Nicolas Duvernois : The PUR DRAGON
I must say at the beginning of this article that I have known Nicolas for quite a long time, when his bottle of PUR Vodka did not have the same shape, logo and color. In short, a long time ago. I visited him at the beginning of the year to find out what was coming in 2019 for the man we could call the surgeon from Quebec Inc. 2.0 as his initiatives have put entrepreneurship forward. Here is our meeting.
The year 2019 is now Nicolas, a big year in perspective for you with the news that you received at the end of 2018, a permanent arrival to the dragons (editor’s note: “Dans l’œil du Dragon”, French Canadian Version of CBC Dragon’s Den), the release of the PUR Vodka Autograph edition 1, I imagine that full of other projects including editions of romeo’s gin. So, you who have always been an entrepreneur in your life, I read in your book that since you were young you had some crazy ideas in your multiple projects that you wrote. How is it now to be a dragon, and to be there, the journey, how it is to be now the mentor of what inspired you in the beginning.
I would say that it is a logical continuation of all my implications in the last years with Adopte Inc. (Editor’s note: who were unveiled the 2019 winners at Expo Entrepreneurs 2019), the Cercle d’Investissement Québec, the association of student entrepreneurs clubs, I was already very involved in everything that is entrepreneurial, everything that is an emerging entrepreneur, so really a logical continuation of becoming a dragon, I was invited last year and I really enjoyed my experience and they loved me so the fit was natural.
Because it’s still pressure too with a financial investment?
Yes, it pushes you to ask more questions to do better your research, your reflection. Helping someone is different than investing in someone. I put so much seriousness in both steps, but it is sure that with the investment, you have blood in the field of play. So it is necessary to take it seriously, as you buy a house, you want her to be in good structural health, when we travel we want it to be nice so when we invest in a company, we want it to succeed.
So, that’s one of your projects. We know that you are one of the owners of romeo’s gin and PUR Vodka (recently renamed Duvernois Inc. as learned in the magazine Les Affaires), how this entrepreneurial journey is related to the TV show, “Dans l ’oeil du Dragon” (The french version of CBC’s Dragon’s Den ? I know it’s a logical follow-up to the entrepreneur that you are, but in terms of the product, what is it going to bring to the products of Duvernois Inc. that you are present on the show?
I’ll tell you what I like in this season of dragons is that it’s the new Quebec Inc. it’s 4 young entrepreneurs between 38 and 42 years, I’m lucky to be the youngest of the dragons and four young entrepreneurs of their time, we have 14 children to 4, so that’s 4 consumer products also bio-k, Prana, Chocolats Favoris and me. I think it’s a nice message we send. To be a dragon, you do not have to have a 50-year career. Today, successes are built relatively faster because of all that is due to acceleration and new technologies, social networks for advertising. Entrepreneurship has never been more fashionable than that, so what is it going to do for all of us, for a touch I think it will show that there is a new Quebec Inc. who is ready to take more and more space, that there are people who build great successes, new successes and then I find it fun because it is also a new type of entrepreneurship. I know the other three dragons well, and it’s three dragons who get involved a lot in society and since day 1, not just once they’ve been successful. So that’s fun.
Like Dominique (Brown of Chocolats Favoris) who recently made an exit on the lack of manpower.
Exactly, he speaks a lot for the scarcity of manpower, he is a spokesperson for the contest dares to undertake, an entrepreneurial contest, he’s lecturing right left, pretty much the same thing for me and for the other girls too, Isabelle arrives with an equally interesting background, Marie-Josée I know her well, and I cannot wait for the world to discover her. She has a vision of the business world on the far left of what you can think of.
Is she the CEO of Prana?
Exactly, her management method is very different and it’s very interesting what she does.
And precisely in relation to that, they are surely contacts that are quite incredible! Are we going to see partnerships between the various companies, is it certainly something possible? I might not say chocolate vodka, but who know.
Listen, before I knew I was going to become a dragon, I’m a consumer of all three products. I have Prana full in the pantry, I have bio-k for children and adults and, of course, forbidden sure, I have chocolate for the fondue! Frankly, I’m just happy to be on this panel! I am a fan of entrepreneurs, we will really enjoy ourselves, we will be very aggressive towards others when we want to invest in a company. But we will have a lot of fun.
