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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 1 month ago

Amid pandemic, business consultant starts new business that taps into desire for virtual connection

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Ellie Finehout's concept? Help organizations host at-home cocktail crafting experiences.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

The pandemic changed things for Ellie Finehout, like it did for many business owners.

As the pandemic gained traction in Florida, St. Petersburg-based Finehout found herself dealing with a decrease in demand at her business consulting practice Ascendalyst, where she's CEO and managing partner. She started the firm after about 20 years working for a professional employer organization. “I was starting to get some success and traction and then COVID happened,” she says. “Business consulting a lot of times is considered a luxury. In March, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I’m not one who likes to stay idle for long.”

Soon, an idea came to her — create a way for people to connect virtually around cocktails. By the end of the month, she was testing it at an event with friends. Since then, her new business, Dun at Hom, has grown, with Finehout helping clients throughout Tampa Bay and beyond create customized virtual events focused on at-home cocktail crafting. Now she has plans to grow the business to serve more clients and offer additional experiences.

Courtesy. Ellie Finehout can customize items in the kits, incorporating a client's logo or other elements.

Finehout creates party kits for her clients that are shipped to event attendees prior to the virtual gathering. Attendees use the supplies in the box to make a drink during the virtual event. “On the day of the event, I coordinate with a mixologist who will guide them through the lesson on how to make the signature cocktail,” Finehout says.

Finehout works with area bartenders and mixologists to develop drinks for Dun at Hom clients personalized to the organization or event theme. “I have a menu of options, but I really try to talk and find out what it is my client is trying to accomplish and craft the box and drink and experience around what they’re trying to do,” she says.

‘I really believe that because of this period, the way that people work is forever going to be changed. There will be a need for that shared common experience.’ — Ellie Finehout, Dun at Hom

She also customizes items in the kits, incorporating a company’s logo or other elements. “There are a lot of branding opportunities within the kit,” she says. “A client of mine that wanted to do a series of these has a shaker in the kit that is co-branded with their logo.”

The kits, starting at $29 each plus shipping, also serve as a showcase of sorts of products from small businesses. “Each kit includes a custom cookie from a local bakery here that does customized messaging cookies,” she says. “Having that win-win with other business owners has been fulfilling. I really want to send products people aren’t picking up at the grocery store every day.” The kits include many key items needed to put together a cocktail — sans alcohol, which attendees supply themselves.

Courtesy. Ellie Finehout works with area bartenders and mixologists such as Amadeus Dameron to develop drinks for clients and teach virtual event attendees how to make them.

Dun at Hom has appealed to both companies and nonprofits as a way to connect with employees and engage with clients. “Originally what I thought was that it would be college roommates that haven’t seen each other in quite some time or sorority sisters that wanted to have a book club event on a Zoom platform, but I’m following the business that’s calling me, and that all seems to be business and nonprofit-related,” Finehout says.

Customers have come to Dun at Hom through referrals and word of mouth. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that a lot of my customers are coming back as repeat customers,” she says. “All of my new customers have been referrals from someone who has attended an event.” Clients have included Tampa area firms CFO Alliance, Venuetize and AVI-SPL.

Most clients are in the continental U.S., but she’s also collaborated with an event coordinator who works internationally. In October, Finehout had her first event that went international, with kits shipped off to attendees in Canada and Ireland.

After the events, she seeks feedback from attendees and hosts. “With each event, I iterate a little bit, taking the lessons learned and snowballing it into something that’s really fun and exciting,” she says.

Courtesy. Ellie Finehout creates party kits for her clients that are shipped to event attendees prior to the virtual gathering.

Growth ahead for the company could come in the form of expanding beyond cocktail experiences. “My intention is that this becomes an internet destination,” Finehout says. “This would be a platform for having that shared experience, maybe doing something with the bakery on cookie decorating. But having the shared experience with the delivered kits and having an instructor lead this shared experience makes the virtual party a little more memorable.”

While Finehout created Dun at Hom in response to the pandemic, she thinks it will thrive far beyond the coronavirus crisis. “I really believe that because of this period, the way that people work is forever going to be changed,” she says. “There will be a need for that shared common experience.”

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