We all know Boston is a city like no other; a unique speck on the globe where biting sarcasm and true grit remarkably co-exist with genuine warmth and compassion; where the brightest minds mix with the boldest creators; and greatness is measured not only in higher ed degrees, but also in extensive knowledge of the Hub’s hidden watering holes.
But this extraordinary city is not just an amazing place to call home. It is a prime location to build a brand.
Case in point: Island Creek Oysters and Bully Boy Distillers, two homegrown businesses thriving here in the Hub. Island Creek Oysters was born only 35 miles from the city in Duxbury Bay, home of founder and owner Skip Bennett; and Bully Boy Distillers was hatched on a fourth-generation farm in Sherborn, Mass. where founders, owners and brothers Dave and Will Willis grew up.
Visionaries and artisans, both Bennett and the Willis brothers have energized Boston’s robust local food and drink scene and proved large-scale success does not have to be at the sake of quality. We sat down with Bennett of Island Creek and the Willis brothers of Bully Boy to learn the recipe for building a brand here in Boston.
It starts with a passion.
Both Bennett and Dave and Will Willis left corporate America to pursue what Bennett terms “his calling.”
“I actually wanted to move to New York City and work in the finance world,” Bennett said. “In the end, though, it was the draw to the Bay, to what I was really passionate about, that won out and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found my calling.”
As for the Willis brothers, after discovering their farm was once an underground speakeasy where their grandfather housed artisanal spirits, their “passion for distilling” trumped any corporate ambitions.
Thankfully for both, their passions aligned with a very real opportunity in the market. Island Creek was the first oyster farm in Duxbury, Mass., and there were no distilleries in the Boston area when the Willis brothers decided to make their idea a reality.
“It felt like the right time and place to fuse our love for distilling with a great business opportunity,” Dave Willis said.
The next ingredient? Family.
Bennett’s family instilled in him the core values of the Island Creek brand. Bennett’s father, a local part-time lobsterman, showed him the ways of the Bay and, eventually, joined the Island Creek team. But it was more than fishing that Bennett learned from his father; he taught him how to run a business.
“The real help that I got from my dad was an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Bennett. “To me, the greatest part of the brand that came directly from my dad was a real commitment to quality and service.”
Obviously for the Bully brothers, family is part of their brand’s DNA — something they believe speaks to consumers and drives the success of their product.
“Family is really important to a lot of people,” Dave Willis said. “People want to like the artisans making the product. The more they can identify with your values the better.”
Finally, add some Boston flavor.
Both Island Creek and Bully Boy are products of their environment, undeniably and unapologetically infused with the spirit of what it means to be a Bostonian. Local roots are not only part of, but essential, to their identity and success.
For Bennett, the brand Island Creek and its home on the Massachusetts seashore are one and the same.
“Oysters take on the characteristics of their environment,” Bennett said. “So obviously the brand, Island Creek, is about Duxbury.”
Will and Dave Willis see Boston’s “regional character” as inspiration for their brand:
Boston is lucky. It’s a city with a fairly complex personality. Not all cities can make that claim. Brooklyn is the edgy hipster; San Francisco is healthy and wholesome; Portland is crafty… Boston is sardonic. It’s your loyal friend from high school who was sort of a wiseass… It’s also an academic city with real innovative rigor. As a brand, you can harness any one of these personalities.
When it comes to local brands making it here in the Hub, Bennett summed it up perfectly: “Boston people are proud of everything they consider their own.” Hey, can we help it if we’re loyal?
For Bennett and the Willis brothers, Island Creek and Bully Boy are about more than a quality product. They are a love letter to our exceptional city. And that is the secret sauce in their recipe for brand success.
For more on the stories behind Island Creek Oysters and Bully Boy Distilleries, stay tuned to BostInno’s live coverage of the 2014 EDGE Conference “Branded in Boston” on Monday, January 13th.
To learn more, check out the 2014 EDGE Conference Branded in Boston event site, and for the latest updates, follow @theadclub and search #BrandedinBoston.