In particular, social networks is still something that is not obvious when you’re on TV, it’s another game!
Of course it’s another game in the sense that you are really in the public eye, there are not far from a million people who listen to this a week. Of course it was taken into consideration, I told my wife (Karolyne Duvernois, co-owner of Duvernois Inc.) and I would say that it puts you an extra pressure, you do not have the right to have a foot that exceeds the line, because right now we will say the dragon Nicolas does so, the dragon Nicolas does that. Since I do not have skeletons in the cupboard I’m very happy, but it’s going to be a reality that I’m going to learn to live with. I still enjoy a great popularity so I am very privileged and the world is very respectful to me so we’ll see.
Precisely, in relation to this popularity, conferences just book, which I mentioned earlier, do you have plans to go further with that? Is there a project for a second book?
Listen, I write in Les Affaires normally once a week so today (Editor’s Note: The day of the interview) it is my 166th chronicle in succession that leaves. So, I would definitely say yes to a second book, I love to write, I love to write for the newspaper Les Affaires, it’s really for me one of the most beautiful publications in Quebec, even in Canada and I’m very, very proud of for Les Affaires, so it’s certain that there will be a second book I’ll even say that there will be a third because I love it, and as long as the world will want to read me, well I will continue to write.
It’s really exciting to hear you talk about all these projects. You now have two girls, what does it change in the portrait of the entrepreneurial succession? Do you think about it a little?
I would say no because my daughters are very young, 3 years and 1 year, except that it is sure that she knows entrepreneurship, what they can understand of entrepreneurship. I do not put pressure on them, if they want to be a jazz ballet dancer I want her to be, even if they want to be a teacher. I do not oblige them at all to become entrepreneurs, I do not put any pressure at all. I want my daughters to be happy, so we are happy when we do what we love.
So, what’s good is that with your two new dragons colleagues, you have female models of entrepreneurial success.
Yes, that’s fun because there are not so many examples of women’s entrepreneurship. We have some in Adopte Inc. who are super entrepreneurs.
There is your colleague in Adopte Inc. also
Yes, Anne Marcotte, but there are also in the adopted, Judith Fetzer of Cook It, Sophie Boyer of Audvik, there are many who are very very inspiring who, make beautiful things, but it is necessary to make its place in business, you have to go for it, you have to knock on the doors, you have to give a lot of handshakes, which are not often used for anything, but it does not matter, you leave a little your DNA on the right and on the left and after—being a moment they will think of you and you will be able to make you a place.
Nicolas Duvernois: The PUR Vodka Autograph Edition 1
When we talk about giving hands and go for it, you have just released the PUR Vodka Autographe Edition 1, a first with Michel Jodoin. As I said in the introduction, we met at a meeting in a former ice cider company. But is it still something that was trotting back from your head to do something with ice cider?
It is our vice-president, Stéphane Rochefort (Editor’s note, who worked at the ice cider company where I met Nicolas) who wanted to reinvent the flavored vodka. I’m so thankful because it’s a product that I think sets new standards of quality, it’s an absolutely exceptional product, it makes me a little bit bored in limited edition, I’m now thinking to see how he could stay on the shelves at any time. We’ll see that, it’s the public decides, but this product is simply exceptional.
What is pleasant with this product, having tasted the SAQ de la Montagne at the launch is that it is not a sweet vodka, unlike most flavored vodkas. As you said, Stéphane did a great job on that.
It’s a natural product, so for us it’s really vodka, so corn and apples. Corn, water, apples, end point.
After doing this process, does it make you think about doing the same thing with gin romeo’s or not at all?
For romeo’s, we have fun with the image, the recipe is so good, so popular that we do not dare to touch, but vodka, it goes well with everything, so that’s why we launched a series that we hope to repeat each year with a different local producer so we’ll see this year what it is, but I already know that it boils in the head to Stéph. But one project at a time, one product at a time, was launched on December 15, so we’re still launching, so we’re going to do a tasting blitz at the SAQ this winter. I really want to discover this product because it is an exceptional product.
