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Changing the Landscape for Women Who Drink Whiskey, with Claire Marin

Changing the Landscape for Women Who Drink Whiskey, with Claire Marin


Episode 86: Changing the Landscape for Women Who Drink Whiskey, with Claire Marin

How many people do you know give their loved ones the gift of beekeeping? CEO and Owner of Catskills Provisions, Claire Marin, is one of those people. Her passion for beekeeping and her study of how bees work influenced her to start Catskills Provisions, a community that includes locavore restaurants, hotels, and specialty stores. In this episode, Claire talks discusses her transition from Corporate America to CEO of a small business, the lessons she’s learned from bees and her campaign Women Who Drink Whiskey. To learn more about Catskill Provisions and get some tasty cocktail recipes, visit https://www.nyhoneyryewhiskey.com.


Episode Transcript

00:01 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your hosts, Christie Wallace and Maricella Herrera.

00:13 Christie Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host, Christie Wallace, here with my co-host, Maricella... Here with my co-host, Maricella Herrera.

00:24 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Christie. Sorry, I took a breath to say something and my mind went blank.

[laughter]

00:32 CW: We're feeling giddy and we're excited today because one of our favorite curly-haired friends, compatriots, is on the podcast, and she's so amazing and we know you're gonna love Claire, too. We talked a few podcasts ago about how many people probably don't know what we look like. Maricella has curly hair, I'm in denial about mine 'cause I straighten it, but I do also have very curly hair, and Claire has some pretty rocking hair.

01:00 MH: Yes, she does. Yeah, it's true. I hadn't thought about the fact that you also have curly hair 'cause...

01:07 CW: Once I had kids, this was one of my parenting hacks, was I just had to take control over my morning routine, and part of it was not having to shower every morning. I can shower at night, I can do it whenever, 'cause sometimes you just gotta sleep in or sometimes someone pees all over you in the middle of the night.

01:29 MH: I hope that morning you do shower.

[laughter]

01:32 CW: Well, a little rinse off. A little bit. [chuckle] I mean, come on, it's like that New York City subway smell. It's like you don't even know the difference. We're all good.

[laughter]

01:43 MH: Kind of just impregnated...

[laughter]

01:45 CW: Exactly.

01:49 MH: We promise we have not had any of the whiskey that we will be talking about in a little bit. At least not today.

[laughter]

01:53 CW: Claire, Claire. So if you are listening, run out and get a bottle of Catskill Provisions whiskey. It has become absolutely our favorite here at Ellevate Network, and not just ours, but we have it oftentimes at events, some really great cocktails. The women in the community love it, but what they love even more is that they're supporting a woman entrepreneur and woman business owner, particularly Claire, who is just really making strides in an industry that, for a long time, had been very male dominated, which is the spirits industry. And so I just have been trying to get Claire on the podcast for a long time now, and she has always said no, and I'm really happy we won her over because you're gonna love her story. I loved hearing it, and she's just a really fantastic person.

02:48 MH: It's so funny, I also... Everytime I saw her at events, 'cause she's a huge, huge supporter of Ellevate, I would always tell her that she needed to come on the podcast and she was like, "Well, I'm not sure my story's that interesting." I'm like, "It's insanely interesting!" And her whiskey's great, we have... If you are in New York City, we are actually doing a whiskey holiday pop-up market and a whiskey and cheese tasting, which is, of course, two of our favorite things, on December, 7th. You can find information on our website at ellevatenetwork.com. So Claire will be there, she will be talking about the whiskey and guiding us a little bit in some of these tastings. So we're very excited. I'm very excited about that.

03:33 CW: I'm excited. We hope to see you there, it'll be a great time. Do we have a poll this week?

03:39 MH: We absolutely have a poll this week because one of the things that we hear a lot in the podcast and we hear a lot from women in our community and just people we know is about their career paths and just how these are no longer straight lines and there's many opportunities to reinvent your career at different stages. So we asked our community, "How many times have you reinvented your career?"

04:12 CW: Okay. What's the answer?

04:15 MH: I feel like you're...

04:17 CW: I am thinking, I'm like... I just ran out of one hand, I'm on the other one. I'm like, "One, two, three." No.

[laughter]

04:23 MH: I can see the wheels turning.

04:24 CW: Yeah.

04:25 MH: So a quarter of our members said just "Many, many times", 22% said "Three times", which is a lot, and 17% said "Two". Only 6% said "Never".

