Boozeberries is LinkedIn to sales
Any business that doubts the value of social networking should consider the example of Co Down liqueur business Boozeberries.
Introductions through LinkedIn have opened up a potentially lucrative market in Turkey and look set to create a major opening in the US.
"In our original business plan we did not expect to be going after the export market so much or so early," explains Barbara Hughes, marketing director of Boozeberries.
She co-founded the company with husband John.
But recognising the limitations in the home market at a time of recession, exporting is an exciting means of achieving substantial growth in a business that is a mere 18 months old.
"We sent out our first shipment to Turkey in July and now we are working towards February for the American market," explained Barbara.
At first glance, an Islamic country such as Turkey is an unlikely export opportunity for a premium alcoholic drinks producer, but Boozeberries put aside their doubts after researching the market.
"We were a bit dubious at the start: we did not understand the market," admitted Barbara. "When we were doing the research, there was a 65% tax on alcohol - and since then there has been another 25% tax on alcohol.
"I think that's the highest tax on alcohol in the world."
But the research also revealed how promising the opportunities are.
"Istanbul was European City of Culture last year," said Barbara, explaining that the city is anything but dour. Istanbul has the highest number of young professionals of any city in the world."
As the gateway between Europe and Asian, Istanbul is a natural trading centre - which has been largely immune to the global financial crisis.
"So much business goes on there," explained Barbara.
As such, it was a natural market for a premium product that sells at premium prices.
However, opportunities come at a price. A challenging process of obtaining product and import licensing had to be undertaken before the first consignment could be despatched.
It is a similar grind to obtain approval to export to the US - its Food and Drink Administration is currently processing the export application.
The hope is that this could lead to major success there, with backing from one of music's most iconic figures - legendary blues guitarist BB King - already assured.
Again the breakthrough was via LinkedIn, by way of an introduction to someone whose business is product placements and arranging celebrity introductions.
BB King has now provided an endorsement for Boozeberries, which - FDA approval permitting - will lead to the drink being sold in blues and jazz clubs across the United States.
"The doors that this will open up for us are fantastic," enthused Barbara.
"We were out in America in April, attending the WSWA - the biggest event [in the drinks industry] for importers and exporters and we had fantastic support."
Discussions are also taking place with a distributor in Stockholm to gain entry to the Swedish market.
"He is getting a good response from bar tenders there: the feedback we have had is fantastic," insists Barbara.
"We are hoping that next year will be successful for us," she adds.
A superb website - www.boozeberries.com - must surely help, but Barbara is clear that social networking has been fundamental to the very exciting growth prospects the business is now facing.
"A lot of our success has come from social networking," explains Barbara.
The lesson, though, is that it is not enough merely to have a web presence.
It also needs to be exploited.
It has been the introductions through LinkedIn that have made the difference to Boozeberries.