Uncle Waithleys with Karl Franz Williams feature #47 of Together Talks
Updated: Oct 25
"Together Talks" feature #47: Uncle Waithleys presented by KLS, freight company
Some Background on Uncle Waithleys
For today's edition of "Together Talks" campaign, KLS had the opportunity to interview Uncle Waithleys and founder, Karl Franz Williams. At their roots, they are all about “The Vibe”. They believe in the power of a wicked rhythm, lyrics that we can sing out loud with our eyes closed, dance, style, and good company to create a positive, free-spirited atmosphere- a moment. They are passionate about seeing you express your unique, unfiltered spirit, so they ask you: “How do you spice up your vibe?”
Uncle Waithleys deep connection to the vibrant Caribbean culture coupled with traditional mixology techniques allows them to create a truly authentic taste experience. They are dedicated to keeping their brand entrenched in any and everything Vibe, and always looking for ways to push the boundaries.
They want to see how you Spice Up Your Vibe! Share your unique approach with them and join their tribe of like-minded rebels who are passionate about living life to the fullest. #spiceupyourvibe
No Golden Handcuffs
To understand the beginning of Uncle Waithleys we need to go through the journey of Karl's career. It started with earning his degree from Yale University with a degree in electrical engineering. From there he got his first experience in the beverage industry as a member of Proctor & Gamble, focusing on Sunny Delight and Hawaiian Punch. Soon after he was transitioned to Gain, which he joked is why he was no longer with P&G. He then joined PepsiCo where he over saw Latino markets on the marketing side before being promoted to the Marketing Manager. Karl shared with us that this is where he saw the power and value of marketing for a brand, an early seed that would serve him about a decade later.
Around this time, Karl opened up a café, Society Coffee, on the side while still with PepsiCo. He was then promoted to Core Beverage Innovation Incubation, which stirred the creative juices. Karl then opened 67 Orange Street, Harlem's first cocktail bar and modern speakeasy. In the 15 years of business, Karl has led this establishment to being Best Bar in Harlem TimeOut2017, Esquire Top 27 bar in America in 2021, and Top 50 in New York yearly.
Opening this bar was the moment where Karl found himself at a crossroad. He and many from his cohort were climbing the corporate ladder quickly. He was well on his way to holding a top position within PepsiCo or another company if he wanted to. But he also had this crazy idea. See at his bar he had developed his own unique Ginger Beer used for mixing. This product had great feedback amongst bartenders and patrons. Karl had business experience, he had seen the power of marketing up close and first hand, but more importantly he had this pull to creating something that was an homage to his family.
Karl decided to leave corporate America to continue building his bar and his solo endeavors. Karl would go on to own an additional two bars prior to 2020 when he decided that it was the right moment to commercialize Uncle Waithleys.
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1 Store Start
January of 2022 was the market debut of his product. Karl got into a single Whole Foods Store. Almost instantly it became the best-selling ginger beer. Immediately picked up for an additional two stores. By the end of last year expanded into an additional 14 stores. All in all, Uncle Waithleys is in over 80 large format retail locations. Karl believes they have the right mix of pricing and merchandising for grocery and their quick growth and expansion is echoing that. As is the impressive list of awards earned in just 2 years!
In addition to the grocery side, Karl also wants to stay true to his first business which is the bar industry. His product is currently found in over 60 bars in the New York and Tri-State area. They plan to continue to grow and expand that increasing their reach in the Atlantic region.
The "Vincy" Experience
So what is the secret to Uncle Waithleys being so delicious and unique? Well it goes back to Karl's roots. His family is from the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. While owning his bars, Karl came across the realization that there isn't a natural mixing product. Everything was artificial tasting and heavy sugar within the Caribbean market. He could not find a product that provided a fresh natural taste, which ultimately limited it's potential to elevate the mixability.
