Any company that is rich and brimming with family history always has an origin of someone, somewhere who was passionate about something and watched that vision come to life.
And though that narrative isn’t rare amongst mom-and-pop shops and family-owned companies around the globe, having a brand in an industry thats ever-changing that’s withstood and succeeded nearly 330 years and 11 generations, most certainly is.
NOLET'S Finest Gins seems to be the exception to the rule of needing to rebrand and revamp in order to stay relevant and successful — in fact, it’s been the Nolet family’s dedication to tradition that has made the company as well-established as it is.
The Nolet Distillery, located in Holland, has seen itself through both world wars and is still owned and operated by the Nolet family today.
But what keeps the family name in well-regarded standing and the business booming is the ability to introduce new spirits and expressions while still maintaining a certain level of quality and tradition that comes with the Nolet name.
Take Carolus Nolet Sr., who introduced Ketel One Vodka to the U.S. back in 1983, opening the doors to Nolet operations in the Americas dubbed Nolet Spirits USA, or his son, Carl Nolet Jr. who founded NOLET’S Dry Gin, perfecting an expression rich with infused botanicals that had never been used before.
The Nolet men have seemed to crack the code — keep the family name alive, the methods of distilling and branding the same, but creating new extensions of the brand that allow them to continue to innovate and disrupt the market without needing to make a drastic shift or change in one direction or another.
This concept is a nod to the ideology by which the Nolet family lives by: Thinking in ‘generations not quarters.’
We had a chance to chat with Carl Nolet Jr., President and CEO of Nolet Spirits USA about his family’s approach to business, how he intends to carry on the legacy and where he sees the company going next:
AOL:The Nolet family operates on this ideology of 'Try not to make mistakes' -- can you elaborate on that? How has it impacted your work ethic and overall sense of business?
Carl Nolet Jr.: This is the best piece of advice our father has given my brother, Bob, and me – ‘Try not to make mistakes’. His aim, which influences our decision-making today, is to aim high, do everything correctly and not make mistakes along the way. Like my ancestors before me, I had to start at the bottom of the family business. In our company, you earn your responsibilities and work your way up. That’s how you get to know the entire process. I learned every aspect of the business before I moved to America in 1992 to build Ketel One Vodka. My family launched NOLET’S Finest Gins in the United States in the fall of 2010. In 2016 I was promoted to President and CEO of Nolet Spirits USA. I earned that title, it wasn’t just handed to me. There’s a lot of pressure to uphold the legacy of a 326-year old company that prides itself on excellence and perfection. I’m honored to be able to carry on the legacy and heritage of our Nolet family and brands.
AOL: Most people don't realize that Ketel One and NOLET'S Finest Gins are part of the same company -- why do you think that is? Has that made any impact on business in specific markets?
CNJ: Both Ketel One Vodka and NOLET’S Finest Gins are distilled at our Nolet Family Distillery in Schiedam, Holland. In 2008, my family entered a joint-venture partnership with Diageo for the sales, marketing and distribution rights of Ketel One Vodka. We are pleased with our ongoing relationship with Diageo to continue to build Ketel One Vodka worldwide. NOLET’S Finest Gins are independent of the Diageo joint-venture. The distribution of NOLET’S Finest Gins is aligned within the Diageo dedicated distributor selling divisions in the US. This arrangement provides NOLET’S with strong distributor sales representation in market. For the past three years, NOLET’S Silver has experienced tremendous depletion growth averaging 27% year-over-year.
AOL: As a family-run business, the Nolet family thinks in 'generations not quarters' -- how does this play into your approach towards business and growth? How has this separated you from other brands in the industry?
CNJ: My brother, Bob, and I are the 11th Generation of the Nolet Family. We represent a heritage which spans over 326 years. With this heritage comes incredible responsibility, but also an awareness that my family’s lineage is a part of our brands. Our family has always maintained the highest standards in crafting the world’s best spirits. A foundational truth behind the success of our family’s business has always been, “Quality and care before everything”. Thinking in generations vs. quarters puts this ideology at the forefront – setting us up for success in the future while staying true to our family’s heritage.
My family believes that we should continually challenge ourselves and view our business through a different lens. With NOLET’S Finest Gins, for example, we took a holistic look at how our distributor partners and competitive suppliers program their businesses. To stand apart, we moved from a quarterly review approach to a “hockey” three-period review. The 120-day timeframe has proven to be extremely beneficial. It has positively disrupted the way our distributor partners think about our business verse competition. It’s also allowed our team 30 more days of programming to obtain sales goals and gain share of voice among our distributor network.
AOL: What's your earliest memory of working in the family business?
CNJ: I’ll never forget my first job working for our family business and how eager I was to get to work. I started at Nolet Distillery not in a corner office, but rather polishing miles of copper. I was tasked with polishing all of the copper in the distillery. I got right to work scrubbing with a towel and cleaning solution. It was here I learned my first lesson: “If you don’t know what you are doing, ask.” The chemicals from the cleaning solution ended up dying my hands green! I was told from the Master Distiller, “If you would have asked, I would have told you to use gloves when you polish copper.” The green color didn’t come off for days!
AOL: How would you describe your typical NOLET'S Finest Gins drinker or consumer? Who are you trying to reach next?
CNJ: With NOLET’S Finest Gins, my family saw the opportunity to create a new and unique spirit. For years, gin has been recognized as a juniper-forward spirit, but more recently we started to see different interpretations, which appeal to consumers who like to be surprised and discover new flavors. The NOLET’S Silver drinker is an open-minded individual who appreciates the finer things in life. They have an enthusiasm and curiosity for the spirits category and they enjoy seeking out modern, high-end offerings. These consumers desire to use the best products in their cocktails. The number one thing we can do is to get people to taste NOLET’S. We call this our “liquid to lips” strategy. We believe that the proof is in the bottle and that by educating and tasting our customers, we can help them select NOLET’S Silver for their cocktail recipes.
AOL: Where do you want to see NOLET'S gin go next/what are your hopes for growth?
CNJ: My family and I know from experience that building brands is a very difficult thing to do. Our strategy in launching NOLET’S Finest Gins in the Fall of 2010 was to seed the major markets, slowly introducing the brand and building a strong foundation for future growth. I’m very proud of how we’ve built NOLET’S Silver and where we are with the brand at this point. In 2016 we embarked on an aggressive growth plan. NOLET’S Finest Gins continues to experience phenomenal success. NOLET’S Silver depletion growth is averaging 27% year-over-year for the past 3 years.
AOL: If you weren't in the liquor business, where would you see yourself working?
CNJ: If I wasn’t working for our family business I would be working for a company whose main purpose is to care for our planet and each other. My genuine passion is to leave this world better off than when I entered it. I support causes that help care for our oceans, so generations after us can enjoy it and our population can still be fed from it. Another current issue I believe we need to find a solution for is distractive driving. I would work on creating policies that would reduce loss of lives and make our communities a safer place to live.
AOL: Any advice to those who have just begun working in a family business or any words of wisdom to keep in mind for when business gets challenging?
CNJ: It is important to maintain a long-term perspective on the company and brands. Our family business would not have survived over 326 years had we not been adaptive to change, innovation, intimately understanding our consumers and challenging ourselves to become even better. I would advise to set a budget and stick to it. In the difficult moments, I would encourage an honest review of the business. One of the hardest parts is looking in the mirror and realizing that your idea needs to change or simply be stopped. My family recognizes that being genuine matters. Consumers seek authentic products and experiences. Both Ketel One Vodka and NOLET’S Finest Gins are worth discovering in this way. Finally, I would recommend applying our family creed “Try not to Make Mistakes”! It has helped our family for 11 generations.