Russian Immigrant Serge Chistov's SMB Vodka Story

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Posted by Brawlin Melgar

Most SMBs (small to medium businesses) have their own “road to riches” story about competing with the big guys in order to live the American dream. Serge Chistov, a Russian immigrant in America, definitely has an uplifting and American “rags to riches” story of his own. After the Soviet Union broke down, Serge left Russia in 1992 and came to America with only $300 in his pocket. Now, twenty years later, Serge Chistov is the President and Founder of Serge Import LLC; the importer behind Exclusiv Vodka’s highly successful introduction and expansion in America.

Before coming to America and founding his business, Serge Chistov was in Russia planning a career as a doctor. He had finished school, got married, and was entering medical school. However, he had to escape from the country after the Union’s collapse, and he chose to come to America due to its realm of possibilities.   

“American Life: true freedom, freedom of choice, ability to succeed. Opportunities are given to somebody that is willing to go after his or her dreams.  Encouragement of small and large businesses.  It’s very natural to me. This is the country that I truly appreciate, its freedom I love and I would be honored to defend.”--Serge Chistov, Importer of Exclusiv Vodka.

Serge arrived in America with a dream and a product he strongly believed in—an affordable vodka with a tremendous taste. He chose to bring Exclusiv Vodka to America, because it stemmed from Moldova, a country with a reputation for high vodka quality that is also the #1 per capita consumer of hard liquor in the world. Moldovans considered Exclusiv the TOP vodka on the market, which was a true testament of the product’s high quality and exceptional taste.

Serge didn’t have a big advertising/marketing budget for Exclusiv Vodka, making it hard to compete with multi-million and billion dollar vodka companies with oversized promotional budgets. Instead, Serge competed with the big guys by over-delivering at the price-point, staying true to the quality of the product, working long hours, and not adding any overhead or expenses beyond the necessities. Serge maintained Exclusiv’s affordable and appealing price-point by “trimming the fat” and eliminating all of the unnecessary expenses from the supply chain. For example, he did not produce high-end, overpriced marketing and presentation materials, instead focusing on the core values of making good vodka: tremendous taste, no hangover, drinkability, an ability to mix well with any mixer, selective materials, and an extremely unique water source.

By making Exclusiv Vodka for taste and enjoyment rather than for show, Serge made the product one of the least expensive, but highest quality, imported vodkas. Since 2006, Serge hasn’t increased the $9.99/bottle price of Exclusiv Vodka, as he believes that “expensive” vodka is an obsolete term.

“In Russia we do not have ‘expensive’ vodka. That phrase doesn’t exist. We don’t look at vodka as being expensive or cheap. Vodka is perceived to be a drink for everybody to enjoy.” --Serge Chistov, Importer of Exclusiv Vodka.

Exclusiv Vodka’s low price tag and upper echelon taste has proven wildly successful in Serge’s launch and expansion of the product in America. He sold 10,000 cases three years ago after its launch and is projected to sell a quarter million cases by 2012. Exclusiv Vodka has also earned nine coveted international awards, a Double Gold Medal in the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and has been ranked so highly by the Beverage Tasting Institute, that it’s placed in the same caliber of today’s most expensive top-shelf vodkas. It is now available in NY, NJ, CT, GA, SC, FL, MD, and Washington, D.C., and has plans to expand to other states. Likewise, Exclusiv Vodka also maintains a strong online presence via its website and Facebook page.

Serge Chistov, the Jack of All Trades behind Exclusiv Vodka, is a true underdog who worked hard to achieve the American dream. He is proof that it is possible for all small to medium businesses to achieve their own “rags to riches” story and compete with the big guys in their markets.