Q&A WITH BROOKE SINCLAIR OF VELOUR IMPORTS
CraftBeer.com reports there are now over 7000 active breweries in the United States. That’s 1,100 more than the same time in 2017. At that time, at least 251 brewery operations were active in Texas, with 70 operating in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area according to Beer in Big D. As breweries fight for shelf and taproom space, some brands look to exporting their products to international markets.
This is exactly what Brooke Sinclair of Velour Imports would love to help more American beverage brands accomplish. Based in Houston, Velour facilitates the acquisition of licenses and certifications and handles all operations and logistics for their brands. Brooke took some time to answer a few questions about the origin and process of Velour Imports.
What was your career before Velour Imports? What sparked the vision of this company?
Brooke: Before Velour, I worked in transportation, logistics, and distribution. I started my career at the age of 19, as a production stage manager. For nearly 15 years I coordinated moving precious cargo, sound equipment, and perishable goods from coast-to-coast or throughout the region.
The vision for Velour originally came from an opportunity to bring wine from Argentina into the states. With more research, I discovered the true market for opportunity was in exporting, not importing. So the business model was flipped and now the business is called ‘Imports’ although we primarily export. Have we thought about changing the name? Yes. But to our buyers we represent imported beer, not domestic. So the name still works.
Is the focus to bring American craft beer/wine/cider products to international tourist locations so that Americans have a taste of home, or is this truly about expanding tastes abroad?
Brooke: Both. We deliver American craft beer/wine/cider to high profile tourist locations outside the United States as well as help those abroad expand their tastes. Our focus is about providing freedom of choice for brands. Importers in Guatemala and Panama, for instance, want to be the first to bring contemporary American brands to their market.
Does Velour export bottles and cans of products, as well as kegs or barrels? How many brands do you currently work with? I saw Church Street Brewing, Elation Vodka, and Portland Cider on your Instagram.
Brooke: With reference to beer and cider, cans are what our buyers want. We sell to resorts, hotels, restaurants, golf clubs/courses, and consumer retail locations. Because they come in a standard size and can be enjoyed just about everywhere, cans are preferred. Plus, cans keep light out which allows the beer to maintain its flavor.
We are proud to represent Aspen Brewing Company, Church Street Brewing, Elation Hemp Flavored Vodka, Get Hot Habanero Flavored Tequila, Portland Cider Company, Slim Picken's Cider & Mead, d’s Wicked Cider, Claremont Distillery, and many more!
What do you look for in a potential distribution client, not only in terms of product quality but also production levels?
Brooke: In terms of product quality, only the best. Importers in Guatemala and Panama are looking for America’s most popular and recognizable beers with creative, funky labels made with progressive methods and recipes. Taking it a step further, Velour Imports wants to enroll brewers who use authentic ingredients for their award winning flavors.
When speaking to a potential distribution client, we look for:
1. A desire to distribute overseas. The brewer might have had previous experience in international distribution, they are free from contractual agreements in these regions, and they are ready to think bigger.
2. Great distribution partners can afford to increase their operational capacity.
3. Press & Media recognition, social media followers, and a growing distribution here in the U.S.
We’ve already had a fantastic response from cider makers from across the United States. In fact, the response from cider makers has been so overwhelmingly positive that we are temporarily closing the cider category for now. Which means we have temporarily stopped enrolling cider brands into the portfolio. Our fall 2018 open enrollment period ends December 31st.
Do you find overall that international accounts may favor specific styles of U.S. beer / cider over another?
Brooke: Yes, Guatemalan and Panamanian importers want beer! They want America’s most contemporary and popular (aka “Instagram famous”) beers with creative, funky labels made with progressive methods and recipes.
Our customers do favor our ability to take requests. Just this year we’ve received more than 1 request for pasteurized craft beer and this summer had a request for cider in a can from the Caribbean’s largest hotel and casino. They asked us to find a beer they could serve to their guests on the beach. After interviewing fifteen fabulous cideries from across the nation, we presented our client with the top three finest options fit to budget.
Are there international beverages that will make a reciprocal journey to U.S. based business through Velour?
Brooke: Yes! First, we are delivering American craft beer/wine/cider to the high profiled tourist locations outside the United States because we do want to help foreign audiences expand their tastes as they like. If they want it, we want to help them get it.
Right now the plan is to bring international brands in the states in Phase 4. Ideally, we’ll replicate the same virtual structure we have today, no warehouse. The challenge is without a warehouse, we’ll need to investigate cold storage facilities, fulfillment centers, and/or reliable third-party logistics (3PL) companies who can receive incoming pallets from the port and deliver them to distributors across the nation. But right now, we are still in the early stages of Phase 3. Phase 4 may still be a year or two from now.