From Historic Downtown Plano, Mason Ice and the BARetc. team manage a staff of 8,000 with 500 events a weekend for national spirit, wine and beer brands. BARetc. has grown from the brainchild of a couple of guys to an experiential marketing agency specializing in on-the-ground, engaging promotional events for national spirit, wine and beer brands. Run by Mason Ice, Michael Gallo and Mike Munoz, BARetc. designs custom campaigns and conducts events for brands such as Stoli, Patron and New Amsterdam Vodka. Mason Ice offered us a look into the business and the innovative world of experiential promotion.
How did you get into the business?
I pretty much grew up in the promotional industry. When I was 21, I was Captain Morgan, so I’d dress up like a buccaneer and went to bars, got up on the tables, and promoted Captain Morgan with a team of Morganettes across DFW; it was a lot of fun and paid great being in college.
How does someone become Captain Morgan?
I popped in on a Nintendo Gamecube release party in Deep Ellum while I was working with Xbox and saw some promotional models passing out samples. I asked what marketing company they worked for and instead of answering my question they said, “Hey, you’re tall, you’d be a good Captain Morgan.” I thought that to be random but they then elaborated, “no, seriously, our captain had to leave the state for his full time job suddenly so we need one really bad.” And so started my career into the liquor side of the promotional world. Ironically, I actually look more like Captain Morgan now than I did then. My hair was short and spiky and I had to wear a wig with glued on facial hair. I guess I’ve grown into the brands I represent or have once represented.
How did BARetc. come around?
BARetc. started six years ago. I did the Captain Morgan thing for a while and several other brands and then I met Michael Gallo who had an agency here in Texas. We ran all of the promotions for Coors Light nationally for a few years along with the Super Bowl events, road tours; all of it. It was a lot of fun and an equal amount of long nights and hard work.
Some transitions happened and then decided to start a new company together, BARetc. We then started working with national brands like Eppa Sangria, New Amsterdam Vodka and more. We’ll do about 15,000 events in the course of a year with either bar promotion or retail sampling events.
How do you keep track of that many events?
One of the partners, Michael Munoz, invested in BARetc and joined the team in 2011. He was one of the original founders of RealPage, Inc, a software company that provides solutions to the multifamily housing industry. Mike was with RealPage until it went public in 2010 and then sold his shares and joined BARetc. Mike has used his software experience to build a new reporting and event management platform that is used today to manage the company’s growing business.
We also have a strong team of managers that work with our local talent along with the aid of our office staff and a national recruiter to keep the wheels moving and the samples pouring. We also have up to 8,000 active subcontracted employees around the country engaging directly with the consumers. It’s a great gig for a lot of people from all walks of life. Pay generally starts at $20 an hour for retail events, and bar/nightlife promotions will typically pay $25 an hour. I even have friends and family that work for us on the side of their primary jobs. They’re typically teachers working over the summer months when they are off, or have a career where their Friday evenings and weekends are more flexible.
It’s become this in just six years?
Yes, and we are always looking at where we will be going into the next year and what we can improve on. We also have a promotional product division, too. We’re ASI suppliers which means we source directly from the manufacturers for the supplies we use for events. These could be branded Koozies, keychains, uniforms, to custom manufactured items as well. We have a warehouse down the street from our Downtown Plano office that serves as our fulfillment center for these items used in our event kits. We actually work with the brand team in many scenarios to develop these campaigns for the look and feel of the events.
How do these brands find out about you?
Word of mouth in most cases. In the world of adult beverage and food sampling, there’s a very defined Kevin Bacon rule—no pun intended—everybody knows everybody by some degree of separation. Once you’re in this industry you tend to never fully leave some aspect of it, so you don’t want to burn any bridges. And if you do a good job, they’ll come to you through ways of clients transitioning to other suppliers, to recommendations from the distributors, etc.
What’s next for BARetc.?
We’re are working on some really cool stuff this year. A lot of this is going to be driven by our event reporting platform. The more value and analytics we can give to our clients out of the work we do for them currently, the more we can then layer on some new innovations. Of course tech and social always has a part in this industry and we are very dialed into that as well.
What trends do you see in the spirits industry?
I think people are looking for something between your basic vodka soda and your craft mixology cocktail. Something with better ingredients all around but easy to make at home or ordering at a bar. We’re already starting to see more of a health conscious angle and a purity of ingredients across the board with brand messaging.
What’s your favorite drink?
A great sipping añejo Mezcal is my go-to. The smoky flavor you get from your peaty scotches is great, but I love a great quality aged tequila too, so this is always my happy middle ground.
When Mason isn’t promoting spirits, beers and wine with BARetc., he runs an event space, Old Community Well, in downtown Plano. The eclectic space is filled with vintage furniture such as an midcentury red leather chesterfield sofa, old wooden wine and bourbon barrels and random vintage items such as a Penny Farthing, old cameras and an old rotary phone. It’s also the only building in downtown where the original indoor water well still stands. It’s said that the building’s first owner used to hide liquor bottles down there during the prohibition era. Old Community Well hosts meeting retreats for companies looking to break out of your typical hotel meeting space for something more eclectic. Or it offers as cozy and unique space for parties and various other functions. They also work with vendors in co-hosting how-to classes for BYOB workshops where you build your own terrarium, make your own candles, etc. Old Community Well also turns into a pop-up market during the downtown Plano wine walks playing host to many local craft companies.
Mason is currently also collaborating on a series of condiment-themed cooking classes with Chef April Barney of Miller & Associates in Dallas. Condiment Kitchen will launch in Old Community Well soon.
For more on BARetc. visit baretc.com.
For more information on Old Community Well, visit OldCommunityWell.com.