By Doreen Hemlock
Talk about commitment to a startup: Russ Bruce was so eager to make his liquor delivery company work that he and wife lived for a year in a Wynwood warehouse and made the deliveries themselves.
Now, Bruce is seeing big gains at his three-year-old venture dubbed LiquorSplit, named for the saying for speed: Lickety-split. Besides the urban warehouse in Wynwood, the company has a distribution hub next to more suburban Coral Gables. It just debuted two “smart stores” in Tampa and is opening another two in nearby New Port Richey. And it plans four more locales in Florida this year, Bruce told Refresh Miami.
“We started with a full e-commerce model, but what I found is a lot of people don’t use e-commerce, and many go to liquor stores unaware that alcohol can be legally delivered,” Bruce says, explaining his new hybrid approach blending a delivery app and physical locations.
Today, LiquorSplit employs 50 people, and with sales growing, it even outsources some deliveries. The company earns money in two main ways: It buys liquor wholesale and sells retail, marking up prices less than many rivals to attract customers. Plus, it sells ads to liquor companies on its app, Bruce says. (It doesn’t earn much on deliveries, priced at $2.99 per order.)
Artificial intelligence key to inventory
Technology and artificial intelligence are key to the venture, says Bruce. The app provides useful data that helps the company and its liquor partners decide what to stock, how much and where. For example, buyers around Miami’s Wynwood tend to be younger urbanites who enjoy Tito’s Handmade Vodka, while Gables area buyers often are older and favor such top wines as Caymus and Opus One, he says.
“And buyers in the Tampa area are less Latino and more Midwestern than in Miami and tend to drink more bourbon, whiskey and craft beer,” says Bruce.
A serial entrepreneur, Bruce came up with his latest venture after owning coffee shops and sports bars in the Seattle area and then, developing some tech companies. He was intrigued in recent years as more states and counties began changing laws to allow liquor delivery, something previously banned.
“Alcohol delivery should be on an app,” he thought in 2018, recognizing the growing reach of e-commerce by such companies as Amazon. Bruce checked with lawyers about liquor statutes, and in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, moved into the Wynwood warehouse with his wife to test his idea. “I sold her on the 40-foot ceilings,” jokes Bruce. “The truth is: we had to live it and breathe it.”
The couple worked on every detail of the business, from how to manage inventory to how to wrap bottles for delivery. Tech initially proved a challenge, since Bruce wanted an app that was easy to use and could scale up nationally.
After a year, with the app in place and deliveries smooth usually within 30 minutes, Bruce started seeking capital to expand. He says he’s raised some $5 million for the venture so far.
“We’re talking now about a Series A round. I’d like to do $5 million to $10 million, probably in two tranches,” he says.
Among seed investors is Russ Robison, a land developer and construction entrepreneur from Washington state. He knows Bruce from the Seattle area and saw his earlier successes. “When he puts his mind to something, he’s going to make it work,” says Robison of the LiquorSplit founder.
Like Bruce, Robison sees the shift nationwide toward e-commerce and figures liquor delivery fits right in. He invested in Bruce’s Florida venture, bullish on “a sharp guy with a good concept.”
Bruce says LiquorSplit builds on his first job as a middle-schooler dropping off newspapers. “I knew the delivery business at an early age,” he jokes. The venture uses imagery reminiscent of 1900s paperboys, trying to connect consumers with yesteryear’s warm, personal touch in service. Yet its smart stores are tech-driven, featuring screens where shoppers order for pickup at a counter, Bruce says.
To give back to local communities, LiquorSplit donates $1 of every delivery fee to area nonprofits, largely for the homeless and military veterans. Bruce wants to help out lickety-split.