More Tequila Tales

The caller was annoyed and had a threatening tone in his voice. He got right to the point and informed me that he was a business manager for Jimmy Buffett. He quickly added that we had infringed on trademark and other intellectual property rights – I can’t recall the full extent of our alleged/supposed violations but I was intrigued.

When I politely asked, “What the hell are you talking about?” he explained that Parrot Bay Rum by Captain Morgan, which had recently been introduced, infringed on their established use of the term Parrott Head, the commonly used nickname for fans of Jimmy Buffett. (I remember thinking, “Is he nuts?” How do you trademark the term parrot?)

I knew who Buffett was and associated him with the song Margaritaville, but I was far from a fan, much less an aficionado. I knew he had a strong and loyal following but that was about it.

Instinct told me this gentleman had more on his mind than a lawsuit so I pushed back.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I countered. “Two floors below there are offices chocked full of lawyers who spend their time dealing with real and frivolous issues, so I suggest you take your best shot and do what you need to do.” There was silence but I could hear him blink. “Now, do you want to tell me why you’re really calling?”

He went on to explain that they’d like to have private label tequila for their restaurants and, since we didn’t have a viable brand (that hurt), would we be interested in producing one for them.

“Listen… private label tequila is not a good idea … you’ll make a nickel and we’ll make a dime. It won’t be anything more than a well brand… Tell you what … let’s talk about licensing Jimmy Buffett’s name for a tequila.”

The glee in his voice told me that I had just been played but, no matter, we needed a tequila brand and this might just be the ticket.

He informed me that they would prefer to use the name Margaritaville but the look and feel would be totally Buffett.

It didn’t take long to consider, particularly since a friend and wholesaler, one of the best and smartest in the business, recommended him to us. The deal was done, so far as I was concerned. Getting approval from management (not the owners this time) was another matter. It took a while.

Buffett’s man lived up to his end of the deal – wouldn’t you if you got a hefty royalty off the top? As for me, I became whatever the word is that goes beyond an admirer of Buffett, his music (made my kids so crazy by playing it constantly that they refused to ride in the car with me), his business and, of course, going to his concerts.

The biggest issue in the development was to capture the essence of the Jimmy Buffett brand. The next thing I know, the man himself appears at the office and lets us know that he is there to help with the back label copy. In twenty minutes, he produced the most incredible story that was totally Buffett. He is an amazing guy, top of the game performer, highly recognized and accomplished author and a decent, down to earth person.

In the few years that Seagram had it before the lights went out, the brand went from 5,000 to 50,000 cases. Afterward, it continued to grow but was bounced from company to company without, in my opinion, any significant focus or direction.

There is a happy ending however. Margaritaville is now part of the Sazarac Company and in good hands. In addition to the original tequila brands, they have rum and prepared cocktails including a skinny margarita mix.

Reminds me of his song, Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitudenothing remains quite the same.

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It Ain’t Always Carnaval

When the music stopped during the never-ending corporate version of musical chairs, he found himself with the glorious (or was it to be inglorious?) title of Executive Vice President Marketing and Strategy, Americas. A mouthful. Sounds better than it was.

From Canada to Chile, as he liked to say, he learned about the international side of the business, cultural differences, people and working style differences. In fact, Canada was a dream. Despite the business and profitability constraints, the Canadian operation was top of the game.

South America was another matter.

The Americas was run by a South American ex-pat who was smart and hard working but a micro manager with an occasional reluctance to pull the trigger. In other words, tough to work for.

But, all in all, the experience was terrific. Where else but in Latin America are the following expressions a life principle?

It’s better to apologize than ask permission.

A red traffic light is merely a suggestion.

All things are possible (said while rubbing the thumb, index and middle fingers).

But then, and even more so now, security while traveling was an important issue. On one of the first trips, for example, he was met by a driver/security person just outside of immigration who chastised him for putting his passport into the breast pocket of his jacket. He was informed that he wouldn’t get out of the building without having his pocket picked.

