The rebrand of QBF (7 minute read)

This week I’ll be launching the rebrand of Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur. Many friends in the industry know it’s coming, and in fact the new bottles are already rolling into stores and bars. I am excited and proud to reveal it later this week, and in the mean time I thought I’d share some snippets of the journey thus far.

Rebranding as it turns out is harder than starting fresh, but I believe it has been the logical next step. I have spent the last five years talking with my customers directly at markets and in doing so learning what people perceive as valuable and what is not.

This knowledge, in conjunction with excellent design has reduced the story, meaning, words, imagery and points of value into it’s simplest and most beautiful form. This is what I believe the new Quick Brown Fox entails. I look forward to showing you that soon.

The beginning

I recall sitting with my business partner at the time, Cam, and our designer, Fiona at Albar drinking a pint of Emerson’s and discussing this coffee liqueur brand. It was 2011, and the coffee liqueur was to become Quick Brown Fox. We hadn’t finalised a recipe but we had a name, and the branding was being developed.

We knew nothing. But I now know that knowing nothing is the first step of knowing something.

Every day we inched a little closer to launch. It was an exciting time.

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The results of experimentation

We were quite happy at that slow pace but one phone call turned us from ‘tinkering’ to ‘everything is urgent’. Incidentally I would become familiar with that feeling in the years to come. The phone call was from David, the head of a student business competition we entered, requesting an order for 30x bottles of coffee liqueur for the awards night.

That meant finalising the branding and packaging, and finalising the recipe – which was a lot harder. For the branding we wanted an illustration, Fiona was an exceptional illustrator and the design was to be humble, artistic and conversation-worthy.

A fox you’d trust your children’s education to, who then goes on to teach them about anarchy and liberalism.

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The packaging we treated like a school project, anything we wanted to do could be done by hand – time or difficulty didn’t matter. Sticky labels were unforgiving so we opted for a tapioca starch glue to apply the labels. It’d mean waiting for them to dry, but it was well worth the straight label. The overcaps were manually crimped and applied using a heat gun.

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Applying the labels by hand would require technical expertise

On the night before we needed those 30x bottles we were all in Cameron’s home. It was getting late and Cameron had a newborn baby at the time, 2 week old Fyo. We had no idea what we were doing, but somehow managed to make, hand-fill and package those bottles the best we could. It was, as you can imagine, a stressful evening in Dunedin.

We got there OK though finishing up in the early hours. On the awards night people were enjoying the product, but a couple of days after that the samples we’d kept aside turned sour. That is, the flavour changed and we could never release the product as it was. So it was back to the drawing board.

I think that was rock bottom. From there, Cam needed to leave the project to focus on parenthood, and I was studying and working at a jewellery store. I’d started there to learn how to sell – but perhaps more importantly I learned that I was allergic to working. Not long after the product failed I was being told off for wearing the wrong colour tie and that was the final straw! I had been there a month and I was out. Instead I decided to put all of my energy into getting this recipe off the ground. Everything else was ready – I just needed that recipe.

So that was it, I’d do my tinkering in the evenings at Strictly Coffee on Bath St, where I was generously offered free rent.

It took months of trialing but I finally cracked that recipe and was able to release the product in December 2011 or so.

From then on I was rarely on my own – I had the help of a friend, Mason in those early days. We’d pack in to the Strictly Coffee kitchen on Fridays, work all Friday night and Saturday morning then pack out again as if the place never saw us. It was difficult but we were able to produce for a very small handful of customers – Toast Bar and Castle Macadam Wine were the first to take it on.

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We’d park up and pack in to Strictly Coffee on Friday evenings and be packed out by Saturday afternoon. All of our equipment had to fit into the boot of my car.

Increases in efficiency were generally slow, but every week something would improve. Everything had to pack down into my car at the end of the night.

As sales grew, production ability needed to grow too and with every increase in efficiency came the pressure of a new relative inefficiency, a new priority to consider. The biggest challenge that lasted several years was creating quantities of strong, cold extracted coffee.

The breakthrough for this was finding Tod, my now business partner for Harpoon. I spoke of the challenges and restrictions to making this product and Tod and I developed many ideas. Somewhere along the line I managed to find a 40 micron mesh filter that was made of stainless steel – 40 microns is the aperture of paper, but this made of stainless steel meaning it could be welded, it could withstand high pressure and it was food grade. But it was $3500 / square metre.

I took a trip to Hamilton to meet with the company – and they happened to have an off cut that was 1m x 0.6m with a tiny ding in it. In what was the best trade of my life, I managed to swap it for a bottle of Quick Brown Fox, and over the next two months Tod built what was to become ‘The Rocket’ – essentially a 50L stainless steel aeropress. This machine dramatically increased our production capability and lead to the ability to start a second business, Harpoon Cold Brew.

‘The Rocket’ that Tod built in action

With increased efficiency in production, and as sales were increasing, the packaging became the new priority. We were now able to produce and bottle a batch relatively quickly, but packaging was taking a significant amount of time.

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Packaging became the bottleneck to production

The issues that I identified were as follows:

  • Packaging the bottles was too technical and time consuming
  • There were too many pieces which made ordering and stock management difficult.
  • The shape of the bottle meant we couldn’t use a semi-automatic labelling machine (or any labelling machine for that matter)
  • The brand itself was not versatile.

So I started to consider rebranding and in that process learned how much of a challenge it can be.

All problems can be alleviated if you have money – you can have 100,000 of anything you want, but less than that and it becomes very expensive.

It has taken a significant amount time and effort to get this new brand ready and I am pleased to be able to release it.

I won’t go into the re-brand story or the thinking that has gone into the new brand. While there is much to say I believe there’s value in experiencing that for yourself.

I would like to thank the designer of Quick Brown Fox, Simon Oosterdijk for his ability to reduce thoughts into a beautiful brand. And to Tod and Eliot in Dunedin for cleverly overcoming newly presented challenges.

Thanks also to Fiona Johnston, Shinsuke Saito and Scott Savage for creating the original Quick Brown Fox,  Lazy Dog and Sinister Wolf brands, they’ve been well enjoyed by many.

 

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