Jean-Jean Pelletier was at a Los Angeles restaurant when he popped the cork of a newly released fruity pink wine. After a couple of sips, he was hooked — and disappointed. Nobody knew where he could find the rosé wine by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for retail.
While celebrities selling wine is nothing new, Pelletier experienced firsthand that acquiring them can be a daunting task. "We still have same laws as during Al Capone years," explains Pelletier, a Miami resident for the past 15 years. "Distributors cannot sell directly to consumers, which makes access to these items complicated."
The French-Canadian businessman set his eyes on a new venture: an e-commerce platform that would serve as a one-stop-shop for wine and spirits consumers and involve retailers nationwide. Launched last week, his app GrapeStars is the result of a three-year project he created with brother Robert Pelletier and childhood friends Stephan Fortier, Stefan Lindqvist, and Charles-André Sauvé.
"Since liquor is regulated, it needs to get sold by a licensee which is a retailer with a storefront, and many times they don't have the shelf space to carry the product," says Stephan Fortier, a former owner of Ocean Drive magazine in Montreal. "Our marketplace connects everybody from the brand to the distributor to the retailer to the consumer. It's a win-win for all of them."
GrapeStars allows celebrities to leverage their business model by promoting and selling directly to consumers through a three-tier-system. Once an account is created, users enter their location and select products and delivery speed. The distributor then sends the items to affiliated retailers, who fulfill the order and split the revenue with the app. Consumers get what they once could only find at the nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, or bars at their doorstep at the retail price point.
According to Fortier, GrapeStars features wine and spirits from 303 brands, creating an inventory of more than 1000 products. Options range from Latin singer Maluma's Hennessy Black ($49.99) to Marilyn Manson's Mansinthe ($74.99) to Jay-Z's Armand de Brignac rosé ($599.99)
Fortier says that between the technology, legal fees, and network, the platform required an investment of $5 million. "Technology alone is already substantial because of all the regulations. Then there are the multiple vendors and the network of retailers across the country. And we have to be fully compliant," he says. "But it is a business with low overhead and extremely high potential, and we are partnering with celebrities that together have more than two billion followers on Instagram. "
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Future projects planned for GrapeStars aim at adding a social media component to the app and interactions between consumers and celebrities enabled by augmented reality, along with a virtual sommelier, user chat room, and live streams of shows and events.
The company's chairman and investor, Kevin Harrington, known as an original "shark" from the TV show Shark Tank, said that the app comes especially handy during these uncertain times when many people feel more comfortable staying indoors while the threat of coronavirus persists.
"With direct-to-consumer liquor businesses on the rise, and liquor sales up 400 percent due to the current landscape, GrapeStars could not hit the market at a better time. It will turn the celebrity marketing, endorsement, and liquor industries on their heads."
To order, visit grapestars.com.