YSU grad expands vodka distribution


By Burton Speakman

bspeakman@vindy.com

pittsburgh

A Canfield native and Youngstown State University graduate who made his way into the vodka industry has brought the product to his hometown.

It was always important to bring Clique Vodka to Youngstown because there has been so much support for the company in this area, said Noah Cohen, CEO and founder of Premier Innovations Group, the parent company that distributes the vodka.

Much of the investment in the company, 80 percent to 90 percent, has come from people in the Youngstown area, Cohen said. He started the company in 2007 at age 25, but it took three years to develop its own brand of vodka and get it into stores.

“We want to get into the Youngstown market and just explode,” he said.

When first starting the company, Cohen had to rely on friends and family in the Youngstown area to help finance his venture, he said.

“I was young and thought I had a great business idea, but I had to go to people who had trust in me and find someone willing to take a risk,” Cohen said. “I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was.”

It is difficult to get bank loans for any type of new business, but for liquor, it’s very hard because the product cannot serve as collateral, he said. Because of the regulatory issues, banks do not want to be left with alcohol if a company goes out of business; they do not have the license to sell it.

The people in Youngstown were willing to invest because they knew Cohen, he said. They also have knowledge of other local companies, such as Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and Yogurt and the DeBartolo Corp., that have been successful.

The company initially focused on getting into the state liquor stores in Pennsylvania, and then there was an opportunity in Tennessee, Cohen said. Youngstown was always the next expansion goal for the company.

“We want to become a regional supplier and plant the seeds toward being a national one,” said Frank Bachurski, vice president of marketing and brand development.

Clique Vodka is being sold throughout Northeast Ohio. The brand is sold in numerous retail outlets, such as Giant Eagle.

Although the product is available in Youngstown, Bachurski said the company will hire a local sales team within the next month to begin a larger product rollout.

Those employees will begin working with local clubs and offer their product to charitable events as a way to get information out about Clique, he said.

Clique costs about $16 a bottle. Ohio now marks the fourth state that Premier Innovations Group has expanded to, along with Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. Clique is made and bottled in Latvia.

Premier recently signed a deal with Total Wine and More to carry Clique, Bachurski said.

This deal will expand the company to 13 to 17 more states by the end of 2012, he said.

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