CIROC LEADER X How 1 Yonkers Man Took A Liquor Brand From Nowhere To A Million Cases. Twice
Tired of music videos with artists pouring Cristal all over the place? Well, there was a time when that was a new way to market liquor. That was in 2002, when Yonkers’ Nick Storm was launching the premium vodka drink Hpnotiq with its creator Raphael Yakoby. Storm secured a placement for the beverage in a video by hip-hop artist Fabolous, and the blue liquor skyrocketed to the forefront of the urban liquor scene. A few years later, Sean Combs (who you may know as Puff, Puff Daddy, Puffy, or P. Diddy), recruited Storm to do the same thing for his vodka line, Ciroc. We caught up with Storm to find out how he managed such a feat and to get tips for those trying to emulate his success.
You originally started in the music business, right?
I got my first internship with Sony Music in 1993. I got my big break after a year at Sony when I started working with Dave Hall, who produced Mariah Carey and Mary J. Bilge.
And how did you cross over to the liquor business?
In 2000, I met [Raphael Yakoby] who said, ‘I know that you know a lot of artists...I’ve got a brand that I’d like to start promoting in the music space.’ Sony was having a party up in Bedford, at a big estate, and I ended up taking some of the cases of his blue liquor—Hpnotiq [then pronounced “hip-no-teek”]—and everybody in there was drinking it.
I saw something. And I learned at a young age that if you really feel something in your gut, you have to take the chance and go for it. And I did it. I left Sony. For the first three months I couldn’t sell a bottle.
When did Hpnotiq take off?
One day, Raphael and me were sitting at three o’clock in the morning trying to figure out ideas. And I said, ‘Maybe we could [pronounce] it ‘hypnotic?’ He was like ‘Try that name tomorrow.’ That day I ended up selling 17 bottles, and we changed [the pronunciation]. That was the golden moment. And in 2002, our biggest break came when I met Fabolous. We did a video placement with him for Hpnotiq.
At that time was it common practice to have liquor in music videos?
No, this was a whole new movement. That’s why a lot of people say that I changed the game. Now you see it all the time. When that video hit, we were getting calls from all over. Not only in New York, but in New Jersey to Delaware to DC, Hpnotiq blew up.
Why do they call you the “Million Case Man?”
In three years, from about 2001 to 2004, we took Hpnotiq from [selling] 1,000 cases to a million cases. That was the fastest-growing liquor in the spirits game. There are brands that have been out there for 10 years and wouldn’t hit a million cases.
When did you start working with Puff on Cîroc?
I got a call from his representative saying, ‘Puff is coming out with something. He wants to talk to you.’ The following week I show up to the office and [Puff] is like ‘Do you know what Cîroc is? I want you to come aboard on this.’ I ended up joining him in 2007. And from 2008 to 2011—ready for this—we sold a million cases of Cîroc.
How did you do it?
A lot of my programs that I did with Hpnotiq, we transferred them right over to Cîroc. And we were able to pump some steroids into it because I had the No. 1 guy [Puff]. The other thing was Puff’s whole movement of ‘the party,’ and we sold the lifestyle along with it.
So what is your main marketing strategy to get your message across?
Social media. Everything is Instagram or Facebook. I also run an ambassador program. A brand ambassador is someone who lives the lifestyle in their market. If Big Sean is going to a party in Miami, I want to know about it, and we want the person who represents the brand there with him.
What’s your advice for people starting out in the sales game?
Believe in yourself and believe in the brand. When you get people to believe in you, you can sell anything.