keep up with all of our events, especially if you're listening to this in time for Sober October 2023. We have a lot planned on our Instagram, which is also at Verbena Free Spirited.


38:21
Madison Riddell:
Awesome. Thank you so much, guys. Cheers.


38:23
Molly Cheraso:
Cheers. Thank you.


38:24
Madison Riddell:
Thanks, Molly.