Sometimes, your best business decisions are those that go against what everyone else is telling you to do.
This often has been the case for Fawn Weaver, founder and CEO of Uncle Nearest, a spirits brand named for the Black distiller who mentored whiskey legend Jack Daniel after the Civil War. Founded in 2016, the company's blends have won more than 150 awards. Most recently, her Shelbyville, Tennessee-based company was a 2020 Inc. Best in Business honoree for helping Covid-19 responders and other Black-owned businesses during the pandemic.
About 21,000 U.S. locations sell Uncle Nearest. Landing that kind of distribution was the result of one of the many counterintuitive decisions that Weaver made in growing her business. The story was among those she recounted to Marli Guzzetta, executive editor of Inc., during a recent Inc. stream event in the Your Next Move series.
Weaver says she declined an offer from a nationwide liquor distributor because of a strategy she calls "catch and kill"--meaning that if a large distributor takes your product nationwide and you become a threat to one of their larger brands, you might end up in a corner of their warehouse, with the distributor giving you excuses as to why it didn't sell.
Instead, she hired the best distributor from every state to sell her spirits and put each distributor in competition with one another for sales. In doing so, her reach grew from one state to 50 in less than two years.
"I did something that everyone told me not to do, which is the story of my life," Weaver said. "If it had failed, it would have been the worst decision ever. But as it turns out, it's the smartest decision we've made so far."
Here are two other tips from Weaver on key decisions that go against contrary beliefs.
Market to whomever you like.
American whiskey has been largely targeted at White men, according to Weaver, who says she was pushed to market either to this dominating whiskey consumer or to the African American consumer, simply because she's Black herself. But Weaver had no interest in dividing her market.
"If I did that, that means that I don't think that my product is good enough for everybody," Weaver says. "What we have in common is far greater than what we don't have in common. So all we have to do is target those things that are similar."
Weaver didn't break down her customer by demographics. Her target customer is anyone who is willing to pay for a $50 or $60 bottle of whiskey, she says.
Ignore limitations imposed by others.
Weaver is the first woman of color to run a major spirits company and the first person of color to found one. Her advice for anyone who is a minority in any industry is to ignore that fact entirely.
"The moment that you begin looking at the fact that this has never been done before, then that's the moment that you have now set up boundaries for yourself," Weaver says. She adds that surrounding yourself with mentors and peers who have a similar mindset and confidence is key.
Finally, she suggests interviewing people who have done extraordinarily well, and people who have failed. Somewhere in between the two extremes, she says, is where you should start.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misrepresented the number of U.S. locations Uncle Nearest sells at. Products are available at 21,000 locations.