My Week: Pleurat Shabani of Konik's Tail

The distiller on looking after his brand, doing his own PR and why London is the best market in the world.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 18 Mar 2011

My day starts at 6am, when I get up and grab a quick breakfast with my two little ones. Those 10 minutes in the morning are about the only time when I see them, because at the moment, all my days are chock-a-block. I jump on the tube and get into London just before eight o’clock, then get into the office and reply to some emails.

Around nine is when the meetings start. Konik’s Tail, my vodka brand, only hit the shelves in October. I do all the marketing – so I go off around London, to the likes of Claridges and the Dorchester, to meet the decision-makers and educate the staff. As you can imagine, they’re all very busy guys, so they’re difficult to get hold of. Usually, I make appointments about three or four weeks ahead – but at the moment, I’m booked up all the way to the beginning of May.

The first three days of my week usually consist of that – talking staff and mixologists through how I created the brand, explaining serving suggestions (Konik’s Tail is usually drunk neat, but you can also have it as a dry martini). On Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I do loads of consumer tastings in places like Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges. I think people like seeing me, personally – the man who created the vodka. I spend time telling them why we’re different, and explain the story of the company.
It took me four years to create the brand, so I think it’s actually quite important that people understand it. I’ve been in the vodka business for 14 or 15 years now, but I always acted as an agent for other brands, creating recipes for distilleries in eastern Europe. When it came to creating my own vodka, though, I was highly selective – it’s made of a combination of spelt, rye and early winter wheat, and I worked really closely with the farmers, helping them to harvest the grains so I could select exactly what stage of the year the grains should be harvested.

Most vodka brands have huge marketing budgets behind them, and companies start with the bottle and the name, rather than the taste of the actual liquid itself. Of the four years the project’s taken me, three years of it was taken up by the taste and texture of the liquid. I went back and forth to Poland about 150 times, trying to get it right. 350 blends later, we’ve achieved the clarity, the quality and the uniqueness I originally wanted.

One thing that I didn’t want was anything gimmicky. I do all my own PR – I did meet with a PR company, but the first thing they wanted to do was set a date for a big, glitzy launch. I couldn’t swallow that, though. A launch party doesn’t suit the brand – it’s a gimmick. What I wanted to do was have a product available in top-end department stores, rather than having a huge party.

This week was actually quite exciting for me as well, because I was approached by some very well-established distributors, who want to take Konik’s Tail outside the M25, as it were, and even into new markets. At the moment, I’m not ready for that – I don’t think I’d be able to service more than one market and to be honest, I think I’d lose the focus in my core market, which is the UK. And the UK is really important – it’s a market that sets the trend. You make it happen in the UK, you make it happen anywhere.

Pleurat Shabani is the founder of Konik's Tail

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