And if we go back to romeo’s gin, who just celebrated his second birthday, how does it evolve in that direction? We know that you had a huge success with romeo’s gin + tonic cans, a success beyond expectations.
It was sick! For romeo’s gin, we really have the wind in the sails, there we have just received a record order in Europe, we have several countries we open with romeo’s gin and it’s a big hit and odds to look at the head is the best-selling gin in Quebec, a great success so we push very hard, we launch in Ontario in March-April so that’s in 200–300 LCBO and we are also best sellers in some other provinces.
With these products opening doors in other markets, how do you find it everywhere? Is that what you saw at the beginning?
It’s more complex than I thought, in the sense I knew it was going to be very complex, but a new market is not just a new market, it’s double amount of job, two other markets you triple the amount job, three other markets, you quadruple the amount of job, etc. When you are in 10 markets, you have 10 times the job to do because it is not true that you launch a product and that you do not give love and that it works. We have to give as much love in all our markets and that’s a big challenge.
Interesting. It’s as if you give love to 9 markets and you forget one, especially in Quebec with the number of gins.
Yes, every quarter of an hour there is one that comes out, so we must stay on the lookout and always top of our game as they say!
Is that difficult precisely? I know you are in the best sellers in SAQ, is it a challenge to see the competition like that sometimes?
Competition drives you to always be on your guard and has always wanted to do better, differently, faster. I would say that any company dreams of being a monopoly (laughs) no competition is the best competition, but I would say that it is really correct and the competition, I was the first a fact when I look at that I feel a little, not a little, I feel very proud to see that I built an industry that, in ten years, has expanded phenomenally! I was the first one today we are maybe 30, it’s crazy and I’m a young person! It’s not like when I said to you at 80: “I was the first.” We sold the first bottle of PUR Vodka exactly 9 years ago in January 2010 and 9 years later, there are thirty producers! It’s incredible!
More for gin than for vodka?
Yes, gin is furious madness! When I say that there is a new one in a quarter of an hour, it must not be far from the truth.
And exactly what can we expect from Duvernois Inc. in the next year? You spoke of a second series Autograph.
Certainly, I would say that it is especially a year of internationalization, as we opened many markets last year, we will continue this year while continuing to give as much love as we can and that we want to Quebec. We become one of the largest, if not the largest independent producer in Canada. Every year, we double!
Is it a challenge to always keep pace?
It is certain that it is breathtaking, products accumulate, new ideas, new projects, so it’s a lot of work, a lot of work. People underestimate the work behind a company like ours. New employees who have to make renovations in the office because there is a lack of space. We have just invested a million dollars in equipment with Michel Jodoin cider, for a new fermentation room for automation, for a new production line for cans, it’s big what we put there.
Speaking of production, is it more complex precisely with what happens in the United States with aluminum?
Of course, there was a break in the cans which meant that we did not have many cans in our possession for the holiday season unfortunately. We have resumed the flow, but we will be ready for March. When you push back two months finally, it touches four months. So it’s a bit flat, but we’ll be ready and we’ll succeed. But it pissed me off, it pissed me off. It may not be a good term to say, but think to receive hundreds of thousands of cans in November to fill the SAQ and be told no, it will be in February. When you know the importance and influence of the holiday season on sales it’s disastrous, but it’s not just us.
And precisely, compared to what is happening south of the border in relation to trade, it affects the internationalization of Duvernois, is that something that concerns you?
This is the largest market in the world and therefore the largest market for spirits in the world. It is a market that is 60 kilometers from here with almost 400 million consumers, it is clear and clear that the United States is on our radar in 2019.
You were in Las Vegas if I remember well?
Yes, but we are very cautious right now because we never know how their leaders will change the law overnight, so actually want to invest heavily in an unstable market is risky. We are following the evolution very closely, but I will tell you that our priorities this year are really Ontario, London and Paris and then the United States, we are following this closely, but I cannot invest the money and not being sure of what’s going on.
That’s what’s tough, it’s a big dilemma.
Yes, especially for products like ours where he can ride a tax overnight, again the history of cans. We will see, one country at a time, and we have a lot on the board. We launched in Japan last year. That too is a country that is very interesting to develop. We are starting to be in several countries, Australia soon, the distances are huge, it makes the work more complex. We receive e-mails at night, etc.