04:42 CW: So career reinvention, the majority is doing it. I always think of it as you're not the same person today that you were when you were 20 or 10 or 15 or, I don't know, like, whatever that time period may be for you. We evolve and we change, and that's a really great thing because I think that evolution helps us to better understand who we are and how we can use that to better the world. So it's a really positive thing to reinvent yourself, it's kind of a fun opportunity that we have.

05:24 MH: I think... As you were saying, you're not the same person now that you were in your 20s or whatever, I sometimes feel I'm not the same person I was last month. So it might just be me because I'm going through these, like, weird phase, but I do feel like it's... Everything is moving so fast in the world today that it's just crazy how much you can change, and how much your thoughts and definition of both success and what you wanna do and of who you are can change, and how quickly it can.

05:57 CW: Absolutely.

05:58 MH: And one more thing, though, is I was thinking as I read these results is these women are very courageous 'cause taking a leap of faith to reinvent your career can... It's a leap of faith, so more power to you.

06:15 CW: Well, so do it and know that there a whole community of women here at Elevate Network that have got your back and are there to support you in that journey. So we're here for you.

06:28 MH: Look no further.

06:30 CW: Go for it.

[chuckle]

06:31 CW: Alright. Well, enjoy my conversation with Claire and we hope to hear from you on social media or at podcast@elevatenetwork.com.

[music]

06:52 CW: Claire, I'm so happy to have you on the Elevate Podcast. We've been trying to get you on the podcast since, it feels like, the beginning of time and we have now finally succeeded. So thanks for joining us today.

07:04 Claire Marin: Of course. My pleasure to be here. I'm equally excited.

07:08 CW: So Claire, for those of our listeners that are in New York City, you hopefully have met Claire at one of our events because she is the one who brings the whiskey, so usually the guest of honor and our favourite, favourite guest. Let's get started. So you have not always been making whiskey and tending to bees, there was many things before that. How did you get to this point today?

07:37 CM: So I started Catskill Provisions in 2010. So prior to that, I had been in publishing, in magazine ad sales, basically I ran sales teams at mostly women's magazines for 15 years prior to that. The last magazine that I worked at was Woman's Day brand group, which is the seventh biggest magazine in America. The biggest by far that I'd ever worked at, I was always at very niche magazines like Elle Decor, More. More was amazing; totally female-focused. But just either in decorating design, which is one of my passions, and then of course the women's movement was very, very important at that point as it always is. And as much as we feel that there's so much going on now, in that part of our lives there always has been. I think women have been part of movement always and I think that was part of my attraction to Elevate as well.

08:37 CW: So come 2010, what was that turning point?

08:42 CM: Yeah. So 2010 was a year of a lot of media convergence. In 2008 and '09, already social media had started creeping up and websites. And so of course, when I'm talking to my clients at that point, I was VP publisher, I was in just about every major meeting with Johnson & Johnson or PNG or Ford or every brand that's basically in our home and our garages and all that, and they were all asking us questions as to, "Where is this going? Where are my readers and my audience? How do I reach them? Can you reach them? How measurable are you?" So selling the page basically became much more of a challenge without having that ROI, that social media, and obviously the Internet and all that could give us. So we really had to work very, very hard to still get their advertising dollars, keep it where it was at that level. That challenge, at a high level where I was, was making it quite uncomfortable to be in meetings on a constant basis, trying to figure out, "What do we do with 20% less revenue today? What do we do with 32% less revenue? What do we... " So the challenges were coming to every company, though, 'cause we were being disrupted basically. And the pressure became so, so strenuous and difficult and really not rewarding at that point that I kept falling back to beekeeping 'cause beekeeping had been a hobby for over 10 years and it was my zen. It was the one thing that I could do that I didn't think of anything else.

10:34 CM: When I open up that hive, I was just in that world and it really allowed me to meditate through all the stress and the pressure that I was feeling, and I was in my happy place pretty much. So that was really the first thing that made it all happen.

10:50 CW: I have to ask. What was it that you were like, "Bees, let me do something with the bees."?

[laughter]

10:58 CW: 'Cause it's very important, we know the impact the bees have on our lives and pollination.

11:03 CM: Yes.

11:04 CW: And we also know, or at least I've been reading about some of the concerns around the bee population and the population dying out. It's incredibly important, but I don't know if that's always top of mind. And many people are like, "Let me get a cat," but you wanted some bees.

