Have Kelvin Young and Djuan Ditto unlocked the secret to selling wines and liquors? As the founders of Legacy Wine and Spirits, Kentucky’s first Black-owned distributor, it’s their goal to continue using new channels to promote their brands. And with growing distribution, popular local events, and a solid reputation, they’re well on their way to becoming masters of their craft.
An Entrepreneurial Evolution
Most consumers don’t know exactly what a distributor does. As part of the United States’ three-tiered distribution system, they’re responsible (and the only entity legally allowed) to get your favorite wine and spirits to retail locations, bars and restaurants.
After a wine or spirit from another country is imported into the U.S. or for domestic products produced within the U.S., it’s a distributor’s job to sell the products to the appropriate venues with the right target market. For Young and Ditto, this is part of the fun.
Before obtaining their distribution license, the Louisville natives, who have been best friends since meeting in the seventh grade, were brand ambassadors for liquor labels. This meant they were responsible for ensuring there was a demand for the liquor they represented. They leveraged their network and creativity to get liquors on store shelves but too often, the duo never saw the fruits of their labor, sometimes never receiving the payment they were rightfully owed.
“We thought, ‘How do we protect ourselves going forward?’” says Ditto. He and Young were content with their brand ambassador roles but were also curious to find out how they could eliminate the middleman.
They quickly realized distributorship was an exciting opportunity that came bundled with tricky legal jargon and confusing regulations. They enlisted the help of a local lawyer who was starting an incubator program for small businesses and wanted to use the Legacy team as the pilot business. After finally getting the licensing for distributorship in February 2020, Legacy Wine and Spirits was ready to launch — right in the middle of the pandemic.
It wasn’t uncommon to see distributors in the actual club promoting the brand, bottle signings, working events and doing online promotions. “We were doing a lot more than an ambassador was doing. We were finding distributors, finding stores,” says Ditto.
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They were ready to take ownership of their brands and receive a bigger cut than they would as brand ambassadors, and even during the COVID pandemic, they were hardly daunted.
Today, Young manages the administrative side of the business, setting up meetings and handling emails and communications. Ditto is the retail specialist; he knows the retail price for bottles, store specifics, etc.
“We're the first Black-owned distribution in Kentucky and that's crazy. As big as alcohol is in Kentucky, for us to be the first anything in 2020 is crazy. We didn't jump into this knowing that — we found that out as we were going along,” says Young.
Black-owned spirits companies are now reaching out to them and the distributor particularly welcomes Black-owned and women-owned brands.
Identifying Liquor Trends
According to the Legacy Wine and Spirits duo, people love something they can’t touch. Branding and marketing a liquor are as much about believing in the flavor as it is about selling a lifestyle. They use a prime example: having a cocktail on a rooftop makes a drink taste better than drinking it in a dark basement.
At the moment, many of the more established old-guard liquor companies are trying hard to snag the attention of a younger audience — one who isn’t nearly as loyal as previous generations.
“What you're seeing is not so much there are a lot of new bourbons, but we’re starting to see that even the older bourbons are trying to appeal to a new audience. That's the trend right now. The older brands like Jack Daniels or Woodford Reserve are starting to realize that their core audience is getting older, and they need to start picking up a newer demographic,” says Young.
Legacy is doing a great job casting a broader and younger net with events geared towards younger and more fun-loving audiences like karaoke and game nights. It’s not uncommon to see the duo in the club promoting brands and hosting bottle signings.
By bringing some of their previous events and hosting connections on board, they can create unforgettable events for their products, which helps to set their company and brands apart.
Their current portfolio includes an exciting array of labels such as the Black-owned whiskey brand Guidance, Black-owned bourbon Majesty, mango vodka, lime tequila and black cherry bourbon by Local Choice, and rapper E-40’s line of Earl Stevens wines and spirits.
Legacy’s Expected Growth
Legacy Wine and Spirits is currently only licensed to distribute in Kentucky. But Ditto and Young have plans to expand throughout the South and hope to eventually obtain licensing in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee. With their other business, The Brand Ambassador Group, they can forge and help create relationships with large chain stores, even outside of their region, which will keep their name in relevant conversations as they continue to grow.
They’re thrilled with their current range of products but are always on the lookout for new brands and eventually want to own more of the logistics and delivery process. They’ll perhaps also expand into bottling someday.
These two childhood friends unknowingly made history, and they want to continue to show that thinking outside of the box pays off big time.
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“Everybody wanted to have their own [wine and spirits], but there are other avenues to take that are just as lucrative, or more, as being a brand owner. It’s really about opening people's minds to bigger and better things,” says Young.