Quaker City Mercantile: 19th century mercantilism meets 21st century branding artistry

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Steven Crasse, CEO of Quaker City Mercantile, has made a splash by developing and building popular liquor brands, including Sailor Jerry rum.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Steven Crasse, CEO of Quaker City Mercantile, has made a splash by developing and building popular liquor brands, including Sailor Jerry rum.
Posted: November 26, 2013

STEVEN GRASSE, 49, of Society Hill, is CEO of Quaker City Mercantile, a Center City branding firm that serves as the hub for mostly craft-spirits brands Grasse develops, brings to market and manages. He also acquired a 72-acre farm in New Hampshire and plans to open a micro-distillery there in 2014.

Q: What does QCM do?

A: We're a branding-management company. We create a brand, find a partner to distribute and then stay on to manage. We sold Sailor Jerry [rum] but signed a long-term contract to manage it. We did the same with our flagship store Art in the Age. We also created Hendrick's Gin, which, along with Sailor Jerry, are probably the most famous spirits brands in the last 20 years.

Q: To whom did you sell?

A: Sailor Jerry started as a clothing bran, and later we made the rum which we sold to William Grant & Sons in 2008. Art in the Age started as a gallery, then became the flagship store for craft spirits, also sold to Grant. Art in the Age stores are in all 50 states. Sailor Jerry became the fastest-growing rum in America and the world. Grant said "We want to buy this from you, "so we sold it.

Q: For how much?

A: I can't say, but it was a life-changing event.

Q: How so?

A: We stopped advertising for others and began focusing on our products. Now, we're creating Art in the Age Spirits. There's four different craft spirits now available at our stores, and we're about to add a fifth one - all 80 proof, certified organic. We're an investor in Narragansett Beer, and we have a new brand, Spodee, a mix of wine and moonshine.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge growing the business?

A: The latest one was the federal government shutdown because the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] approves labels for spirits. The approval process takes 60 to 90 days and liquid recipes also need approval. Now we must wait to get new products approved.

Q: Do you support Corbett's plan to privatize state stores?

A: We love the Liquor Control Board. The LCB is very helpful to small businesses. It would be a mistake to dismantle it. Small guys get squeezed out because spirits are for sale in Costco and Walmart and only big guys win.

Q: How big is your business?

A: We are the leading spirits-branding company in the world.

Q: How many employees?

A: Just under 50.

Q: Why are you building a micro-distillery in New Hampshire?

A: Pennsylvania has fracking, and fracking destroys water [quality]. New Hampshire has the best water, and making really great [spirits] depends on good water. New Hampshire is also a [liquor] control state.

Q: How will this effect the biz?

A: Right now, we do all the [spirits] recipes in house and contract to have someone make them. Now, we'll be bringing it in-house.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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