Mitchell and Mary Smilovitis launched a premium 100% Australian made and owned liquor brand, in a time where the market is very stressful due the pandemic. The Smilovitis family has a strong business background and worked around the current market obstacles. The focus for Smilov Spirits is on the online shopping segment which has no doubt boomed over the past couple of years with changing consumer behaviours and online retail therapy becoming the new norm. The alcohol industry has been relatively slow in following retail trends.
“I am here because of that Greek heritage – the work ethic, the stubbornness to push on with an idea and pursue what you believe in. My name is on the bottle (of vodka) and it is very important to have the authenticity right” Mitchell says.
Smilov Spirits launched its ecommerce website on the 25th June 2021. It did not follow traditional routes of partnering with third party distributors or going down the traditional brick and mortar approach. Whilst they plan to implement distribution channels, the core focus remains on the direct-to-consumer market where they feel there is a gap in the market.
There has been a shift in how people not only shop but also consume alcohol in the home environment.
“It was important that at the beginning we made the in-house mission statement. We are not a distillery; we are brand builders. We have no cellar door, no in-house bottling facility, we outsource all non-core activities in our business and remain completely focused on our strengths which lie in e-commerce, digital marketing, and fulfillment. Whilst traditional operations and distribution methods will pay a part in our overall growth strategy, our day to day is all e-commerce focused and we think online first”, says Mary Smilovitis.
Smilov Spirits was birthed out of a passion for good quality locally made Vodka which was complementary to the founder’s lifestyle around home consumption.
It is not second nature to buy alcohol online, people buy a range of goods online, furniture, clothing and other large ticket items so we know it is not about pricing or even the ability to test products. It is a mindset that says we will go to a liquor shop a couple days before the weekend and pick up a few bottles, rather than sit at home or at your desk and order a couple bottles of Vodka to be delivered to your door for the weekend.
There is a shift around purchasing and stocking at home thanks to the pandemic, where traditionally alcohol is a purchase typically for immediate consumption and not something stocked in the cupboard like cans of food.
“Our ability to market and use digital and social media channels to connect with our audience, showcase our product, the ongoing story behind it and the people behind the brand is core to how we are growing Smilov Spirits. There is a huge market with digital buyers and we ourselves buy online in the same way we market. We see a brand, we connect with that brand and we remain loyal to that brand”, says Mary Smilovitis.
Innovative marketing, a deep understanding of digital tools, e-commerce analytics and an understanding of how to create the right content is our strength. We are e-commerce entrepreneurs first and foremost and not distillers, we have an amazing product, a great quality premium locally made Vodka and we are confident we have one of the best Vodkas on the market. We want to showcase that to Australia and beyond.
If there’s one thing in drinks that can be more fascinating than the drinks themselves, it’s the unknown stories behind them.
The Smilovitis family history stems back to Florina, a town in the Northern part of Greece. Mitchell’s grandfather Dimitri (from his father’s side) was fearless and would try anything. Dimitri was always hands-on and always doing things. He was very young when the Germans caught him ferrying arms for the partisans. Florina was in the direct line of the initial German advance into Greece and later the epicentre of the Greek Civil War. He was sent to Dachau concentration camp in Germany. During the Greek civil war Dimitri met Sophia in East Germany. Mitchell’s father, Tom, was born in East Germany. Dimitri returned to join the Greek army and fought in the civil war and in the Korean War. Family members were lost during Florina’s bombardment in 1944.
Agriculture and sustainability were a big part of the Smilovitis’ lives as a way of survival but the Greek economic devastation following the war brought many hardships.
“Imagine it being so cold and we were so poor with very little means of heat in our small one room flat. I dried your nappies on my chest because that’s the only way I thought possible to make sure you were taken care of. My whole life has been difficult, like a long stem rose filled with thorns, but in the end, God gave me the rose.” ~ Sofia Smilovitis (extract from tomsmilovitis.com).
