Happy New Year, nightclub and bar owners and operators, cocktail creators, drink slingers, hospitality heroes, distributors, brand reps…everyone else who plays a role in this crazy industry of ours! Speaking of brand reps and the New Year, we’re proud to introduce our newest feature: Brand Ambassador of the Month.
Every month, Nightclub & Bar will shine a light on the best brand ambassadors in the business. We’re going to give these bar and nightclub champions the recognition they deserve, and we hope their stories and accomplishments inspire some of you to take on the mantle of brand ambassador yourself. If you’re a brand ambassador, or if you happen to know an exceptional brand ambassador, contact us for your chance to be featured!
And now, without further ado, our very first Brand Ambassador of the Month. Nathan Greene is the Portfolio Mixology Ambassador for Las Vegas representing Hennessy, Belvedere, Chandon, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. Those are big brands, real heavy hitters that are part of an iconic portfolio, and they require a driven, knowledgeable, and personable brand ambassador to represent them. Anyone who knows, has worked with, or had an account serviced by Greene know that he ticks all those boxes and then some.
First things first: What brought you to Las Vegas?
I used to do accounting work in the public sector and coach boys’ high school varsity basketball when I found online poker. I did real well, and decided to move to Vegas during the “boom” to make a go of it. I didn’t get into the service industry until 2010.
How did you first enter the bar and nightlife industry?
It’s actually a very personal story that many know already. Essentially, I lost everything I had, not through all fault of my own, and was referred to Crescent School of Gaming and Bartending in town. It was run by USBG members, and I took the three-month beverage management course. It was a course that changed my life. Upon graduation, I entered a national cocktail competition open to professionals and amateurs alike. Tony Abou-Ganim was a judge for the finals, that I made, in Chicago, and I won it and $5,000. I took that money to go with my Crescent instructors to Tales of the Cocktail in July, and took every seminar I could afford and went to every tasting I had time for. About a month later, I was the opening bartender at Vanguard Lounge – with no prior experience – and created their opening cocktail menu. The rest is history.
How did you become a brand ambassador representing one of the best and most recognizable portfolios in the business?
Thankfully, through my time bartending and managing, I’ve made some amazing friends. The camaraderie is what I love best about this industry. My friend, now Corporate Mixologist for Hakkasan Group Restaurants, USA, Tim Weigel (also a Crescent grad), referred me to the position while I was in between jobs. This was a brand new program activating nationally at Strategic Group (who represent Moët Hennessy brands), and I went through three phone interviews to land the job. I feel it’s harder to convey passion and competence over the phone than in person! It had to be this way since they were moving very quickly on this program.
Everyone takes different paths to their career and building their resume in the industry, but what is your best advice to anyone interested in becoming a brand ambassador?
I never was one of those bartenders who wanted to land a brand ambassador position. Listening to others’ stories, brands eventually find you. What bartenders don’t know is how much work on the administrative side it takes to be successful. A bartender should know: MS Office (especially Excel), that social media is checked years back by employers, how to speak publicly, how to manage budgets, how to plan and execute events, spirits/beer/wine/cocktails/hospitality like the back of their respective hands, business format emails and letters, their product(s) inside and out, how to meet deadlines, and how to establish and maintain working relationships with trade and/or consumers, depending on the focus of the brand(s).
To get noticed, I’d say continue bartending and being as hospitable as you can because you never know who’s going to sit down at your bar. On top of that, competing in the cocktail competition circuit and getting some notoriety never hurts either, because it benefits the bars/restaurants/lounges they represent, too.
It would seem that specific types of personalities work best in a brand ambassador role. Would you say that’s true?
I slightly disagree with that, actually. I’m not the most gregarious person known to man. However, I’ve somehow managed to obtain a modicum of success in this position. More than anything, one has to be themselves, be genuine, know their product(s), and listen to what others have to say.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known before you began your career as a brand ambassador?
I wish I had known I’d gain a “freshman 15!” It’s easy to let the lifestyle get away from you if you’re not careful about finding balance: late nights, early conference calls, large meals while eating out often… Those have to be managed properly. I lift, play ball, hike, play tennis and golf, and make sure I get vitamin D as much as possible to offset the aforementioned.
One of the greatest things about working in bars, nightclubs and restaurants is the various perks. What are some of the perks of being a brand ambassador?
I won’t lie; the perks are amazing representing these brands. One, I don’t have to “sell” these brands to anyone: they all have fantastic pedigrees and extremely interesting stories. Two, our brands are sold so much at nightclubs, day clubs, bars and restaurants, it’s very easy to get to know the operators which, admittedly, makes it easier to get reservations at said places. Three, having a budget to be able to support those in the position I was in just a couple of years ago is probably the most rewarding thing about the job.
What are some experiences you’ve had being a brand ambassador that stand out?
Visiting Cognac several times to see Hennessy. Visiting Poland to see Belvedere. Visiting the UK to see cocktail culture to take ideas back to my market. Seeing how happy the students were that I sponsored for Francesco Lafranconi’s Academy of Spirits & Fine Service class at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Being able to come back to Crescent as an educator and do seminars there and inspire the new crop of potential hospitality experts.
Obviously, a lot of people want to know you, and many of those people want things from you. What are a couple of the oddest, most interesting, most rewarding or flat-out most challenging requests you’ve had from an owner, operator, manager, bartender, etc.? And were you able to deliver?
