Taster’s Club is a B2C alcohol subscription service that provides users with access to a bottle shop and ten different monthly clubs, including its newest addition, Stock the Bar. Established with the goal of exposing spirits enthusiasts to the best stuff around, Taster’s Club has been a remarkable success since its acquisition by SureSwift in 2017.
As SureSwift’s only traditional ecommerce company, Taster’s Club doesn’t focus on SaaS growth in the same way as other SureSwift businesses. However, we’ve found that some key growth lessons can be applied to ecommerce from SaaS (and vice versa). Keep reading to learn how Taster’s Club made the journey from apartment startup to market tastemaker.
How SureSwift acquired Taster’s Club
Mack McConnell started Taster’s Club back in 2013 from his San Francisco bedroom while he worked days as a web developer. Passionate about booze, he started looking for ways to showcase today’s exciting craft spirits to fans just like him. When SureSwift acquired the business, Mack told us that the idea for Taster’s Club grew out a regular whisky tasting night he was hosting for a few friends. It quickly turned into a passion, and pretty soon he was asking himself how he could bring the experience to more people. A key differentiator for Mack was the depth of knowledge he had about the products. For him, knowing the story behind a particular bottle was as important as the drink itself. He told us in a 2019 interview, “It was also clear to me pretty quickly that the industry needed a bit of an update. I did my best to create a new way to experience the world’s most exciting spirits, giving people a deeper relationship with what they were drinking.”
His philosophy clearly resonated with people, and that “what if” during whisky night turned into a business seeing six figures of MRR over the next several years. At that point, Mack, like many of the founders who sold their companies to SureSwift, found himself facing real-world problems that he couldn’t solve alone. Recognizing the need for a new team to build upon the foundation he had created, he decided to explore the option of selling his company. At the same time, SureSwift was looking for a product with a lot of promise and opportunity, which Taster’s Club proved to be. Taster’s Club officially became a part of the SureSwift portfolio in 2017. The decision to sell to SureSwift turned out to be an even bigger win for all involved when Mack agreed to stay on and work on a different SureSwift product, Storemapper.
Brian Blaize, General Manager, noted that although the biggest opportunities weren’t initially maximized following the acquisition, Taster’s Club was positioned for success only a year post-acquisition. Blaize explained, “When I got over here [in 2019], I only had to make a few changes to really get it dialed in.”
How big is Taster’s Club?
At any time, Taster’s Club sees up to 5,000 or more members, mostly averaging at about 2,500-4,300 members.
Of this customer base, about 90% sign up to give gifts – the club memberships are a popular gifting option, and the team has leaned into this opportunity by running targeted campaigns around holidays like Christmas and Father’s Day. There are 3, 6, or 12 month-subscription options, with the average prepaid gift running about 4.6 months. The remaining 10% of customers subscribe to a monthly club for themselves and generally stick with it for nearly a year.
These loyal members have allowed the company to succeed in several ways:
- Expanded reach. In 2019, Taster’s Club served 33 states and has since grown by 25%, now shipping to 44 states.
- A breadth of partners. The company originally worked with a few partners to fulfill orders across the country, which increased to 10 during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve reduced that number as the market has changed recently, but still benefit from those now established relationships.
- Healthy revenue growth. Taster’s Club nearly doubled its revenue within two years, experiencing a significant boost from people looking for new ways to restock their liquor cabinets during lockdowns. Now that we’re in a post-pandemic alcohol market, they’ve settled back into a pattern of growth is true and healthy – not over-inflated or risky.
The Taster’s Club team vs other SureSwift teams
Taster’s Club has a full-fledged retail logistics operation to manage, which is very different from how other SureSwift products and their teams operate and achieve SaaS growth. While each SaaS product has only its own respective team to manage, Taster’s Club has an internal team of four as well as an external retailer team of about 20 individuals who handle the delivery of bottles, from dock to door.
How Taster’s Club stands out
Exceptional customer service and experience
Taster’s Club is not like a traditional ecommerce company. These days, people expect a certain level of support, and the team prides itself on offering it. They deliver exceptional customer service and experience and do their best to serve customers in a very challenging environment by going above and beyond, making themselves available and approachable.
Taster’s Club is the only company in the alcohol club space that is accessible and available to customers, providing contact information (that actually has people behind it). This means customers can reach the team by phone or through social media, which isn’t the case for customers of the competition based on product reviews.
Blaize sums this up rather nicely: “We’re people behind the business – we put ourselves front and center, and we broker real deals every single month to bring curated spirits to the masses. That’s our ethos.”
Listen, learn, and take action
The team listens closely to their customers and the needs they share, and takes action whenever possible. Alcohol is a highly regulated and restricted industry in the US, but Taster’s Club manages to think outside the box and do more than its competition.
This is how the company was able to expand from 33 to 44 states. As a result, they’ve also been able to secure lower rates from their wholesale network, as the wholesalers also benefit from more shipping volume and opportunity in 11 new markets. While the industry’s retailers, of course, have some control over shipping, Taster’s Club wants to see its customers benefit from any available cost savings because they’re the ones who keep the business thriving.
Biggest value-add from SureSwift
There are benefits to being under a larger umbrella of companies like SureSwift. Most importantly, even though the Taster’s Club model is unique in the SureSwift portfolio, the team has been able to leverage the SaaS growth expertise of others at SureSwift to their benefit.
Blaize and his team feel the biggest thing they were missing when working alone is the chance to share expertise and best practices. Under the company’s previous independent model, they had to turn to external networks or sink hours into research for specific issues to find a solution. Of course, this is still necessary from time to time. But, with the many savvy, experienced teams and subject matter experts in-house at SureSwift, collaborating on ideas and sharing lessons learned is as easy as a quick call or Slack message. Blaize takes this approach to help with everything: content writing, web design, email marketing, Google ads, and more.
“SureSwift gives us the opportunity to reach out to all these other people who are subject matter experts where we’re not – that’s a huge value-add. Without that, we’d still make progress, it just wouldn’t be as easy. I’d have to reference my own network versus this built-in one that I have [here],” Blaize shared. “I think one of the biggest opportunities at SureSwift is the fact that there are just so many sounding boards … When you have a lot of people focused on bootstrapped companies, you can take away conversations with different stakeholders on certain topics that, if we were just in our own little vacuum, we wouldn’t have exposure to.”