Vino Vidi Vici: N.O. Entrepreneurs Find Success Selling Wine-Making Kits

NEW ORLEANS – Early in the pandemic, Neal Shulman dreamed up the idea for a wine-making kit that would be a fun diversion for people who were suddenly spending a lot more time at home than usual. Along with his friend and business partner Liam Meier, Shulman was able to turn the idea into Brewsy, a successful business with five full-time employees and a new headquarters in the Seventh Ward.

Shulman said Brewsy has sold more than 100,000 of its signature “Brewsy bags” in the last year.

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Neal Shulman, Brewsy co-founder

“We invented and designed a small packet of powder containing yeast and other commercial winemaking ingredients that you add to homemade juice or store-bought juice,” said Shulman, who appears on this week’s Biz Talks podcast. LISTEN NOW “And whatever people pour that into will turn into alcohol. So if you pour that into cranberry juice, you get cranberry wine, or let’s say you have an apple orchard near you and you pour a breezy bag into your local apple juice, it will become hard cider.”

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A notable feature of Brewsy wines? They’re higher in alcohol than what you’d buy off the shelf.

Shulman and Meier seemed to have the right idea at the right time. Sales took off quickly in part because people were looking for new pastimes – and making homemade alcohol with plenty of kick is as good of a hobby as any. But another key to their early success is the community they built. The Brewsy website is user friendly. Employees stay in touch with all their customers via text. And there’s a robust Facebook community for sharing Brewsy tips and experiences.

“We’re in a world where people feel maybe more digitally isolated from each other or physically isolated as well,” said Shulman. “So we’re taking something that you normally do by yourself and we’re building a social layer on top of that, where you can talk to other people making Brewsy. And right now that’s happening in Club Brewsy, which is a Facebook group that has about five thousand people in it.”

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Still, good timing alone doesn’t explain how quickly Shulman and Meier were able to bring their product to the marketplace – especially considering the persistence of global supply chain problems. Shulman said his experience working as a physical product designer for an e-commerce company helped speed things up.

“In the past few years, I was working for a medical supplies brand, where I was developing one to two physical products from ideation to source. I was essentially learning how to be a product developer and designer, working for a different company. When I made mistakes, I didn’t necessarily pay for them, but when I had successes, I didn’t necessarily benefit from them, either.”

Shulman graduated from Arizona State University with a materials science and engineering degree so he’s had training on how to design, build and sell a product. When the pandemic came along, it created the right set of circumstances to put all that training into practice.

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“We were stuck at home and everyone was getting pretty crafty,” said Shulman. “And I think we were also looking for ways to connect with other people from afar. And one of the ways we can do that is shared hobbies. And so everyone started making sourdough bread. We thought, what’s maybe a little bit more challenging than sourdough bread, but can also bring people together? Wine making ended up being being something I was convinced would would take off if we could do it in time. So it was a bit of a race, honestly.”

Thumbnail Brewsy1And, to the naysayers and wine snobs of the world, Shulman has one message:

“We’re really democratizing what wine is,” he said. “Wine started as a drink that was made by hand for your family thousands of years ago, and there weren’t brands, and it wasn’t something that was associated with status. And the winemaking experience that you have with Brewsy actually teaches you so much about wine that I think everyone ends up enjoying it a lot more, even when they buy store-bought wine.”

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