11:20 CM: Right, right. Absolutely. I totally agree, totally agree. So it was an interesting... I gave the gift of beekeeping to my partner, Kathy, who was a... Had gone to Cornell and was an ag major. So I thought, "What special thing am I gonna give her? I'm not giving her jewelery, that's just so passé and so... " Whatever. So I thought, "Something original, beekeeping. Let me give her the most wonderful beekeeping kit that I could find," and I gave it to her at Christmas and I put on a little bee outfit and I delivered it to her, and it was through that, really, that... When we got the bees and I got tons of books and I had been studying it a little bit to kind of guide her, and it turned out that I was completely taken by it; completely, completely taken by it. And I was so enamored with it, that's all I wanted to do. I wanted to go upstate, open the beehive, just be in it, observing and collecting the honey. The first collection of honey that I ever did, I still have photos of it, I look like I'm glowing. I look like I'm eight years old, all with honey all over, and it's just such a happy moment of just being cathartic in something natural and beautiful, and I admired how the bees really run their hives. So much that I thought, "If we run the world like it was our hive, we would be in a completely different place than we are now."

13:02 CW: What was it about how bees run hives that you admired?

13:05 CM: You know, it's super inspiring because they all work for the good of the hive. So the queen has a very, very specific function of laying eggs, so the health of the queen... She needs to eat well, she needs to rest, she needs to have no stress whatsoever, so she has some female bees that take care of her. And then there's a male part of... The drones are there to really mate with virgin queens in other hives only. So it's really very much... It's an Amazonian kind of society in there, you know? And so it's very efficiently run. Everyone multi-tasks, everyone can have four or five jobs and they do them well. [chuckle] I mean, it kinda makes sense so...

13:55 CW: Yeah. Women rule, I can understand that. Yeah, it makes sense.

14:00 CM: It's really sort of the way it goes. So when you look at it, it's just such an inspiring place to look for guidance in how to really sort of live in our world, in our own lives more collaboratively, with more support. And I actually, back when I was at the magazines, I used to do sales meetings, of course we would do a couple of times a year, we would do all sales meetings. And, of course, they had to be inspirational and offer a lot of guidance and make people feel good, and so I used a lot of similarities or guidance from the bees, really, in teamwork and efficiencies and things like that. One of the most interesting parts of the beehive is that the drones are there, the male bees are there to mate on their first flight usually. They fly out looking for queens that are virgins. I mean, really, it's just funny. And so...

15:03 CW: Don't virgin queens have their own hives or their own drones?

15:07 CM: Yeah, but they have to mate... But they can't mate with a drone from the same hive because they could be related. So they figured that out, they're like, "No, no, no. We gotta find other girls." So after the summer, after they do all their searching for the ladies, they are really of no use to the hive itself. They can't feed themselves, they can't clean themselves. They're bigger than the females bees, so they make a mess. So it's tight in the hive, and now there's no use for them, and now the female bees are just gonna have to feed them all winter, so they kick them out at the end of summer.

[laughter]

15:52 CM: Kick them out and they are helpless and they just die, which is so sad in a way, but they just kick out the men because they're like, "We're done with you," and then they make new ones for the spring. Is that insane?

16:04 CW: So now it's a... You know the Bee Movie?

16:08 CM: Yeah.

16:09 CW: Right? And it's like the funny thing about the Bee Movie is they're like, "We only have like 48 hours," like, just a few days. They really talk about...

16:15 CM: Yes, 28 days.

16:17 CW: How... And short-lived it is.

16:18 CM: And a bee only lives 28 days. So everything they do is vital and it better be right and it better be perfect. Interesting that they are a almost all-female society.

16:32 CW: We have a lot to learn from the bees.

16:34 CM: Oh, so much.

[chuckle]

16:36 CW: So why don't you tell us a little bit about Catskill Provisions?

16:40 CM: Sure. Well, it's one of my favorite topics, I'd say.

16:42 CW: Mine too.

16:43 CM: Yeah? [chuckle] So I started Catskill Provisions really because I wanted to bring attention to the Catskills. Nobody knows the Catskills, or back then anyway. It was maybe... The idea really was born in 2008, 2009, so almost 10 years. And if you think about the food movement that's happened since then, it didn't... It's been explosive, really. It's been at least six, seven solid years of growth. And every magazine, every source of media has covered this, right? From Brooklyn, even; from... So I looked at the Catskills then and I started really falling in love with it, and it's beautiful, it's been a source of lakes and a lot of our water in cities in certainly New York, but even some in Pennsylvania as well, getting some of our water as well. So it's a very important part of the state, for sure. And wonderful products are made there, indigenous, like the maple syrup that very few New Yorkers even know that there's wonderful maple syrup right here.

