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Local beverage entrepreneur retrenches with new venture

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Indianapolis entrepreneur J. Smoke Wallin has a lengthy history with the alcoholic beverage industry—perhaps as long as the beak of a pelican, the bird that represents his latest venture.

The former chief financial officer of local distributor National Wine & Spirits Inc. and founder of eSkye Solutions Inc., a maker of ordering software for the liquor industry that he sold in 2007, Wallin now is concentrating on Pelican Brands LLP.

Wallin, 43, founded the marketing, sales and distribution company in June. This week, he signed his second client: Napa Smith Brewery in northern California. Pelican also represents Singha, Thailand’s top export beer.

Pelican expects to sign at least six more brands by the end of the year, a few of which will take the company into the wine and spirits industries. Counting Red Eye Bloody Mary mix, a brand Wallin purchased in March 2008, he estimates Pelican will sell $15 million worth of products this year.

And Wallin thinks the company can hit the $100 million mark by the end of 2011—an ambitious goal considering a few of the obstacles he has encountered the past few years.

“I think I have a pretty good sense of when things are moving in the right direction,” Wallin said.

Another of his companies, Taliera Holdings LLC, whose aim is to roll up unknown or orphaned alcohol-related brands that could grow if given adequate attention and resources, has only acquired one brand so far—Texas-based Red Eye.

Taliera first tried to advance its plan in July 2006 through a $60 million initial public offering. It abandoned that route in late March 2007 and decided to privately finance its acquisitions.

But Wallin said the credit crunch hindered Taliera’s efforts to receive financing for additional purchases, so he put the business model on hold to concentrate on representing brands instead.

Napa Smith Brewery’s signing with Pelican Brands represents a big step for the West Coast company, as it looks to expand beyond California, owner Greg Cutuli said in a prepared statement.

“We expect Pelican Brands to add invaluable insight and experience to the development and implementation of our brand strategy in the coming years,” he said. “We have been impressed by Pelican Brands on all fronts, and we are delighted to have been able to attract such a strong partner.”

Pelican originated with Wallin simply doing consulting work to “keep the lights on, at work and at home.” One of his first clients, Singha in Thailand, hired Wallin to consult on its U.S. sales strategy and liked his recommendations so much that it asked him to implement the changes himself.

Now that Singha is available in all 50 states, Pelican is adding more brands, such as Napa Smith Brewery, Wallin said.

Pelican employs 12 people at its Carmel headquarters and has a sales network of nearly 60 independent brokers across the country to help market and distribute the brands it represents.

“It is extremely expensive for a brand to do that on their own,” Wallin said. “We give them a national footprint.”

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