At some point in our lives, whether it’s with our jobs, our relationships, or our once-passionate hobbies, we start getting comfortable doing the minimum. I’ve certainly been guilty of complacency over the course of my 39 years on this planet, and in retrospect I can see exactly how it happened. You start taking things for granted. You assume everything is going to keep coasting along, that things will just work themselves out automatically, and you drop your guard as a result. Then, from out of nowhere: BAM! You get hit with a right hook.
The consequences of complacency generally aren’t the result of one bad decision, however. While the knockout blow may seemingly strike from out of nowhere, the breadcrumb trail of willful ignorance generally paints a different picture in retrospect. Ultimately, the hair bands should have seen the grunge revolution coming, Kodak should have immediately embraced digital photography, and brick and mortar retailers should have paid better attention to online commerce from the start. Sure, hindsight is always 20/20, but if you keep yourself in tip-top shape and you stay on top of your game, you’ll never have to look in the rearview mirror. Laziness, overconfidence, and indifference, on the other hand, are a deadly trio.
Now that I’m back in the booze business, I try to ask myself a series of questions every morning in order to keep my mind sharp and my acumen up to speed. Despite numerous reports of what seems like limitless growth for whiskey, I try to punch holes in those numbers in order to get a look at what might be festering underneath. No matter how bright the future looks, you have to be ready. As an analogy, Slaughter’s debut album Stick It To Ya sold over 2 million copies in 1990, making it one of the biggest rock albums of the year. However, the band’s hotly anticipated 1992 follow up, The Wild Life, only went gold in comparison, eking out just over 500,000 copies despite the short timespan in between records. We all know what happened in between.
In order to be prepared for the next market shift, I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve by interrogating my mind:
In a genre where the gold standards have become all but unattainable, what will get the next generation of whiskey drinkers fired up about the category? (HINT: it’s not rum)
How will people purchase and take possession of their booze in the year 2020? With an app? With a delivery service? And which online retailer will first solve the interstate shipping logistical puzzle by putting a licensed warehouse in each state?
Will 21 year olds even want to drink in five years? Or will they be too busy ingesting other chemicals that speak to their generation’s interests?
Bars and restaurants continue to drive creativity in consumption, but how many times can the same concept be reinvented before it becomes stale? How many cocktails can you Instagram before people stop caring?
Gin, once heralded as the renaissance spirit, is now such a bloated category that many retailers won’t even taste new expressions for purchase. How will craft whisky distilleries pay their bills if the spirit they’re making in the interim doesn’t sell?
How many sommeliers does it take to pay the rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco? Six?
Can a community alone support an entire craft distillery? If so, would any craft distillery owner be satisfied with that limited income model?
Will the booze industry, with promises of limitless growth, eventually become so crowded and saturated that people have no choice but to go back to brick and mortar retail in order to find an actual human being that can help them navigate it?