Inertia of family-owned businesses: the Belgian distillery Filliers

geneverToday I will talk about family-owned businesses and challenges they face in turning their products or services into funky brands.


Think of this kind of company structure: a mother or father is a CEO, and all the top management consists of offspring, cousins, aunts, uncles and other “extended family” members. Occasionally, they let outsiders in, and allow them to manage their businesses, but this doesn’t happen too often.


Many family-owned companies never succeed in achieving critical mass, lose touch with modern trends, fail to reinvent themselves and keep afloat the ever-changing customer demands. Sometimes, family-owned business produce high-quality products, but fail to exploit its potential to the maximum simply because they lack the necessary skills within the family team.


Here is an example of a brand you might or might not have heard about. Filliers, a distillery near Ghent (Belgium), produces genever, an fillierslogoalcoholic beverage made by distilling maltwine and adding some herbs, such as juniper berry. Think gin, but with some added zest.

Funky gin.


Filliers has a big potential to become a great and innovative brand, but seems to be somewhat trapped in its century-long traditional thinking.

I had a chance to visit Filliers as part of a local business networking group whose members went to the distillery mostly out of recreational purposes. My own interest was mostly triggered by a bottle of sweet currant Filliers brew sitting in my fridge. A nice flavor, 20% alcohol volume content, and quite an unattractive bottle made me think that perhaps Filliers could have some potential on the alcoholic beverage market, if re-branded, re-bottled, and modernized.

fillierscurrantgenever


First, we were shown a promotional video about the company. The two things were repeated again and again: technological advances allowing to distill Filliers beverages in the best way possible, and traditional values of the family business, which dates back to 1880.


At the end, there was a demonstration of the current range of products. Unfortunately, nothing was mentioned about Filliers's customers.


Craftsmanship and tradition are certainly important in the business of producing genever – no wonder that genever produced by Filliers is quite good. But who buys these products because of their traditional manufacturing techniques?


The old-fashioned look and feel of Filliers bottles probably does have some appeal to Baby Boomers. I am not sure though that many of the sweet and creamy flavors (passion fruit, for instance) would attract a 60-something guy in a local pub.

Confusing.


And it's a pity – the spirits markets in Europe (including Eastern Europe) as well as the US are thirsty for some innovative brands.


An example of how a traditional beverage can stand out and be different is the new brand launched by Paris Hilton: PARIS HILTON RICH PROSECCO. Who would ever think of packaging bubbly into cans?

proseccocan

parishiltonproseccoad

Simply superb, Paris, great product (I've tasted it) and great ads! Read more about Prosecco Rich here.

Filliers should open up its family business to a creative team of “outsiders” with some solid business background and intuition for marketing. Given the overall good quality of the Filliers liquors, I can imagine a zillion ways of identifying new markets, creating a totally different product range and packaging. There is definitely a lucrative niche in the market to make it possible. I have a lot of ideas about how Filliers could reinvent itself, so if it (or a friendly LBO firm) is listening, get in touch!