Ray Cox hit pay dirt when he bought the pink elephant.
If you’ve lived in Hancock County for any length of time, you know the giant pink elephant outside Elite Beverages on West Broadway Street in Fortville.
Ray Cox and his son, Adam Cox, 26, own six area Elite Beverages stores. Their newest store is near Klipsch Music Center, north of Hamilton Town Center.
But only the store on West Broadway lays claim to the elephant.
“It came with the building,” Ray Cox says. “It’s about 40 or 50 years old, and it’s actually talked about in the book ‘Weird Indiana.’”
A few years ago, the elephant acquired its own holiday wardrobe: Christmas, Pilgrim, leprechaun and Uncle Sam hats.
As fun as it is to have a martini-drinking pink elephant in front of your building, that’s not enough to be successful in a competitive business. You need to know and meet your customers’ needs and provide exceptional customer service along with an exceptional product at a fair price, and you need to involve yourself in the community that supports you.
With Ray Cox, you also have to be willing to share both the challenges and successes of the business with your son.
“A few years before Adam graduated from Ohio State in 2010, he told me he wanted to go into the family business,” Ray Cox says. “I gave him two parameters — finish college and start at the bottom, which he did. Now he handles our human resources, manages the entire wine department for all our stores and does just about anything else a ‘right-hand man’ has to do.”
Adam Cox said he started working for his dad in high school, cleaning bottles and painting shelves; then for his college internship, he and a friend spent a summer demolishing and rebuilding the Franklin Road store.
“After graduation, my dad said, ‘Now I’m going to teach you what I do and have you take over the business.’ That’s when I became V.P.,” he says. “My dad and I have a unique relationship. We’re not only business partners, but we’re also really good friends. We’re blessed to have each other.”
As for his dad, Ray Cox got his start in the business in 1985, buying his first store in Lawrence.
“I wanted something I could build and pass down,” he says, “and it sounded like fun.”
All six Elite Beverages stores are run the same, but each has its own identity, depending on the neighborhood. The Pendleton Pike store sells more wine than the other stores, and the Cumberland store on East Washington Street sells a lot of microbrews.
Ray Cox said a current trend in all the stores is flavored spirits — vodka, rum and even whiskey.
“A phenomenon we’re experiencing is craft distillers, doing small batches the old-fashioned way,” he says. “There are hundreds of new craft distillers in business now, and even here in Indiana. We’ve got Indiana Vodka that’s made right here in Indianapolis.”
Ray Cox said he’s a “wine guy” who also likes bourbon; his son prefers single malt Scotch and craft beer.
“Craft beer is an exploding market,” Adam Cox says. “It’s huge, especially with people my age, and it’s cool to see them take a genuine interest in how beer is made and really enjoy it rather than just chugging it.”
Ray Cox added, “Craft beer drinkers go to great lengths to try something new or seek out a beer that’s made in very limited quantities. You have to keep up on it, because there’s a new one every week almost.”
Educating people about what they drink is part of their business and one of the things Elite Beverages contributes to the community through events like the upcoming Vines for Life tasting fundraiser event Feb. 21 at the Hawthorns Golf & Country Club, benefiting three local cancer charities.
Originally a wine-tasting event, this year they’re adding craft beer and craft liquors.
“Not everyone drinks wine, and a lot of wine drinkers also drink beer and spirits, so it’s a good combination,” Ray Cox says.
Elite Beverages has also been a generous contributor to Vines for Life as well as other local charity fundraising events.
“We’ve netted $70,000 the last three years for three charities,” says Ray Cox. “This year we think we can do even more.”
After nearly 30 years in business, Ray Cox still hasn’t lost the passion he had from the beginning.
“We are Indiana small businesspeople now in our second generation with Adam on board,” he says. “It’s become more than a business for me — and yes, it’s still fun.”
Find Elite Beverages on Facebook at facebook.com/EliteBeverages.