Known for cocktail and cooking syrups with names like Got A Pear, Mother Pucker, and Ginger Ginger, Elixir Fixer's Jim Higgins sat down with Kitsap Culture on Saturday, May 18th to discuss the business.
Kitsap Culture: Well, Jim. We’re starting on the back end here. When did you open your Elixir Fixer shop in Manette, when are you closing it, and why?
Jim Higgins: Officially, we opened August of 2016, and it’s closing today. We are closing the shop to expand. We are really looking at the business as a wholesale business and a distribution business rather than a retail business. Although, we’ve really loved retail and Manette has been amazing.
Kitsap Culture: Who are the players making up Elixir Fixer?
Jim Higgins: We began (Athena, me and our partner) December, 2015, and formed the partnership January 1, 2016. Our silent partner is a friend of mine from my candle making days at the Fremont Market. I was a vendor at the Fremont Market for about 18 years. All three of us bring different elements to our business and it’s been going great. I’m still excited about our partnership.
Our partner was also a candle customer of mine for probably eight years and a friend. He has really turned into more of a business mentor and great friend. He is into technical elements. Our partnership really works well because we don’t intercept much. He does the website and makes sure money gets to where it’s supposed to go, while Athena has automated systems so that when an order comes in everything is tracked and goes where it should go. Athena is training Phillip, our nineteen year old son, to take over. He will be taking over all that administrative work as well.
Kitsap Culture: So, your son Phillip is taking over Athena’s role?
Jim Higgins: Athena will be working in Seattle to fulfill her love of civic duty which involves building up young leaders interested in activating their civic power. She will still sort of be the watchful eye because there is a lot of detail in every batch code, every bottle has a number, and we must know where the cases are, so very technical. That part of the business is critical and that’s where Athena has really maintained the business and kept things afloat. Athena’s going to be watching him until he’s ready to take that end over.
Kitsap Culture: Athena and Philip are the numbers people and you’re the artsy person?
Jim Higgins: Absolutely.
Kitsap Culture: How has that worked?
Jim Higgins: I enjoy my own lane. Because I think I’m precise in my vision, and I don’t usually have foggy notions when they come to the verbal state. Athena and I have been married long enough to where when I look at something or when I’m still vacillating between ideas she knows when to jump in and reassure me to go with my gut. And our silent partner works as a mentor to make sure things are moving. He’s good at maintaining a non-emotional conversation which is really nice from a creative standpoint. We still enjoy our partnership and Skype about business specifics every week.
Kitsap Culture: On your labeling, I see arte nouveau hints. Is that your favorite?
Jim Higgins: My design aesthetic is the modern speakeasy, so it has a huge variation from the 20s or 30s vibe to modern. Modern Speakeasy.
As for the decision to leave retail, and the shop, I spent a fair amount of time crying about it. It was definitely a place of love. I mean, you can see it’s me from every screw to every bolt, every color choice, and the wallpaper.
Our original plan was to do distribution and really focus on that, but the best thing about our Manette store is that it gave us an optic into other shops and how they operate and the seasonality of things and how products load in and out throughout the year.
January was a perfect example when the government shutdown and all that b.s. hit the economy. Then, the numbers were down for all retail, so just seeing that unfortunate externality was insightful. Now we’re getting a handle on shops that do really well with our product. We're asking the kinds of questions on why certain locations do well with our product and other locations struggle with our product. Right now we’re all about connections – shop connections - and having conversations with every shop owner on the phone. “How is it going, what can we do for you and what do you need from us?” That’s really one of our strengths. Building connections with our people skills. We want to be a different kind of company. I mean, our motto is if it’s not fun then why bother?
Kitsap Culture: Who designs your labels?
Jim Higgins: I design everything from the shop to the product to the labels. I work with an artist, Justin, at Cellar Door Mercantile. He takes my pretty precise idea and throws it through the computer and finishes it there. Luckily, he was another Fremont connection back in the day who sold t-shirts. So, he’s another family connection. I sent him my prototype for the original label and his finalizing of it was spot on.
Kitsap Culture: How many stores or states are you in?
Jim Higgins: 120 stores and 23 states. The growth was steady, but we feel the momentum building an uptick. We’re getting a lot of new interest.
Kitsap Culture: Which local businesses have you partnered with?
Jim Higgins: CJ’s Evergreen General Store & Catering and CJ also puts out our product at their stand during the Bremerton Farmers Market. The Dusty Pug/Vintage Flea Market up on Pacific Avenue in downtown Bremerton, Josephine’s Redeemed Revival on Bay Street in Port Orchard. In fact, they’re one of our best sellers. And happily we will be working with Nancy at the Weekender in Manette so our products stay on the block!! We are also in Harbor Greens in Gig Harbor and Tacoma Boys.
Kitsap Culture: Tell me about your distribution networks.
Jim Higgins: 2018 is when we started that relationship. The first year we went to food shows to get information on distribution from food vendors. It was awesome because we could just eat and drink and have a blast. We talked to a lot of the vendors about why they do the food shows versus food brokers or third party food brokers. We were really careful not to delve into our lane so we avoided other cocktail syrup companies because we didn’t want to be shady. We were laser focused on honest communication. It’s about relationships. We’re interested in sleeping well at night.
Kitsap Culture: What are your annual sales?
Jim Higgins: I’m not going to discuss that. That’s a partnership agreement, but we have our busiest season in summer and fall. Luckily, we have a year around product which we’ve broken into three segments - we have a spring/summer line, a fall line, and a winter line. And, some flavors are matched up specifically - like ginger and apple cider just have a fall vibe. So, right now we’re adding color to the labels. They’re super cool.
Kitsap Culture: How do you see changing your marketing?
Jim Higgins: We’ll actually be starting our big Instagram push soon and that will be our primary focus. We are moving away from Facebook although we will definitely still have a presence. Our Instagram feed will feature video, bar tricks, and cocktail and party ideas.
Kitsap Culture: How do you anticipate your business will look in a year to five years?
Jim Higgins: Expansion and growth and doing more recipes on our lifestyle product. We’d like to do Friday Mother Pucker Margaritas with a sound track that goes with it so that everyone around the country could experience it. Athena’s always called me Marty Stewart instead of Martha Stewart, because of my ability to throw a great party. We are super appreciative of the Bremerton community, and all the people who have helped us along the way. We’ve had a lot of local love. As always, I’ll sign off with peace. Peace!