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Veteran Turned Entrepreneur: FIOR Scotch

FIOR Scotch StartUp 101 Story 1FIOR Scotch StartUp 101 Story 1

Sometimes, you set out to create a business, and sometimes, you just don’t know how to stop being busy.

That was the case for Eric Dominijanni, a retired Marine Corps Major. Dominijanni left the service behind but not the habits it had instilled in him, and soon he had founded a scotch label, FIOR Scotch.

“I took a break after I retired, I took some time to do the things I couldn’t when I was in the Corps. I’m always happy to take some personal time, but I need to get back to work,” Dominijanni said. “I always have that feeling of, ‘if you’re not ahead, you’re behind.’ Keep your brain working.”

It’s not just talk. In addition to running the company, he’s also completing a Ph.D. program.

Dominijanni, who has a background in the culinary arts, regularly hosts dinner parties. “I always thought maybe I’d have my own wine or a restaurant or something. I had started experimenting with an infinity bottle of scotch, and I would share it with friends at dinner parties I host and they kept telling me I needed to sell it, that they would buy a bottle,” Dominijanni said.

FIOR Scotch stands out because it offers a balanced blend that appeals to both new and seasoned scotch drinkers. Many people find scotch either too peaty or too smoky, while others feel it’s not peaty or smoky enough. With FIOR, Dominijanni aimed to create a harmonious blend of different scotch flavor profiles that everyone can enjoy. As a chef, he is highly attuned to flavors, aromas, and textures and uses this expertise to craft FIOR. Dominijanni approached its creation not as a bartender or a scotch expert but with the sensibilities of a chef. His goal was to make something that tasted great and that he’d be proud to share with friends.

“A service member will always support another service member, like ’I’ll buy your scotch just because you’re a marine.’ They’ll buy the first bottle because you’re a fellow soldier, but getting that return business… that’s what it comes down to.”

FIOR 2210 047 Courtesy of Stephen BlackmonFIOR 2210 047 Courtesy of Stephen Blackmon

Where Dominijanni had the drive to start the business, he had none of the knowledge. The spirits business has lots of regulations, and they differ from state to state.

That’s when he turned to his network, specifically his friend Jim Landis, who had extensive experience in the business.

He credits his time in the Marines with teaching him to lead and when to acknowledge that he didn’t know how to do something—a must-have skill for anyone who wants to be the boss.

“When you’re the boss, you may not be the smartest guy in the room. If you are, you’re gonna do a lot of work. If you’re not, the smartest thing to do is hire people who are smarter than you,” Dominijanni said. “They’re the experts when you’re the commander. You can’t know everything, so you have specialists who work underneath you. They might have an idea, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to listen or not.”

Dominijanni said that even though it’s his business, he considers himself an apprentice to Landis and other members of his staff, whom he leans heavily on.

“I’m not making mistakes because my staff is there to say, ‘let’s not do that right now. Let’s wait a year or six months,’” Dominijanni said.

What he does bring to the table, he said, is the same skill that served him well in the Marines.

“People develop a comfort zone, they develop habits. But the greatest thing about being the new guy, and the boss is saying, ‘Hey, why do we do it this way?’” Dominijanni said. “I want a good reason why we shouldn’t change things up, and in most cases, they can’t give me one. They’ve just grown used to doing things a certain way.”

FS 2211 005 Courtesy of Stephen BlackmonFS 2211 005 Courtesy of Stephen Blackmon

That said, he doesn’t see a leader as someone who steps in and shakes things up just to do it – every member of the team has a role to play, and micromanaging staff not only wears on team morale but it means the boss isn’t focused on the picture as a whole, just a small piece of it.

“You have to learn to see the big picture of everything. At the end of the day, that’s your responsibility. The team is focused on the minutia, they’re doing what you told them to do, even if they don’t fully know why you told them to do it,” Dominijanni said.

FIOR has been recognized by multiple industry publications and received several awards, but Dominijanni is always thinking three steps ahead, something he said every leader has to do if they want to continue to succeed.

“We’re already in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Atlanta, and South Carolina, and we’ll be in Florida any day now. But we’re looking at expanding to more states,” Dominijanni said.

But planning is only one-half of the key to Dominijanni’s success. The other is passion.

“I’ve always got to be creating something. At the end of the day, I’m doing this for myself. I don’t expect a guy who’s been drinking scotch for 30 years to give up his preferred brand for mine – I want to get the respect from the old-timers, but those people who are just discovering what they like. I want to be in their liquor cabinet, I want to be the brand they’re going to be drinking for the rest of their life. That’s what I want.”

Not everyone who wants to be an entrepreneur can invest 20 years of their life in the armed forces, but Dominijanni said his experiences gave him all the tools he needed to find success. He said anyone looking to start down a similar path needs to know how best to lead and how to delegate.

Your Turn

The transition from military service to entrepreneurship may seem challenging, but Dominijanni’s story shows that the skills acquired in the armed forces can be an asset in the business world. If you’re a veteran looking to start your own business, reflect on the lessons you learned during your service and apply them to your entrepreneurial pursuits. What’s the next step you need to take for your business, and what skills from your military background can you leverage? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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