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Austin booze brand BeatBox is selling a handheld party

Gabrielle Pharms
Special to the American-Statesman
Justin Fenchel, from left, Aimy Steadman and Brad Schultz founded Austin-based BeatBox Beverages.

The scene is set: You’re at a music festival, lost in the positive vibes emanating from both performing artists and fellow attendees, coupled with the glow you have from sipping your favorite adult beverage. Whether your go-to drink at a music fest is wine, beer or a cocktail, you always have it in hand.

Festivals aren’t in our immediate future, but imagine if you could bring back all those sweet memories. That’s what the creators of BeatBox Beverages, which makes single-serve wine products, aim to do. Inspired by music festival culture, the Austin-based founders — chief executive officer Justin Fenchel, chief operating officer Aimy Steadman and chief marketing officer Brad Schultz — joined forces nine years ago to launch the brand.

“The three of us are obsessed with music — we wanted to create that experience of being at a festival with all your best friends and not (having) a care in the world,” says Fenchel.

The founders tried to capture that feeling into a beverage product that would bring people together, and they ended up with a 5-liter box of shareable party punch. BeatBox is now available in flavors like peach punch, fresh watermelon and pink lemonade, and as their website touts, one handheld box has the same ABV as four light beers.

The idea was born in 2011 at the University of Texas, where the founders completed their MBAs. “Why we thought it was such a cool idea was we had all been drinking a lot of boxed wine. We were seeing it everywhere at millennial gatherings — either at tailgates or kickball games or river floats or house parties. There was always a box of Franzia there, even though no one really liked the taste of Franzia. It was just fun, affordable and convenient,” Fenchel says.

Around that time, flavored beverages such as Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Four Loko were becoming popular. “We never refer to (BeatBox) as boxed wine. It’s funny, because 99% of the people who drink it don’t even realize it is wine. It’s just all about the flavor,” Schultz says. “It’s about a lot more than just the liquid. Anyone can put flavored liquid into a box, but for us, it’s this awesome drink brand that was created by millennials (who) didn’t come from the alcohol industry.”

Not having a background in wine or spirits hasn’t hindered BeatBox. The founders have tapped the expertise of pros in the alcohol industry. John Potts, former vice president of sales at Deep Eddy Vodka, worked with the trio as an adviser and helped coach them on how to act as seasoned alcohol entrepreneurs.

“That’s what we consider our secret sauce. We bring a lot of that authentic customer experience and innovation from not being in alcohol forever, but we have these experienced industry folks (who) are accelerating this innovation, to actually go out and get distribution,” Steadman says.

The BeatBox team also had the opportunity to sit down with Bert “Tito” Beveridge of Tito’s Handmade Vodka a few years ago. “He said to us, ‘If you guys had any alcohol experience, you would have never even started this thing.’ Having gone through it for the last seven or eight years, it is hard. It is such an old-school industry with so many hurdles, with every state having its own regulations. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would have never jumped into the fire of entrepreneurship in the alcohol space,” Fenchel says.

Beatbox got its major break in 2014, when the team went before the judges on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

“It started with the need to raise funds. We had a little bit of traction. We had just been picked up by a big distributor in Texas. We had just outsourced our manufacturing. We had validated the idea,” Fenchel says.

While doing in-store demos, people would tell the BeatBox team to go on the show. After going the traditional route to raise money, the trio set out to apply. “Shark Tank” producers came to Austin during South by Southwest that year in search of companies with UT ties to appear on the show, so the trio pitched BeatBox. Out of 80,000 companies that applied, BeatBox made the cut to fly out to Los Angeles and present their product to the show’s panel of potential investors, or sharks.

Then, to their surprise, all the sharks were interested. BeatBox decided to go with Texas billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban. Fenchel says, “There’s the everlasting quote he made on the show. He said, ‘You don’t sell wine. You sell fun.’ He understood that this is only a wine product at the base of the product. Everything else about it is a lifestyle, experiential brand.”

“We’ve said since day one that we want to be the Red Bull of the alcohol industry. So, we’re definitely not limited to one region,” says Fenchel.

BeatBox currently has more than 15,000 accounts across 30 states, with shelf space at H-E-B, Circle K, Kroger and QuikTrip. Despite the fact that many businesses have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, BeatBox’s sales have grown.

“You saw this shift of alcohol that’s usually bought at bars and restaurants moving to grocery stores and convenience stores, liquor stores and gas stations. Our brand is 98% sold as what is considered ‘off-premise,’” Fenchel says. Their biggest month to date as a company was this October, shipping of $1 million worth of product.

Next year, the trio hopes to expand into all 50 states and potentially other countries. They even have internationally renowned electronic music artists like Louis the Child, GTA, Party Favor, Anna Lunoe and more as investors, bringing more eyes and palates to the brand.

“We’re hoping to bring (BeatBox) from the beaches in Brazil to the warehouse parties in England to the festivals in Holland,” Fenchel says. “That’s what’s so fun about the brand. The togetherness aspect — fun and bringing people together is what we’re about.”

The boozy BeatBox Beverages come in fruit flavors like peach punch and fresh watermelon.