My team really backs me up and helps manage expectations. We never over-promise on ways we can support the account. Some who are in charge of purchasing tend to think that trips to Scotland or wherever should just happen because they ask for it. For the most part, though, people are pretty reasonable, and I have yet to run into a requested that would be deemed “challenging.”
Speaking of being asked for things, what are brand ambassadors prepared to do for operators in their territories?
Good question. For the most part, we’re there for cocktail development for accounts, to provide education for the respective staffs, to create and execute events that help drive sales featuring the products we represent, and to network and bring like-minded, hospitality-driven people together and provide them opportunities to further their own careers.
Let’s say I’m an operator about to open my doors. How do I get in touch with brand ambassadors so I can start things off right?
If you’re an operator and don’t already have existing relationships with your distributors, suppliers and ambassadors, it could be difficult getting traction in your market to start. One’s best resource is to reach out to their distributors and ask for the contact information of the ambassadors whose products are in those houses that you plan to carry in your own venue. If the ambassador is worth their salt, they’ll take over from there and listen to what you are looking for, so that you can both forge a solid working – and mutually beneficial – relationship moving forward.
Point-blank: What should a great brand ambassador be prepared to do for an operator?
Show up! Brand ambassadors can have anywhere from maybe 10 to 20 accounts they key in on. In my case, I touch close to 100 just in Vegas alone. It takes time, but I always try to see everyone every 4 to 6 weeks.
Developing cocktails, training staff, bringing people in, and finding ways to drive sales for the accounts are some of the important things a great ambassador will do.
Do you have any tips for operators when it comes to truly maximizing their relationship with a brand ambassador?
Communicate. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask (within reason) for support. The worst we will do is say “No,” but that won’t be the end of it. We’ll work to find a solution that best benefits both parties and generates sales. Also, be open to education for the staff. The more they know about the products they carry, the more confidence they have in selling said products and raising check averages, resulting in more gross revenue for you and, theoretically, more tips for the staff.
What can bartenders do to maximize the relationship between a brand ambassador and the venue for which they tend bar?
More than anything, brand ambassadors want everyone to be informed. Informed decisions are the best decisions, so even if a guest or a bartender may not prefer our product in a particular category, we as brand ambassadors can take solace in knowing people did their due diligence in coming to that personal decision. If you’re allowed to as a bartender, blind taste yourself and your team. Figure out what you like. If you like something, the more passionate you’ll be when talking about it to your guests, and the easier it will be for you to upsell them on it. If what you like happens to be one of our products, let us know! We love building relationships; most of us used to bartend prior, so we know the struggle better than anyone and love to talk shop with you.
Is the relationship between a brand ambassador and a venue limited to operators and bartenders?
No, not at all. I’ve done trainings for 125 people for day club pools all at once, for instance, that included security, bussers, barbacks, porters, cocktail servers, and managers, as well as bartenders. I’ve trained concierge and butler staffs. I’ve trained chefs and cooks, and gave them ideas on how they could incorporate our products in their dishes.
People make mistakes. What are some of the things operators have done or do that you wish they wouldn’t?
Carry too many marques of the same spirit category. Do you need three citrus vodkas on your back bar? Do you need six Highland Single Malt Scotches and none from Islay or Speyside? Do you need three VS Cognacs?
Not price their products appropriately. Do market research. See where your niche is. Why do you charge $12 for a glass of California sparkling wine as your by-the-glass offering, but only charge $20 for the 750mL bottle?
Not look at the pour cost of a cocktail menu as a whole. An operator can have a cocktail that costs them $3 to $4 to make and have a lower margin on it if they have a high-volume cocktail on the menu that maybe only costs $1.60 to make. Not every cocktail has to be, say $2.00 to make; you’re limiting your creativity and options by thinking that way.
As I mentioned earlier, you work for one of the most sought-after portfolios in the industry. Can you share anything with our readers about exciting new products they’re going to want to get their hands on?
Yes, absolutely! The Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No.1 is out now in both the off-premise and on-premise. It’s a beautiful, modern interpretation of what Cognac can be due to the versatility of grapes.
In the first half of 2017, we’re launching a super-premium tequila named Volcan de mi Tierra in conjunction with Mexico’s Gallardo family, which we’re extremely excited about.
Ardbeg 21 Year Old is out, albeit in very limited quantities.
Glenmorangie Milsean came out in 2016 and is phenomenal.
Chandon is releasing Sweet Star at the beginning of 2017, a semi-sweet sparkling wine offering that has a higher dosage than our Brut. It will be great in cocktails.
We’ve pointed out before that brand ambassadors are often exposed to and educated about trends before they really take hold. What are your predictions for what we’ll see and what will be hot in 2017?
I continue to see operators streamlining procedures to help maximize bar efficiency, so bottled, barreled and on-draft cocktails will still be going strong.
Garnishes will be big. Visually, people want to be stimulated.
Bartenders making their own fragrances and creating stories and experiences via all of the guests’ senses will continue to trend upward.
Low-ABV cocktails are still gaining traction. Aperitifs, vermouths and fortified wines are must-haves.
Utilizing scotches and Cognacs in cocktails in lieu of other brown spirits.