How Eliqs Made It Through 2020 And Adapted To A Pandemic
by Rudy Sanchez on 01/19/2021 | 5 Minute Read
Imagine running a recently launched start-up, doing well, and providing a great product to satisfied customers while watching the positive reviews roll in. After five months, things are grooving, and the future looks bright. The work is hard, but you have a great team plugging along and making the dream work.
But then a highly contagious airborne virus shuts down your target market for an indefinite amount of time.
Now, if you happen to be in the event and hospitality industry, that’s what exactly happened, as 2020 felt like hitting an iceberg while you go over a waterfall in your already burning vessel. Weddings, reunions, parties, conferences, and other large events were canceled, either out of precaution or state mandates. Some regions that rely on these kinds of events, like Southern California, saw a cascading and devastating economic effect as ancillary firms saw their orders canceled with sales nowhere in sight.
Los Angeles-based Eliqs was doing a great job creating customized beverage cans filled with premium beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks. The firm only sold in larger quantities for special occasions and events. But as large gatherings were prohibited while COVID raged on, Eliqs founder Max Berg was suddenly at the helm of a business with no seemingly foreseeable path forward, unless he and the team could make a successful pivot, and fast.
“Once COVID hit, that fundamentally changed who we could be as a business, and it really threw a wrench in our business model,” Max says.
With no time to spare and short on options, Eliqs decided to make a drastic change, a gamble to save the business from the effects of COVID-19 by serving an entirely different market. Requests for small orders of personalized cans had trickled in, but with the business-to-business model going well, it didn't warrant as much consideration. Moreover, selling and shipping small orders to lots of people would require significant changes to their operations.
“We had to figure out where we're going to focus and pivoted to launching what is now our direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform where we have preset designs available for sale on our website, as opposed to selling to much larger kinds of corporate events,” Max says.
“April through the end of 2020 was really focused on DTC sales. We focused on unique, occasion-specific designs, digital marketing, and partnerships with designers with established followings to launch products that would cater to different people,” he adds.
Eliqs’ shift in business takes the firm’s core competencies—quality alcoholic beverages and customized can designs—to entirely new markets and segments they weren't addressing fully. Instead of making cans for trade shows, Eliqs found itself working on collaborations with media personalities and brands, selling tailored cans meant to be gifted, as well as holiday-themed cans that could get consumed at home.
“We started with an influencer group’s Friday beers as our first big partnership," Max says." We launched a beer with them to celebrate their one-millionth follower."
“Since then, we've got a lot of inbound interest from brands, other content creators, and podcasts. For us, all of these different potential partners have their unique audience bases they cater to. So, we're not focused on one in particular but rather see a whole wealth of opportunity because there are so many niche audiences. But the one common product element that does seem to latch on is alcohol, beer, wine. Everyone seems to get excited by that, especially if it contains a design that speaks to them.”
It isn’t just streamers and podcasters looking to Eliqs either. This past Halloween, Eliqs teamed up with Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project and released a set of Hocus Pocus-themed canned wines.
Keeping Eliqs going through the pandemic would take more than a new market and sales strategy. In addition to creating a new DTC ordering website with attractive designs and self-customization, operational changes were needed across the board.
“We went from doing 15 orders of 500 cans a month to 200 orders of 12 cans each in a week,” Max says. “Just dramatically different from an operational standpoint. We didn't have the boxes, we didn't have tape, we didn't have people in the warehouse that could put the cans into the boxes, and we didn't have a way of printing out slips for the individual orders. We needed to figure out distribution partners for last-mile logistics, making sure the boxes that we were shipping in weren't getting crushed,” he says.
Ultimately, the human factor played a large part in Eliqs’ COVID resilience, with Berg crediting his team’s ability to meet this seemingly unfathomable challenge with aplomb. Max explains his team assembled to rise to the unprecedented challenge, especially after seeing that the new business model can work. Eliqs had already gained inroads in collaboration and special-edition cans, starting with COVID-themed cans to support the WHO and freelance designers hurting for work due to the pandemic.
“It was like, what can we launch next?" he asks. "Who can we work with next? How do we make this bigger? That went from our interns who were initially working on business development for corporate sales to the designers we can work with and bring in to collaborate with our [internal] team. It was a rallying cry. We needed to make this work because we've seen that it can work,” Berg said.
Not that Eliqs wasn’t already going to be up against it, but Max suspects he was an early victim of COVID-19 and was certainly sick and at-home with something just as the business implications of the pandemic started to land a flurry of combos on his company. At the time of this writing, he was still waiting on antibody test results for a definitive answer.
“I had gotten really, really sick the first week of March, just as it seems like shit [started to] hit the fan," he says. "I was out of commission for a month. I didn't leave my apartment. We started to think, if events go away, what do we do? The day the NBA suspended its season, emails came in from all of our upcoming events, saying they were canceled. Our revenue projections literally went to zero overnight, and I thought we were done,” Berg somberly recounts.
“It was intense.”