Dimitri, Sophia and their three children (Athanassios, Alexandros and Angeliki) travelled to Freemantle in Western Australia, via RHMS Patris, in April 1968. Mitchell’s father was only five years old.
Dimitri started a business called European Pastry Cooks in the early 70’s and made Phyllo pastry, Baklava and Kataifi, Spanakopita.
“The Smilovitis family was the 1st Perth and only wholesale business making and selling Phyllo pastry and Greek sweets in the 70’s. They actually used to sell to Boans Myer (Now Myers) and my dad used to sell baklava when he was 14 years old. Pappou would drive an HR Station wagon around filled with cakes, sweets and baklava. My father, Athanassios (Tom), would knock on doors and cafes, walk in and try to sell them there and then”, says Mitchell.
Tom sold his first tray of baklava in 1978. He opted to leave school before his fifteenth birthday and had no option but to work in the family business.
The family have deep routes to the Southwest of Western Australia which is why going back to their roots and having the Vodka produced in Margaret River, Western Australia was a core part of the business.
“I think the attitude was passed down to the next generations. That no matter what you’re doing, you need to understand the process. Don’t trust someone else, you learn the process, teach yourself so that when the time comes to talk about a product, you know what you’re doing,” Mitchell says.
At the age of 19, Mitchell launched his first business property management company. In 2017, the couple moved with their children to Chennai, India to explore the opportunities there.
“My 20s were the blink of an eye. I loved India, I saw opportunities and started businesses there,” Mr Smilovitis said.
The family returned to Western Australia in January 2020 to sort a number of issues when COVID hit and forced a re-assessment that led them to moving to Margaret River.
“The years 2017 to 2020 were a roller-coaster life in India that took up a lot of energy. We decided this was a good time to settle down. The children (three boys aged 11,10 and seven) learned a lot from travelling but now it is time to grow roots,” he said.
Mitchell credits his late grandmother, Sophia, for instilling in him an understanding of business and being patient with time and money.
“She was very good with looking after the family money. Although she could not speak English, she always knew what state I was in. She would say ‘slowly, slowly, Mitchell,’ to take the time to look at all aspects (of a business idea before committing to it).”
My Grandfather told my dad a parable which he lived by, my Dad now lives by it and so do I.
A man had two sons and he assigned each of them to build a house for themselves in a tired old town that showed prospect. It appeared to be a good investment for their future. The time came for the father to inspect what each son had built.
He visited the first son who built his house on top of the hill overlooking the town below.
When the father started looking throughout the house on the hill, it was evident that this son spared no expense and the architectural detail and materials used was of the highest quality. The father compliments his son on the building, however the father makes one comment that could be taken as negative. “As I walk through your house appreciating the building, it feels cold and isolated”.
The father went on to visit the second son’s house which was apparently built in the township. As the father and second son walked through the town, a voice from a shop keeper calls out to the son, “Please have dinner at my house tonight and bring your father”.
… then another shopkeeper calls out, “You must have lunch this Saturday at my house, I’d like to introduce your father to my family”.
…. voices of strangers called out to the son and the father offering a bed and food or transportation.
The father amused by all the generosity and how sociable everyone was and in particular how much they admired his son.
Then the father asks to see the second son’s house. The son responds, “This is my house, this town. I invested in all the businesses and the people, helping them rebuild their town. They provide food for me, a bed and company.
The father mused by the unexpected answer. Being a wise old man, he responds to his son’s choice of investment. “You have indeed built the most magnificent home rather than choosing to build a house yourself”.
Mitchell Smilovitis found the perfect way to keep the spirit of his family’s past alive. Four generations all fit in one bottle, with name and authenticity.
Order your Smilov Vodka online (www.smilovspirits.com.au) and simply try it for yourself. Taste this special blend that creates a subtle, yet distinct flavour, and let your imagination wonder to this beautiful Greek town.
Perhaps you might even hear that echo from the past. It’s a joyful song played by Mitchell’s great grand uncle, Ioannis Smilovitis. He was a member of the band “Orfeus” in Florina and looks over him with special pride.