17:52 CM: When I started the company, the maple syrup from New York state was being sold to Vermont as Vermont. It's like Italian olives that are really from Spain sometimes, that sort of thing, because the marketplace really wanted Vermont maple syrup. So, I am seeing this stuff and I am going "Wow," and then the honey that we are producing just from my hives. I got up to 72 hives by myself. So I really was very connected with the honey that we were harvesting, and I would give them to friends, jars to friends, and they would be like "Wow! You have to do something with this. You really have to do something." I decided to start Catskill Provisions, April, 2010 with one type of honey and then eventually we harvested twice a year. There was great need, I thought, for foods that kids could eat, that moms could eat as well, moms and dads.

18:50 CM: Like could make pancakes, for example, and have it be really healthy and the kids would love it. So the maple syrup and then the pancake mix came from a wheat that is grown in Ithaca, stone ground, organic. Three ingredients only makes the most amazing pancakes. So that started like the wheels turning, ketchup without corn syrup, fillers, preservatives, tons of salt, things like that. So, I made a line of foods that have been doing really well, and then during that whole time, the whole farm distillery movement was going on and that caught my ear, 'cause I also wanted to bring more jobs, and again more attention to that upstate area that was pretty depressed. Rye grows beautifully in New York State. We infuse it with a little bit of my honey, so it just balances that sting. Our new motto now is "All buzz, no sting," so that you really don't have that burning and that sensation, so it's really appealing to a lot of people and that's doing really, really well as well. So It's really an artisanal food and craft spirits company.

20:01 CW: Were you big into cooking before you started the company?

20:06 CM: I was, I always was, yes. I was born in Spain and food is just innately part of your everyday thinking. My mom is from Spain, my father's French. Every meal was cooked at home and always with the best ingredients you could get. We'd go to the market often, it wasn't like we shopped once a week. So it was always that connection with food, it was really, really important. So I am always looking for that wherever I go for sure.

20:36 CW: I mean, it's amazing just what you are doing and back seven years ago, eight years ago, did you ever think that this is the place where you would be?

20:45 CM: God, absolutely not, I really... It's an incredible thing. I was very, very fortunate to be able to have all those elements line up. They really lined up, it wasn't like I thought on "Let me start this business because it's the wave or it's the up-and-coming thing." It's really something that was very genuinely part of who I am still, I was going to say who I was, but it's really so much of who I am still. I feel very connected to it. I think that's the biggest hurdle, because unhappiness at work I think we all have felt, we will all feel some days again, and you have to kind of breathe through it and see really what is it that I really can do without hurting another part of my life somehow. But if you do have to feel that you do have to leave or leap or... You really have to make sure that inside you have the strength, the courage, you need a lot of courage to do it.

22:02 CM: It was not easy by any means. I felt very empty and alone, and without the symbolism of my title, my card, what I wore everyday, how I arrived at an appointment, how many people were around, all those things that build who you think you are, you strip those things away and suddenly you have to rebuild. You really have to rebuild and you have to decide what's really important to you again. It's definitely peeling the onion as they say, but it's like you really are getting to a very, very real version of who you are without all those symbols that keep you. I used to buy $3,500 bags like it was... Like nothing and honestly now it's one of the funniest things, it's like you know those huskies that you... It's like a little cart that you pull and it's like construction workers have those? They're red and black, you will see them. They put their tools 'cause you could put like... An elephant could sit on it. So of course, for honey it was very, very sturdy and I would make my own deliveries, because this is how I got really close to chefs. I would make all the deliveries. So, I used to say like "I used to buy Gucci, now I buy Husky" 'cause it is like this thing that is $59 at Home Depot and I would have it for two years where the Gucci would go out of style in a year.

23:38 CW: And it forces you to come to terms with what matters to you and what's important.

23:44 CM: Oh my God, completely, and I'm so ecstatic that I went through that exercise, because it's...

23:49 CW: And probably have some more money too.

