Thanks to Accion San Diego for this story!
Jeremy LeBlanc and Chad Berkey, founders of Tin Play, were bartenders when they came to the conclusion that there needed to be an all-in-one bartending tool that helped them mix drinks more quickly, while producing less waste. Over four years of development, the duo perfected their prototype and were ready to launch, only to realize that the creation of an entirely new product line required a major infusion of capital.
Having already exhausted the funding they invested from their personal bank accounts and from relatives and friends, Jeremy and Chad attended one of Accion ’s small business workshops to learn about the various small business financing options available to them. Learning that traditional lenders are often hesitant to offer financing to startups, they found Accion’s flexible loan requirements to be a good fit for their business and took out a $25,000 loan from Accion. “Accion got the concept. Our loan officer was very friendly and made it feel easy,” shared Jeremy.
Once the funding was secured and the stainless steel prototypes had been perfected, Chad and Jeremy produced an initial inventory run of the “Tin Play Well Kit” comprised of their Precision Pour Flair Tins, Cheater Tin and their Ultimate 4-in-1 Muddle. When used in lieu of the many bar implements that are available to bartenders, the waste and time to prepare beverages is reduced dramatically. Furthermore, Tin Play allows even amateur bartenders to perform entertaining maneuvers such as the five drink waterfall that only veterans could accomplish otherwise.
Early adopters of Tin Play have reported that the tool pays for itself and saves money in the long run. Bartenders spill thousands of dollars of ingredients annually; Tin Play not only helps eliminate this problem, but also entertains customers as their drinks are being made.
“It’s all about creating an experience,” Jeremy elaborates. “This is our stage, it’s a performance every night… the server defines the experience of the customer.”
Another appealing aspect of the Tin Play product line is the potential for businesses to uniquely brand their bar tools. Jeremy believes that this will appeal greatly to many potential clients. “Wouldn’t you want customers to see your name every time we pour or mix?” Jeremy asked.
Making Tin Play a reality has not been without its share of hurdles however. Lead time with manufacturers abroad has made it difficult to keep up with demand. Furthermore, the patent process has been both costly and time consuming, and the pair has learned to produce their own patent documents to save funds. Jeremy shared, “If I could give advice to some-one hoping to start their own product, I’d tell them to find a great patent attorney and never give up. Nothing happens overnight.”
Though they have sold a modest 2,500 units to date, Tin Play is starting to gain widespread attention. Tin Play products are already on shelves at major retailers such as Bed Bath and Beyond, and there are many more retail deals in the works. Recently, the Home Shopping Network inquired about a 10,000 unit order for their show, and they have also caught the attention of Diageo, the world’s largest distiller. Chad and Jeremy hope that such partnerships would allow Tin Play to be distributed internationally. Furthermore, they have been the subject of a special feature with the San Diego Union Tribune and last year, the entrepreneurial television series “Shark Tank” approached them for an appearance and potential equity deal. Although it was a huge publicity opportunity, Jeremy and Chad had reservations about relinquishing full control of their company, as they remain committed to their vision of developing “bar products made by bartenders.” They believe that this commitment will put them in the most advantageous position for growth, and both are extremely optimistic about the future of their company.
So what’s next for these two entrepreneurs? Jeremy says that they have been careful to not divulge too much too soon. “We have some new ideas that we are very excited about, I can’t exactly say what they are but we always look for multiple functions in our design process.”
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