Broadband in the mix

3 Apr 2006

Four years ago entrepreneur Rory O’Driscoll (pictured) was looking forward to retiring in his forties after a career in the electronics industry when an opportunity presented itself.

He bought the world rights to a drinks brand and established Margarita Ice International. In the intervening four years the product, a ready-to-pour cocktail drink, has been well accepted in Europe and Asia and is set to be distributed in more than 60 countries by December.

“I was told you needed €26m to conceive, create and market a global drinks brand — we did it with less than €6m,” says O’Driscoll, whose international drinks business is headquartered in west Dublin.

Prior to this, O’Driscoll owned a company in the fibre optics segment of the electronics industry. Central to the company’s strategy to develop a global brand is the deployment of broadband and the development of a computer system to handle distribution and marketing.

The company has deployed a broadband product with up-and-coming telecoms company Smart Telecom that enables Margarita Ice to interact with its manufacturing and distribution hubs around the world as well as transmit marketing collateral to overseas staff and clients. The company currently has a tender out for the development of an international bespoke internet-based system and three software companies are vying for the project.

“We’ve effectively developed one drink with four different formulas that suit regulatory requirements on four different continents. We developed and refined the drink to a stage where it uses neutral alcohol rather than gin or vodka and we mixed it to the taste requirement of a margarita in retrospect. Essentially it’s a margarita without tequila,” O’Driscoll explains.

“Our market strategy was to set up in 19 countries; we will be in 60 countries by December. Our product is sold in Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. We will be launching in the UK next month as well as going into production in Russia in the next few months. Manufacturing is handled by third parties in the geographies we target but all marketing, promotion and distribution would be handled by ourselves. We have general managers appointed in all the countries we target, including Russia.

“We effectively modelled the company on how the electronics industry works — third-party manufacturers make the product but we distribute and market the product ourselves. From July onwards we hope to build a bespoke internet-based system to link to our global distributors. If we want to reach 60 countries by December, communications is vital and our broadband connection with Smart is essential.”

Describing the importance of broadband to a company like Margarita Ice International, O’Driscoll said the flow of information to and fro between Dublin and the company’s brand managers worldwide is crucial. “We conduct cultural acceptability studies every month for our marketers and distributors. What might work in the UK or Ireland might not work in Russia. For example, in Russia billboards don’t work, nor does marketing to nightclubs, but because more people there stay in rather than go out TV advertising works.”

O’Driscoll added that the company is planning to re-enter the US market in September through a distribution with American drinks giant Miller. “We had ISDN but needed proper broadband. Our spend on IT annually has increased from €35,000 to €750,000. Because every country worldwide has to have a separate marketing plan, transmitting 50 pages of colour marketing collateral across broadband can take a long time. We would send huge files to different distributors and vice versa. All marketing is managed out of Dublin and we use primarily Apple Mac systems.”

Going forward, O’Driscoll is relishing the challenge of creating a globally-recognised brand. “I like the concept that every day someone is buying our product. We are trebling our turnover every week. We only decided to try the Irish market as a last-minute gesture and volume here is doubling every month.

“It took three years to develop the drink and protect it with trademarks and we’ve spent a year conducting more than 700,000 market testings worldwide. It really is a competitive market and broadband communications is important,” O’Driscoll concludes.

By John Kennedy