Kō Hana Distillers, home of Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum, is based on the west side of Oahu, Hawaii. The farm to bottle distillery meticulously crafts rum from heirloom sugarcanes that it grows. Kō Hana cultivates 34 varietals of Hawaiian heirloom sugar cane that are pressed to juice and then distilled to perfection. It is one of the world’s finest pure cane rums. Always emphasizing quality, Kō Hana has grown in popularity and availability. The management team is now focusing on expanding its distribution network across the US mainland and internationally.
In jumping over the ocean, Kō Hana’s main challenge was distance, boots on the ground sales, and the shipping cost involved. The owners brought on Justin D’Olier as the Kō Hana sales manager. Formerly a resident of Hawaii, D’Olier had relocated over half a decade before to Northern California. He had experience running cocktail bars in the San Francisco Bay Area and the company hired him on to help expand distribution and sales. The founders had been using LibDib and found it to be a great option in the California market. D’Olier could leverage his bar industry relationships and work the market. It allowed him to control the brand story, which was a unique history of culturally significant agriculture and farming.
“We are making something very agriculturally relevant and special,” said Justin D’Olier. “As a grower distillery it was important to maintain that historical legacy and speak to the fields of cane that go into making this specialty rum. LibDib helped us to continue that story in a really powerful way.”
Kō Hana found the distance between Hawaii and the US difficult when it came to shipping. The usual freight carriers moving individual cases across the ocean was wildly inefficient and expensive. However, the LibDib Portfolio Team was there to offer advice. They instructed him to grow sales enough so that LibDib would be able to warehouse the product. Once they got to that level the financials would work out.
“LibDib set up a line of communication and helped me to develop very clear goals,” said D’Olier. “They believed that we could achieve the levels of success we needed and set targets for us.”
After a few months of hard market work, Kō Hana was able to move the amount of product they needed to warehouse product in LibDib’s California warehouses. Kō Hana signed up as a LibDib Gold Maker, which gave them access to further resources. LibDib helped them secure retail contacts and gave them advice on what and how to sell. D’Olier hit the pavement and went around talking to retailers about the product.
“A lot was cold calling,” D’Olier recalls. “We said, hey you don’t know us and we know it takes trust, but look at what we have and take a chance on us.”
He adds that many small steps were taken that added up to a huge impact. The entire process was a series of actions towards big milestones.
Kō Hana then secured their first large-scale sale and partnership with a national retailer. Today, they plan to expand their reach into new markets with that retailer. D’Olier partially credits LibDib with helping to secure that partnership.
“The team at LibDib are great communicators and their relationships have been really helpful in building our sales,” D’Olier says. “So much of our brand building has been investing in long term relationships and our focus is to maintain those relationships.”
The brand is now shipping large pallets to California and will soon expand the growth to states like Florida. Their new line of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails opened another sector of the market to them, bringing in a major grocery retailer as well as a major airline.
Kō Hana has outpaced their sales by three times their estimates and they have gone from shipping 1 pallet at a time to LibDib California, to now 8-9 pallets at a time. Shipping larger quantities has enabled them to lower their expenses and be even more competitive. D’Olier credits much of their success to LibDib as a distributor partner. He says LibDib trusted them and gave support on how to grow, something most distributors won’t do for a small brand.
“LibDib has the ability to support brands to be nimble in markets and that’s huge when you’re selling a niche product, ” said D’Olier. “We have been able to test new markets and get off the ground at our own pace so now we know how to leverage into new markets with the support of our distributor.”
Being a LibDib Gold Maker has proven to be a successful strategy for the brand. It raised Kō Hana’s level of support at LibDib and enabled the team to build a strategy that was mutually successful. Gold brought in the LibDib warehouse team, a key piece of their success.
“Having a direct discourse that very clearly reports on product movement helps us understand a lot about our brand,” added D’Olier. “LibDib helped us build a brand strategy around the types of accounts where we were finding success. Having a distributor partner who believed in us gave us the confidence to step out of our comfort zone and grow. The payback on our LibDib Gold investment has been more than tenfold.”
He adds that anytime there has been a challenge, the Kō Hana team has communicated to LibDib and they addressed it. He says there is not a single account issue they haven’t been able to solve.
“LibDib makes good on their promises and that’s a degree of trust that we have built together. Distribution is difficult and LibDib makes it seamless. Plus, at the end of the day, I enjoy working with them.”
Kō Hana plans to continue to grow and leverage what they’ve built. They look forward to launching into new markets with LibDib and are looking towards national distribution in the near future.