Karl felt the calling when he left corporate America to somehow include his heritage. Uncle Waithleys would ultimately turn into that. But before he scaled it, he had to create the product first. That began with sourcing organic Peruvian ginger, the highest quality available. The next unique but key component was the scotch bennet pepper, prized for its heat and sweet flavor. The third key element was using mineral water or "spa water" as it is known in St. Vincent, in which the locals joke it gives long life!
With that Karl had created the ONLY ginger beer or beverage on the market using scotch bonnet pepper. Coupling that with the mineral water he told us enhances the flavors. The way Karl explained it, "It is hard to differentiate between ginger and pepper so what this does is lengthens the bite".
And thus "Vincy" was developed, which means "From/of" St. Vincent!
And the name is the full circle moment of tying in his family's heritage. His Grandfather lived to be 100 and his name was Waithley. Also it is his father's name as well. Karl was able to combine his heritage, his family, and his culture to create this one-of-a-kind new product.
Karl shared with us that the beverage industry is about scale. It is nearly impossible to be successful unless you can rump up to a good size in a reasonable amount of time. The challenge is balancing funding and scaling. In order to scale you need to partner with the right manufacturing and co-pack partners. But typically they won't onboard new clients unless the volume warrants it. But in order to have that level of demand you need to sell enough volume, which typically requires marketing, sampling, etc. You need funding to grow and to grow you need scaling. It is a Catch 22.
In our discussion Karl, stated how finding funding in the space is difficult, but even more challenging being an entrepreneur of color. One of the reasons he continues to mentor and give back whenever he can, to continue to advance and evolve the platforms and opportunities for those coming up with ideas and goals to be entrepreneurs.
We asked Karl his fears he had and he took us to when he decided to leave PepsiCo, as he shared, "I had senior level individuals from Pepsi come and talk to me at my café. They wanted to touch base, making sure I was making the right decision to walk away from the trajectory I was on. But looking back I was less afraid then. I was in my early 30's, I didn't have a wife or kids. I've always been a determined person which has its pros and cons. Plenty of times I could have thrown in the towel, but I always felt something here worth doing and that I need to finish the story".
Karl shared how it was an emotional and incredibly difficult decision, but he believed he was on the right path. He told us this journey has been full circle as he has been able to bring his entire experience from corporate America marketing, paired with his small business ownership, and lastly his expertise being a mixologist.
As he shared with us, "luckily there is no doubt we have a great product. We knew it initially, but it was subjective. Once we reached stores and commercialized it, it became subjective".
What is next?
The company is focused on continuing to grow its exposure as they wrap up 2023 and head into 2024. Karl explained the lofty goals of reaching 500+ large format locations and over 100+ bars. In addition to expanding the reach, he hopes to continue fundraising to grow and scale the operations for Uncle Waithleys. Another goal for Karl is to add additional flavors to the ginger beer line. He told us that ginger beer is the first product in the line, but the idea and strategy is to have Caribbean crafted flavors throughout.
Karl explained to us that the culture is directly aligned with the company which is the homage to their culture and family. The importance of family, culture, and authenticity are three pillars that Uncle Waithleys holds near and dear. The value Karl and his company place on these three traits allows them to remain authentic and real. He also values caring about ourselves and well-being which is why he helped create a better for you product with natural ingredients. The company will continue building on the idea of innovation and creativity. Using his background in mixology, he plans to continue using Caribbean touches which is enabling the company to curate some great art in how they want the products to be expressed.
On top of the awards listed below, Karl shared that the company just won a scholarship to attend Expo East this fall. That is after he recently just attended Fancy Food Show. When we asked Karl what the best part of his job is, he told us "Watching people enjoy the product, I love it. It is validation. Coming from hospitality the goal is to make people happy, which our product does". We also had to know, given his background in mixology, does he enjoy it more when someone tastes Uncle Waithleys in a mixed drink or consumed solo, he answered, "Mixology it plays a supporting role, it is part of the team, but I have to say solo because it is the star. On its own you get the full experience".
