Interview with Erica Swenson-Ingebrigtsen, Director of Sales and Marketing, Stockholm Imports, Inc.
Who started the company and where?
My father, Chet Swenson, a California entrepreneur with family ties to Sweden, formed Stockholm Imports, Inc. In the late 1990’s he learned the government of Sweden opened up the licensing of vodka to other manufacturers, erasing a century-old government monopoly on vodka held by the manufacturer Absolut™.
Chet seized the opportunity to launch one of the first-ever privately owned Swedish vodka brand in the U.S. and formed Stockholm Imports, Inc. to manufacture and import a Swedish Vodka using an age-old family recipe under the brand name STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA.
What was the background of the founders?
Our founders include individuals with significant experience in the strategic marketing, supermarket, and spirits industries. Stockholm Imports, Inc. was co-founded by my father Chet Swenson, Myself (Erica Swenson-Ingebrigtsen), Dave Kuri, Tom Cantella and Mike Garofolo.
Chet Swenson, Chairman, has more than 30 years of marketing and brand-building experience. His career path started at Disney and his boutique marketing firm, Marketing & Financial Management (M&FM), launched many brands, including Reebok, K2 Skis, and the Saturn Car Company.
I am the Director of Sales and Marketing, and have been involved with the company from its inception. I received an MBA from Pepperdine University in California and manage the distributor relationships and create marketing programs in California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada.
Dave Kuri, President, spent 40 years in the grocery supermarket industry with Ralph’s Grocery Co. prior to joining Stockholm Imports, Inc. He was the #2 person at Ralph’s Grocery Stores; in charge of all merchandising and operations in its 400 stores. With great sadness he passed away in 2009 and he will be forever missed, not only as a founding father of the company, but as a remarkable human being.
Tom Cantella, Chief of Operations, brings extensive liquor industry experience as a former bottler and creator of liquor brands, such as the LIQUEUR DI GAETANO line.
Mike Garofolo, Chief Financial Officer, spent twenty-three years as part of the management team of Marketing & Financial Management (M&FM), a leading firm in the development of lifestyle marketing programs.
Why did you start it? What was the driving force?
In 1998, the Swedish government relaxed its monopoly on the country’s vodka production for the first time, allowing private businesses to enter the marketplace. The government had previously restricted the country’s production solely to Absolut Vodka, which was government-owned. The relaxed law presented a great new opportunity for marketers who understood the unique power of Sweden and Swedish products as brands. As a country, Sweden has a wonderful reputation for quality and innovative products, conjures up good feelings and imagery, and reflects a positive nature and mystique.
Our goal was to create a brand that offered a Swedish import appeal with exceptional value. STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA is positioned at the high end of the market in terms of quality, but is priced to compete with vodkas sold in the class beneath it, offering quality at an exceptional price. My father and I joined forces to promote our family history in Sweden and push the company into existence. Time and effort spent on sourcing the product was rewarded when they resurrected a 110 year-old Swedish family recipe that Saturnus AB contemporized.
As a result, the STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA brand was born, and its unique “center cut” distillation process set it apart from the competition. To confirm the product’s potential, the management team performed numerous taste tests throughout Southern California before investing in and committing to the production of the new vodka. During these taste tests, STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA ranked higher than many well known higher-priced vodkas in the marketplace did.
What were your biggest challenges?
As a family-owned company and a single item portfolio, we were (and still are) challenged to create compelling programs, and marketing tactics to not just maintain the attention of the consumer, but of our distribution network as well. Due to mergers of suppliers and shrinking number of distributors, very few options are available for those seeking to launch a new brand – big brand names take precedence with distributors. So with that said, we are constantly challenged to create compelling sales programs that will motivate the sales force.
What is your long-term goals with the business?
As a company, we envision STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA as a lifestyle brand that the customer readily and joyfully integrates into her life. The Company follows cultural and societal trends to grow with the customer and offer her unique ways to enjoy a very satisfying cocktail.
We aim for STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA to be discovered, and be known at the best imported vodka from Sweden. The quality of the award-winning product speaks for itself and is simply presented as such. The pure authenticity of our product complements those who look to call a brand their own.
We promote our brand’s strong family narrative, highlighting its correlation with our target clientele’s values, way of life, and quality aspirations. We envision our emerging brand of today becoming a premium branded spirit success story of tomorrow. And, as the company grows, we look forward to creating more jobs and perpetuating the spirit of the entrepreneur.
What is the Swedish connection?
My Great Grandfather came from Malmo, Sweden. Over the years we have had maintained ties to our family and friends in Sweden. In fact, it was on a family trip to Sweden that a former employee of my father’s, made us aware of the deregulation of the vodka industry in Sweden.
Do you operate the business in a Swedish way?
Yes, in the sense that we are not so formal or hierarchal. As a flat organization, we all roll up our sleeves to get the job done. This lends itself to a more casual working environment. Of course, there is a chain of command, but it is not so often put into practice. Rather, we engage in a consensus process, in which everyone participates in the process and therefore more motivated to do a better job as they have a sense of ownership.
What is your favorite story from the business?
STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA sponsored a charity event that benefited the Mentor Association at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. This fundraiser was hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Queen of Sweden. It was an unforgettable evening, especially to be in the presence of the Queen, and to see her Royal Highness take a sip of STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA was truly a moment that will be treasured forever.
Anything else we should know about you?
As Stockholm Imports is a family-owned and operated company, it takes pride in honoring inspirational people that are on the brink of success in their industries and pays a special tribute to them. Many other brands are quick to honor the celebrity. Stockholm inversely believes in and supports up-and-coming fashion designers, artists, musicians, independent filmmakers, and, even more so, those who seek to make a difference in their local community.
Stockholm is also a cause-related purchase, and strives to be as original and progressive as the industries and causes it supports. Stockholm supports the following charities: Breast Cancer Research, Prostate Cancer Research Institute (of which, my father is the President), Cure Autism Foundation, Children Affected by Aids Foundation, Concern Foundation (Cancer Research), Trevor Project (Teen HIV Suicide Hotline), Alfred Mann Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay, Mentor Association, and PRIDE Houston.
How can our members get your product?
We are proudly sold at Spec’s Liquor Stores in Texas. You can shop for STOCKHOLM KRYSTAL™ VODKA in-store or online at www.specsonline.com. Not only is Spec’s a fellow family owned and operated company, but they are also a family with Swedish roots. The owner, John Rydman, is of Swedish decent and carries many Swedish products. In fact, a Stockholm Krystal Vodka “How Swede it is!” gift basket is available at Spec’s. This is a perfect gift for the upcoming holiday season. The basket features Stockholm Krystal Vodka, along with other Swedish delights, such as candy, crackers, mustard, jams, caviar… and much more. To order gift basket please call: 713-526-8787 and ask for the Individual Order Department. For more information on our product, please visit www.stockholmkrystalvodka.com.
Henrik Johansson, SACC-Texas