After thinking about doing it for years, in 2020 husband and wife duo Mitchell and Mary Smilovitis decided to take the plunge into creating their own spirits label.
Mitchell said the pandemic brought about the perfect opportunity for them to finally pursue this dream and make their first foray into the liquor industry with the launch of Smilov Spirits.
“If COVID hadn’t happened, I don’t think we would have launched it, to be honest. It would have been a pipeline business, because we’ve been talking about it for such a long time, but the opportunity just never came up,” Mitchell told National Liquor News.
Now based in Margaret River WA, the couple have run businesses across Australia and the world in 11 other industries, some of which were decimated by the pandemic. When setting out to create Smilov Spirits, Mitchell said they wanted to do something different that spoke to their passions, personalities and lifestyle.
“We needed to do something locally, something that we want to do and that is passion driven, something tangible that we can run and control ourselves,” Mitchell said.
The couple spent about 18 months setting up everything they needed, meticulously sourcing all local premium ingredients and packaging, refining the liquid, designing all the labelling and building their brand and their story. All of this was aligned to the creation of Smilov vodka as a drink perfect for at-home consumption.
“We wanted to make something we believe in, and things like eating and drinking and that lifestyle of home consumption was very important to us. I’m Greek, my wife’s Indian, so we often have celebrations at home with family and friends. Our lifestyle is very complementary to the brand,” Mitchell said.
It seems to be something that consumers connect with too, especially after the pandemic where a lot more people are reevaluating what is most important and enjoying more occasions in the home. In just two weeks, Smilov Spirits had sold all of its launch stock, solely through the unconventional direct to customer e-commerce route.
Now that the brand is cementing its identity, Mitchell said they are looking to take Smilov Spirits down other routes that connect to such an identity, which includes independent liquor retailers.
“We’ve got quite a lot of traction, but we’re just very focused on small business… if you’re just about Australian products and quality products that are local, then we fit that branding,” he said.
While the brand’s second drop is selling online now and Mitchell and Mary have connected with some small retailers, bars and restaurants across the country already, they’re staying committed to keeping Smilov Spirits focused on independence, and bringing to life the brand that showcases who they are.
“What we didn’t want is the look of high end vodka in cocktails by some crystal clear blue water somewhere on a yacht, or at some big music event – that’s not what we are, we’re not targeting that audience. It’s about being around good food, maybe around the barbeque and being in the home environment,” Mitchell said.
“For the branding, most vodka bottles go for tall, very clear, very vodka looking bottle. We went the complete opposite, going for a black and gold label, almost like a rum bottle.
“I think people always look for the magic bullet about what’s going to be the most successful [thing to do], and for me it’s just to not quit. If you’ve got an idea, just keep going, no one else is going to bring it to life but yourself.”
Some of the highlights of this small brand’s success story includes not only selling out of launch stock so quickly, but also seeing everything work out to plan and not go over the goal $59.99 price per bottle.
Another highlight for Mitchell was: “having an article featured in Neos Kosmos, a Greek newspaper in Australia, translated into Greek. That was the first newspaper my pappoús [grandfather] read when he came to Australia, so having the photo of me, my yia-yia [grandmother] and my pappoús in the same newspaper he would read in the 60s and 70s was a real highlight. It’s part of my family and my heritage.”
Note from the editor: In the current pandemic situation, it’s important to celebrate the good stories of the industry and hero some positivity. If you have a story to share about your business, get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org