Naren Young on how to make brand partnerships work for you

Story By Naren Young, Creative Director – Sweet Liberty, Miami
Instagram: @forkandshaker

Over a twenty-five year career that spans the globe, one thing that has become extremely important to me and that I guard intensely is my relationship with certain brands. I’m maniacally loyal to those that have supported me and the bars I’ve run and in turn they know they can count on me. But that takes time and it takes work on both sides. It also involves building up a level of trust to a point where you both know that this is a fruitful relationship that has huge rewards.

This is a massive point of pride for me and I invest a lot of time and personal energy cultivating these partnerships. Always remember though that this is a two way street and the easiest way to lose the trust in this relationship with your brand reps and brand ambassadors is by constantly asking for things without offering up something in return. I’ve seen way too many leading bar people constantly with their hands out basically saying “gimme, gimme, gimme”. This will get tired very quickly.

When I go into any strategic meeting with a brand where I know I’m going to be asking them for something, no matter how small that might be, I always follow up my request with something along the lines of: “What do you need? Are there specific brands that you need help with at this time?” Keep in mind that many companies have different KPIs over the course of the year and different brands of theirs might be more important to them at a certain time of year too. The only way to know this is to ask and by doing so you’ll actually look like you sincerely care, which is the whole point, and just one way to make sure the relationship moves forward in a way that benefits everyone involved.

Collaborating with brands is just one part of my job that I genuinely love. Now that I’ve mostly stepped out from behind the bar and into more of a Creative Director role, working with brands on these strategic partnerships has become more important than ever, especially during Covid when this has become even more critical to a bar’s survival. Creating events, working on pop ups, implementing education programs, doing team outings and helping them launch new product lines are just some ways to help solidify these relationships.


“Working with brands on these strategic partnerships has become more important than ever, especially during Covid when this has become even more critical to a bar’s survival.”

You do need to set boundaries though and I’m pretty clear to all my brand reps who now know not to just drop by to “quickly taste my new (insert spirit here)”. They know to make an appointment and that way I can give them my full attention as opposed to rush through a tasting when I won’t give their product the respect that it potentially deserves. Or they know not to pop in and taste a product that they clearly know doesn’t fit in with the style or standards of my bar program. Again, this only comes with time and building a friendship.

I want these brand reps and ambassadors to be present though. I want them to come in and support us and bring in friends and colleagues and frankly to spend money. It can’t be overstated how important these people are in keeping our bars in business and we should all recognize that fact. Showering them with a little bit of ‘love’ from the bar with some welcome drinks (always use their brands kids!) or a few snacks from the kitchen never hurt either. Hang out socially. Go for a fancy lunch or dinner. Accompany them to events. Many of these people have now become close personal friends and that has only helped create a sense of loyalty on both sides. There’s almost nothing I won’t do to help them push their brands forward at my bar and at others.

On the flip side, there’s certain brands that I don’t work with. Not on purpose and not because I don’t want to or that I never would. But there’s some major companies out there that almost never come into my bar (or any bar). Am I upset about this? Of course not. But support needs to be reciprocated and I’m not going to chase after liquor companies to seek out their brands. They may have their own reasons for not coming into my bar and that’s ok too. No hard feelings on my end. But if brands want to be visible, especially in the world’s best bars, then they need to be present, they need to be patient and respectful and they need to be around.

Naren Young can be found at Sweet Liberty in Miami. Reach him @forkandshaker