Big deal he thought. A friend had his wallet picked on the streets of Paris.

He heard about a French colleague mugged during daylight in Sao Paulo. Another had his computer ripped out of his hands in Mexico City. Most of his South American associates lived in gated communities but, unlike the US, the gatekeepers had machine guns.

So what, he thought, I grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NYC and the world is a tough place. “Don’t rain on my ‘salad days,’”[1] was his motto.

Then one fine day he got a wake up call.

The Swedish partners decided to concentrate on expanding the business in Latin America and wanted to have a conference to discuss brand development issues in the continent.  The marketing folks wanted the meeting to be held in Bogota, Columbia. He wasn’t pleased but, whatever… never been there, how bad could it be?

To go there he needed a visa and had to go through Corporate to get things arranged. That’s where the story begins…

He comes into his office one day and Mary, his assistant, says, “You can’t go to Bogota because Leo won’t let you go.”

The scene shifts to Leo McGillicudy – the nicest and most decent person he had ever met at the company. Head of security and a former former FBI agent, Leo was a friend and someone he respected and admired.

“What the hell?” he said to Mary. “I’ll call him,” knowing full well if Leo said no, it was no.

He: “’Hi Leo. How’s the family?” (Pause) “Great…listen Leo, what’s this about my not being able to go to Bogota?”

Leo: “Are you nuts? Do you read the papers? It isn’t safe and I can’t let you go.”

He: “ Come on, it’s my job, how bad can it be?”

Leo: “Are you listening? The last thing I need at this point in my life is to go to Bogota and save your sorry ass.”

He: “What am I am suppose to tell my boss…”

Leo: “Whatever you want. You aren’t going.”

He: “But he’s from Latin America and I’m new on his staff…what’s he going to think when I tell him I’m not going?”

Leo: “I don’t give a s**t. Tell him I said he can’t go either.”

The meeting was held in Aruba.

[1] Refers to a person’s heyday when somebody was at the peak of his/her abilities

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International Assignment

He was very excited about the new job. Head of marketing for Asia Pacific and Global Duty Free. The wild west of the spirits business and destined to grow in importance.

He would soon find out that it wasn’t all that great a position for lots of reasons, not least of which was spending 2-3 weeks a month away from home. But the first reaction was total excitement.

First order of business – take the physical and get some shots.

So, off he goes to the medical office, a visit to Dr. Goldfinger and Nurse Crotchet. The Doc is pleasant enough (albeit enjoying the exam a bit too much) and he passes with flying colors.

Nurse Crotched is another story. Very competent, very capable but dour… we’re talking beyond focused — a combination of resolute and sour. On top of it, think of the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live. But, she was well intentioned.

“Okay,” she says to him, “You need shots before you can go to Asia.”

“What kind of shots?” he asks. He’s not afraid of needles but what the hell?

“Well, tetanus, malaria, a series of hepatitis, cholera, all sorts of disease preventatives.”

“Is this really necessary?” he asks.

“Yes, you never can tell what you’ll encounter…where you will be…what you’ll be eating.” Then with a little glee in her voice, “Besides, it’s company policy.”

Some time later, she finishes and he gets off the table and ready to leave.

“Just one more thing,” she says. “Here’s a Dopp Kit[*]. It contains items you may need while traveling.”

He looks inside and sees a bizarre assortment of stuff – a pack of analgesics, Band-Aids, iodine, Alka Seltzer and assorted travel related items. Things he already travels with.

But there at the bottom of the kit, is a condom. He can’t resist mentioning it.

He takes it out of the kit and holds it up. “What’s this for,” he asks.

The nurse turns crimson and says angrily, “You know full well what it’s for.”

“Yes,” he answers, “But why only one?”

She storms off. Good thing he got the shots first.

[*]First produced by Charles Doppelt, a leather goods designer who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the early 1900s. In World War II the U.S. Army issued them to recruits by the millions. Who says this blog is not educational?

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