23:51 CM: Oh my God, completely, really, and I think, "Well, you realize the value of things." A lot of the world that we've built is so... We're just full of these, I don't know, goals that were really not set by ourselves, what we really need and I think I'm very fortunate again to have been able to do all that and then felt like I can really just cut back and really be who I wanna be today.

24:24 CW: You've recently launched a new ad campaign, where you're really looking to portray strong women, but women that drink whiskey. And we're seeing a shift in consumer behavior, where I think for a while wine was really big but now more and more consumers are starting to explore spirits and do more with that. How has your previous experience working in that industry helped you get it right?

24:55 CM: Yeah, it's a great question because one of the things that I always wanna do is possibly inspire. From hearing a conversation or having a conversation you could get such inspiration from each other, and I think nothing that you ever do is a waste. The experience that I had in advertising and marketing and all that, "Oh my God, I'm so putting it to work here," immediately; just the messaging, the look, the packaging. Of course, flavor is extremely important and taste and all that, but it's so, so important to be able to have some roots in it because I do see some people that have great products that I wish I could just be like, "Look, if you just do a little of this." It's extremely important to be able to tap into other things. For me, I think the messaging now, and it wasn't an easy decision to make, to say, "This is for strong women." For women that... And by strong women, we mean that is really pretty much every woman, but it's really a woman that is confident, that is not shy to say, "I like that and I might like something that my husband likes just as much. Or maybe I'll bring it to my husband and introduce him to it."

26:26 CM: So, a woman that's fearless, that is very sure of herself and that understands that her choices matter, her choices are perfect in what they are. They don't need to be managed by anyone else. So I think that's the women that I see flocking to... I do tons of events to really get at the consumer, the women that flock to me are all like that and they all looked different. They're all from different backgrounds, they're all different ages. So, it's something more inside than the external stuff that you could see. It's their reactions are similar and I go, "Oh, there's one of our women." Despite the way they talk to you, you just know that she's gonna get it.

27:14 CW: I love going to a restaurant and seeing a cocktail on the menu with your whiskey. Actually, it makes me giddy, but as you said it's competitive market. We've had many new distilleries coming up, everyone wants to be in the restaurants and particularly some of the more popular ones in New York. How did you make that happen?

27:41 CM: Well, it's very difficult to do because your distributor, supposedly you think, is going to magically open all these doors for you and you need a distributor to distribute alcohol, obviously, that has a licensing and they know everyone. They literally know every buyer in New York and there's maybe 15,000 restaurants in New York? I know it's 10,000 a few years ago. It's gotta be 15 now, an enormous amount of doors that you could knock on. You decide on a distributor and that's hard enough, but then you also have to stand out to them because they have so many other brands that have a lot more money than you to be able to buy promotions and marketing and things like that. You usually pretty much do it on your own and you possibly get a brand ambassador, or an agency or someone like that, that could actually give you some feet on the ground, but a lot of it is really your own connections and friends and I have people like they're at a hotel or something and they're, "Oh, I told this guy about you." I get a lot of that because people... I have my own little army of friends that just go, "My God, you gotta get the whiskey in here, it's amazing." So it's interesting.

28:58 CW: That's what I've seen personally into other stories, it's one of the biggest factors in starting a business, and launching a business, and running a business is that network and the people that are supporting you and talking about you. And even if you're in corporate America, it's called sponsors. People... What is said about you when you're not in the room, who's advocating for you? And as a business owner, you need the same thing, you need people that are really championing your brand when you're not there.

29:29 CM: Totally, without that you just don't have it, you really don't and that's why every customer, every person that you come in contact with is so important, to be able to for you guys every member. 'Cause you just exponentially obviously grow.

29:47 CW: So what's next for you?

29:50 CM: Well, I have a couple of other possible whiskey, maybe gin in mind, but I don't know because this one is doing so well that I really wanna get behind it. I feel like it's my baby and it's really special and unique. I actually have my sights on California as the next frontier for it and then after that, Florida. So 2018 is gonna be really strong in the whiskey arena for sure. We just redesigned and it looks hot, people really are liking it a lot. We just redesigned our website nyhoneywhiskey.com that everybody should check out 'cause it looks good, and then the food site, Catskill Provisions, is gonna get the same treatment very soon, within a couple of weeks it will be out but it's good looking too.

30:49 CW: So nyhoneywhiskey.com and Catskill Provisions. Check it out. And Claire, thank you so much for joining us on the Ellevate podcast.

[music]


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