Incredibly at Fancy Food show had the opportunity to once again watch consumers try his product for his favorite aspect of the job. But another incredible feat, Karl was interviewed by CBS, which you can watch here courtesy of the Uncle Waithleys' LinkedIn page. We closed our chat with Karl, asking if he had a favorite moment so far in his journey, Karl didn't hesitate, "My Mom left a voicemail saying she saw me on CBS and how proud she was. That was pretty special".
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KLS wants to thank Karl Franz Williams, founder, of Uncle Waithleys for today's "Together Talks" feature. Keep up to date with Uncle Waithleys by following their blog on their website, check it out here. Follow along for the Uncle Waithleys journey with their social handles below!
Uncle Waithleys and Karl have also been featured in the below publications
Klimson Logistics Solutions - "Together Talks" feature #47 Uncle Waithleys with Karl Franz Williams
*Klimson Logistics Solutions is an Industry Leading Customer Service 3PL. Our focus and commitment to our clients has us striving to be the BEST customer service 3PL for LTL, FTL, Reefer, and Drayage in the country. KLS, freight company, is a 3PL providing nationwide logistics solutions. KLS shipping services include: LTL freight, FTL freight, Reefer LTL freight, Reefer FTL freight, and Drayage. Klimson Logistics Solutions thanks you for viewing our marketing campaign, "Together Talks". If you have any interest in being featured or questions regarding your freight operations please contact us today!
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We handle every shipment with the exact same process. It does not matter if you move one shipment a year or ten per day, you will receive the same level of customer service from us. When we started this company, we had one goal in mind, treat every shipment like it was our own. With our vast knowledge of the industry, we understood what a customer would want from a communication standpoint. We applied that process to be the standard here at KLS. Our reliability and being able to depend on our consistency is why we have such long-standing relationships with our clients.
Every shipment in our industry starts with a quote. We are firm believers that time is money, thus we strive to have quotes back in a 5-10 minute reply time for LTL and FTL, any FCL quotes are at the mercy of the carriers getting back to us. For LTL we have the flexibility to quote both off of NMFC and also Density depending on the carrier. Utilizing our services, you’re allowing us to use our expertise to class your freight accordingly to ensure we are providing the best rate we possibly can.
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For reference, our company only had 6.2% of all shipments go to dispute in 2022 and we successfully won 91% of those disputes on behalf of our customers.
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Let’s breakdown our services more in-depth
LTL: Standard and Guaranteed CFS (Imports & Exports) Tradeshows Hazmat Anything that is on a pallet can be moved LTL. Typically LTL is up to 10 pallets, but the sweet spot for a carrier is 6-8 pallets at most for an individual shipment. LTL quotes are good between 5-30 days depending on the carrier. LTL can be quoted either via NMFC or density to determine the class (we do this for you).
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Reefer/Frozen: LTL and FTL We specialize working in the CPG space with food manufacturers. We regularly deliver to the following locations: Kehe UNFI Core Mark DPI Wegmans Cugini H.T. Hackney Netrition HEB ALDI Chambers and Owens EBY Brown Nassau Candy Harris Teeter Wakefern NU INC Long Distribution
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There are thousands for freight brokers and 3PL in our industry. Barrier to entry is rather easy and agents or owners will often hire sales people without any intention of properly training them. It results in high turnover for many freight companies and a forgettable experience for the client. We choose to operate differently through our consistency. We truly care about doing right by our clients and prospects too. While we would love to help provide our services to every company we speak with, that just isn’t realistic. We won’t always be the right fit for every company that moves freight and that is ok. Our authenticity as a shipping company sets us apart from the competition and that is backed up by our testimonials. We also run a marketing campaign bi-weekly called “Together Talks”. We interview, highlight, and promote two businesses every week. Our goal is to grow our network, make new connections, and learn something new with each collaboration. Check it out on our website and if you’re interested in being featured reach out.
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