You were in Germany for the Bar Convent in Berlin.
Yes exactly, we also launched in Denmark, Spain very soon, it’s something.
Wow, it’s really interesting, we’ll finish with our RDPMAG questionnaire.
Your favorite city in the world?
It depends on the day, I have several favorite cities in the world, but I love Montreal, I love Montreal, it’s my city. I love New York, I love big cities, I love Paris, I love London. But my heart is in Montreal so yes.
Your favorite restaurant?
The Beatrice restaurant on Sherbrooke West. Yes, it’s good, OMG. I trust them, I ask them for a nice piece of meat for 2 pre-cut with a good Barolo, a pink Taittinger with oysters, Ah they are good! Ayayaye!
And if we go on the cocktail scene, what is your favorite bar?
There are so many good cocktail bars, it’s hard to say one. I would say that I really like the Château Frontenac cocktail bar, the 1608, because I like Château Frontenac, I like the feeling of being there, I like the design, I like the view of the river. Quebec, my in-laws are here, so I really like this city. Because I’m on vacation if I’m there. In Montreal, maybe I’ll have a cocktail, but then I’ll go home.
Your favorite car?
Surprisingly, I’m not a car guy, but what I like is technology in a car, it’s comforting. There, I own two Infiniti, I was with Audi before and I discovered with Infiniti, a brand that I did not know, but when I tried it, I loved it. But I have a favorite car, it’s the Infiniti QX 80, but my garage is too small, the truck is huge, maybe it’s the safety instinct I want with the girls and Karo, but it’s the QX80.
What is your favorite airline?
Air Canada definitely. I am always on the wings of Air Canada. Superior Economy or Business Class, it’s great. It’s going everywhere. Listen, I go almost once a month to Europe. But really, I really like Air Canada with its perfect service, we have to be proud of what is happening in our country, they encourage entrepreneurship, it’s a CEO who really knows where he is going, it’s a business which is underestimated by Canadians, but I believe, but it is really a flagship. It is a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy that is now profitable. The lounges of Air Canada are perfect, I think they did really well with the new image, and we are part of the Air Canada Business Plus Program and there is nothing simpler than that to book our tickets, discounts, access to lounges, etc.
Your favorite place to go on a trip.
It’s tough, because I travel a lot. Italy with my wife, the South with children, France, Burgundy, my family is there, the South also because they love playing in the sand, in the pool in the sea. -4 days, I love Vegas with Karo, there are good restaurants, we do not play, it’s hot. For a long weekend New York, that’s for sure. I also love going to Saguenay, I have my other family who is there with the Monts-Valins with the snow. Charlevoix I like it a lot, Mont-Tremblant I really like chalets. Again, it depends on what mood I am, I love traveling. If there is one place where I spend a lot, it’s art and traveling.
Your favorite place to shop?
New York, because there is everything, Paris, I really like Selfridges in London, I like going to a place where it goes from the entry level to the very high end. I want quality. As you evolve in life, you want quality. Sweaters that last me 4–5 times no thanks. The quality there is a price very often unfortunately, but you wash it 10-20-30 times and it will be beautiful. But I hate shopping, except shoes. I’m a shoe maniac for that I say New York by the way because of the limited edition of Nike.
Your favorite place to disconnect?
It’s sad to say, but I do not disconnect. To relax, I think about how to build another company. I can not disconnect. I’d really like to tell you to read an Agatha Christie, but after two pages I’m telling myself how I could make an Agatha Christie museum. No I can not do that it’s good it’s a regret and an ambition, but we do not choose how we are. There are some who want to do crossfit all their life, well I want to build something for my life.
Something you could not live without?
My wife, we lived together, she is the mother of my children. It’s hard to say because my parents either, my sister either. But my immediate family, yes because in the end it’s just that which counts no?
In a few words, describe me:
Refined: The wine
Distinguished: A museum
Passionate: By ideas.
Thanks Nicolas, it’s always a pleasure.
** Originally published in RDPMAG Magazine Winter 2019 **