Business Rx: He's got Wisdom, but is in search of more marketing savvy
Erik Holzherr is winning awards for the drinks he serves up at his lounge, Wisdom, in D.C. He saved money for seven years, began bartending and mastered the art of mixology on his own. During that time, he researched D.C. neighborhoods and learned about commercial property, business licensing and liquor laws. Holzherr purchased a vacant building in an up-and-coming area near Capitol Hill. With the help of his father and an uncle, he renovated the building into his dream cocktail lounge on the first floor and an apartment for his home above. Holzherr even did his own decorating -- including a vintage wooden bar from a California naval base, antique furniture and a chandelier he carried home in his backpack from a trip to Turkey.
The resulting vibe has been more speak-easy than club since Wisdom opened in October 2008. There are no TVs and the music is set at levels that promote conversation. Plus, the drinks are unique. Along with offering the city's most extensive absinthe menu, Holzherr pours cocktails that have earned him accolades.
"Wisdom is an upscale cocktail lounge, specializing in masterfully crafted and one-of-a kind cocktails. We try to appeal to educated consumers from all ethnic backgrounds -- our decor and music is extremely eclectic.
"Wisdom is very unique; there are no other true lounges in the Capitol Hill area and very few in the D.C. metro area. The ambiance appeals to people looking to avoid chain establishments."
"The biggest challenge is the neighborhood is up-and-coming, and although we are on Pennsylvania Avenue, 1.4 miles from the Capitol and a half block from the Potomac Avenue Metro station, there is not much foot traffic. There are few other open businesses in the immediate area, so we are more of a destination spot. Also, many people have a negative perception of Southeast. I cannot single-handedly change a negative perception of Southeast, but I have done my part starting up a neighborhood watch, meeting many neighbors and police officers, and trying to build a community."
"The one thing I can control is marketing, and it is definitely my weakness. I am also very limited in funds for marketing. Most people are extremely impressed and surprised by Wisdom when we get them in the door, but the challenge is getting potential consumers in my immediate area and Metro-accessible D.C. areas to 1. know we exist and 2. make an effort to check us out.
"The other thing I'm struggling with -- I'm using really expensive ingredients and doing some different stuff with cocktails. Some people really appreciate this, but others aren't comfortable with it. Do I change my brand and go for cheaper ingredients and better prices in order to make it thrive, or do I keep chugging along and keep looking for new people who would be excited by what we offer?