September 11 2018

Success Story: BGS Helps Albany Distilling Pour More Spirits and Reach New Markets

A fermenting tank at Albany Distilling downtown Albany manufacturing facility. 

Founded in 2011, Albany Distilling Company was its namesake city’s first licensed distillery since the start of Prohibition. The distiller’s first product was a bourbon-mash whisky, which was followed by a variety of spirits, including rums and vodkas. Focused primarily on the upstate New York market, the beverage manufacturer routinely saw its revenues double annually. However, when Albany Distilling in 2016 partnered with Death Wish Coffee in neighboring Saratoga County to make Death Wish Vodka, the distiller had its first blockbuster product and was poised for even more robust growth.

To prepare the company for that growth, co-owners Rick Sicari and John Curtin partnered with the Center for Economic Growth’s Business Growth Solutions (BGS) unit for a series of business strategy and growth training programs. They included Sandler Leadership Training and Sandler Customized Reinforcement Selling, ExporTech and Lean Accounting. In addition to helping Albany Distilling secure a $12,267 National Grid grant for that training, BGS helped it obtain a $4,740 Workforce Development Institute for a new fermenting tank. BGS is a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center.

The training regimen began in summer 2017 with a Lean Accounting course facilitated by Jerry Solomon, a pioneer in the field. As someone preparing to significantly ramp up his company’s production and managerial operations, Sicari said the pull mentality behind the Kanban systems taught in the class were invaluable. He said, “The mentality preserved our sanity in the distillery; the supply chain both up and downstream has a much better flow now. Further, establishing a true hierarchy for future growth will without a doubt pay for itself for years to come.”

A NIST survey found the Lean Accounting program had the following impacts at Albany Distilling:

  • 3 jobs created
  • 3 jobs retained
  • $500,000 invested in new products or processes
  • $50,000 invested in new plant or equipment
  • $15,000 invested in workforce practices or employee skills

After that, Curtin and Sicari participated in ExporTech training facilitated by Mike Stone. With the local international trade experts Jerry Shaye and Bobby Syed as well as Cathy Gibbons serving as their coaches, Albany Distilling’s co-owners identified growth opportunities and developed a plan for expanding into foreign markets. For 13 years, Shaye served as Empire State Development’s director of International Trade Development, and he also teaches international business and international marketing at several Capital Region MBA programs. Syed is the president of iSimulate in Albany and the former chief marketing and sales officer for BullEx Digital Safety. Gibbons is a senior international trade specialist with the U.S. Commercial Service.

Starting in October 2017, Albany Distilling’s sales manager and general manager began Sandler Leadership training provided by Winning Process LLC, doing business as Sandler Training of Albany. With wholesale revenues up for the year as of last August by 30 percent, Sicari said he has noticed the positive impacts of the program not only on his company but also in how his employees interact with each other and strategize their pitches to buyers.

“We’ve seen a huge benefit from the Sandler program…It’s borderline comical how much our staff has fallen into the Sandler idea and how they operate,” Sicari said.

He continued, “Adding the retail component to our business was stretching us thin. The team we had going into this project was filled with hard-working, dedicated employees that dug their heels in and get the job done. Operating in this way for an extended period, however, is not practical; we needed to work smarter, not harder. Sandler has changed how we work and how we think; we have moved toward structure and hierarchy. Clearly delegating tasks, managing time, and sticking to deadlines have all become integral to how we now operate. Customer Relationship Management tools have been put in place. The hard-working employees we took with us into this project are now managing their own divisions as opposed to slogging through the day-to-day tasks. My managing team meets once a week to decide a plan of action, and our new employees work with them to accomplish the tasks at hand. I cannot express what a transformation we have seen. We have certainly retained the jobs of my managers – by providing them with structure, we have kept their sanity. Overall, CEG BGS and the Sandler program in particular has helped create, or will create, six to eight jobs in the immediate future. As our company continues to grow, it is sure to create many more.”

From September 2017 to December 2017, those two employees and both co-owners also participated in the Sandler Customized training, which covered private coaching/consultation in sales structure, sell process, compensation model, hiring practices and general management processes.

Capping off these expansion preparation initiatives was the April 2018 opening of Albany Distilling’s tasting room and retail shop in a former Nabisco factory on Livingston Avenue in downtown Albany. The company invested more than $1 million for to acquire the property, fit it up with fixtures and production elements. With the opening of the ADCo Bar and Bottle Shop, year-to-date total revenues (retail and wholesale) were up 100 percent. The company has gone from having four workers when it started working with BGS in early 2017 to 14 full-time and six part-time employees as of last August.

To learn how CEG BGS could help your company, contact CEG BGS Director Michael Lobsinger at or call 518-465-8975 X238.

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