Tenacious. Opportunista Karen Haines shares that if her friends had one word to describe her, it would be “tenacious.” They’re right. And here’s a few other descriptors of Karen: Driven, resourceful, and vivacious. It’s no surprise that this Opportunista has been able to successfully break into the male-dominant market of alcohol and spirits with her company, Spa Girl Cocktails — a classic American spirits brand that offers low calorie, all natural, ultra-premium vodka martinis.
Karen shares how she’s successfully navigated the spirits industry by creating a strong elevator pitch, by building a unique brand to appeal to women, and by never taking no for an answer. Karen also shares a few challenges in her entrepreneurial journey, including having to teach herself how to develop and run her company. And she has…cheers to that!
Let’s meet Opportunista Karen Haines and learn her story.
Name: Karen Haines
Location: Palm Springs, CA
Title & Company: CEO/Founder of Spa Girl Cocktails LLC
Education: High School
What was the inspiration for launching Spa Girl Cocktails?
The inspiration behind the brand came from my desire to create refreshing vodka martinis but with a twist. I was focused on creating a product that was great tasting, but it was also important to make it guilt-free by reducing the number of calories. I felt there was a true need in the spirits industry where you could offer high quality, high proof, low calorie martinis to consumers.
Spa Girl Cocktails is born from a lifestyle that captures an irresistibly feminine yet timeless lifestyle that is chic, sexy, and always in good taste. I never lose sight of the women who continue to inspire me – grandmothers, mother, aunts and daughters. I created Spa Girl Cocktails in the spirit of those who always choose to embrace life and pursue every adventure in the company of true friends. At a young age, I learned how to celebrate the joys of life with people you love and make every moment beautiful and memorable.
You’ve worked closely with your business partner to develop Spa Girl Cocktails. Would you share more about what this experience has been like for you?
I have an amazing business partner, Eduardo Jordan. I had been working on Spa Girl Cocktails for over two years when our paths crossed. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish but kept encountering obstacles. I knew from past business experience that I should trust my instincts and within a few months, I met Ed through a mutual friend.
At the time, Ed was the CFO/COO of Nolet Spirits USA/Ketel One Vodka. He had a wealth of knowledge and experience, and he had seen plenty of new product presentations that lacked the vision and quality product necessary to succeed. I could tell that he was instantly interested in my business plan and shortly after we started our meeting, he asked to taste the product. I purposely had not brought the product to our meeting, since I had wanted to secure a second meeting.
Fast forward to today, Ed Jordan is the President and COO of Spa Girl Cocktails. We make a great team with the set of skills that we each bring to the company.
What advice can you share about developing a strong elevator pitch?
For Spa Girl, this was probably the most important step for me. I knew I would have only one opportunity to introduce Spa Girl Cocktails, and the pitch had to be very strong and passionate. At first I was not taken seriously, I would get comments like “Oh, isn’t that nice idea?” or “The alcohol industry is impossible to break into. Good luck!”
That’s where the branding came into play and served as a very important part of my presentation. I developed the brand with beautiful photographs and inspirational quotes, which I combined to create a brand book. This brand book enabled me to share the vision for Spa Girl and allowed others to truly understand the brand. I got people’s attention, and I demonstrated that I was very committed and serious about launching and building the brand. This was a turning point for me, and I saw direct results.
What do think is most important for entrepreneurs to understand as they build and maintain a brand? What have you learned about building a brand?
I felt it was very important to build a lifestyle brand with Spa Girl Cocktails for a few reasons. It is an untapped market in the spirits industry. Why can’t there be a brand such as Spa Girl that shows a lifestyle very similar to Kate Spade or Tory Burch in the industry? Women are the primary purchasers of spirits; why not create a brand that speaks to women?
In building a brand you pull from your strengths and your creativity. It is important to be focused in the direction of your product or service; it’s easy to get distracted. When you’re genuine and authentic about your passion, the ideas will flow. It is equally important to keep current and always change things up a bit to keep your brand fresh and chic, while staying true to the origin of the brand.
You built Spa Girl Cocktails by identifying a market opportunity to build a tasty vodka beverage without all the calories and artificial sweeteners. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs on identifying market gaps and opportunities?
I built Spa Girl because I truly believed there was a need in the spirits industry for a low calorie, great tasting cocktail option. While there were a few products in the market, I was confident I could improve the quality and succeed.
I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs to follow your passion, wisdom, and talent. It will take you where you need to go. Know your competitive set, be confident with your business plan, remain tenacious, and take risks. I never imagined I would start a vodka line as I think back to my past careers. Spa Girl was born from my past life experiences, and I have never looked back.
You have to be relentless in your conviction and cannot take no for an answer.
How did you leverage your experience in the travel and hospitality industries to build your company? What have you learned throughout the process of launching and running your business?
I was 20 years old and wanted to see the world so I became a flight attendant. I would not trade my experiences for anything in the world. I very was fortunate that by traveling as a young woman I got to go out of my comfort zone and see how the world works. I had the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful countries and cites in the world that have influenced my life and have helped define my style. Plus, dealing with the traveling public, I learned the importance of customer service, how to listen, how to be gracious, and how to take control of a situation.
Looking back, I have some regrets and wish I had more business experience to help me launch my business, but hindsight is always 20/20. A few lessons learned? I hired two different consulting firms that said they would bring my idea to market. Not true. It cost a lot of money with no results. The silver lining was that I educated myself as much as I could, preparing myself to be in a position to meet my now business partner.
I have gotten over my insecurities and have built my confidence. And as a result, the business aspect has become so enjoyable. After all, we are selling vodka – that is fun!
How did you initially fund Spa Girl Cocktails? Were there expenses that you did not anticipate?
When I started Spa Girl Cocktails, I consulted my husband, who is also an entrepreneur. I had his full support, and we decided we would budget $10,000 to see where it would take the brand. Well, that was gone in a split second with a call to the attorneys’ office for trademarks and the beginning of the branding process.
What I was not prepared for was the big investment we personally would have to make. My husband and I funded Spa Girl on our own until our first round of investors. Because I was so new to the business and the industry, I had no idea what was in store for me. For instance, a few decorated sample bottles cost $9,000 and without them I could not make my sales pitches. It was tough as my silent partner (my husband) started to not be so silent. I had to convince him that we had to stay the course.
What are three trails that you think are essential to an entrepreneur’s success?
You have to be determined and truly believe in what you are doing. From the very beginning of Spa Girl, I was fierce in my direction and belief in my success. I knew the only thing that would hold me back would be myself. I have never doubted that I could make this happen.
Passion should be my middle name. The smallest details make me so happy and motivate me. I find beauty around me in everything I do, which is very important in building a lifestyle brand. You can live a beautiful life in the simplest ways. I’m a true dreamer and constantly visualize. It is up to me to make things happen.
3. Understanding what you do not know.
This is very important to me. I had zero experience in the spirits industry. I didn’t know where or how to begin, and had no idea what to do. What I did know is that I had an extreme passion to fill a niche in the industry. My goal was to create a low calorie, all natural, high proof vodka martini. But how would I do it? It was a huge learning curve to say the least. As I struggled, my determination became stronger, and here I am today.
What do people never ask you, that you wish they did?
I don’t get asked “what’s next with Spa Girl?” I have fabulous ideas to take Spa Girl in harmony with our vodka line.
What do you love most about what you do?
Absolutely everything! I wake up every day excited and inspired. I love our product, and I’m in love with our brand. Spa Girl is a blend of beauty, fashion, rock and roll. It inspires me daily.
Karen is The Opportunista.
What did you want to be when you were 8 years old? An airline stewardess.
How would your friends describe you in one word? Tenacious.
Your favorite food to complement a cocktail? I like to serve 3 cheeses: A high quality Parmesan or aged Gouda, a soft cheese, and a mild blue cheese with prosciutto, nuts, and pears.
Who/what makes you instantly happy? My family and pink peonies.
Your favorite vacation destination? Paris, Vienna, New York City.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Stay true to yourself and follow your heart.
The women you dream of taking to lunch? Why her? Alexandra Stoddard. She is a well-known author, interior designer, and lifestyle philosopher. I have read all her books. The first one when I was 30. I live by her wisdom. She taught me how to live a beautiful life and helped me to definine my personal style.
Favorite quote: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Tell us a secret! It wouldn’t be a secret then!
Let me know in the comments: How has Karen’s story inspired you to create your own opportunities to live your best life?
Learn More from The Opportunistas
Check out my first issue of Opportunista Insights – Stronger Than You Know: 10 Ambitious Women Help You Face The Challenges of Entrepreneurship – to read about the tough challenges that 10 women entrepreneurs have faced, and most importantly, HOW they’ve overcome those obstacles.