For students across UF, stepping foot into Gator Beverage is a rite of passage — a spot to grab a pack of White Claw before a football game, pick up a handle of tequila on the way to a 21st birthday party or buy a bottle of wine in anticipation of a girl’s night in.
Now, the craft beer and liquor store’s making waves in a whole new arena: social media, particularly TikTok.
The TikTok account, @liquorstore352, is the product of two Gator Beverage workers: Andrew Pentland and Dylan Phelps, who started the account together in January. In the 10 months since its debut, the account has accumulated nearly 371,500 followers and 19.7 million likes on its videos — most of which feature short, comedic sketches on the owners’ daily interactions, as well as how-to tips on buying and drinking alcohol.
Pentland, a 30-year-old general manager, and Phelps, a 26-year-old store clerk, said they made the account on a whim. Their first video — an eight-second clip where a customer asks if Bacardi is similar to vodka, prompting the cashier to ask for ID — now has two million views.
The sixth video they uploaded — a 28-second clip featuring a fictional customer shopping for Bourbon, compares the different customer service experiences rude customers receive as opposed to polite ones — has five million views.
“I woke up a couple days later and there was five million views on one of our first videos,” Pentland said. “It was pretty shocking.”
Pentland and Phelps were introduced to TikTok by a former Gator Beverage employee who encouraged the two workers to create an account of their own. At first, Pentland said he was hesitant due to his general unfamiliarity with TikTok, while Phelps was disinterested in the idea of running a work-centric social media account.
Eventually, Pentland said the two came to an agreement on creating a TikTok account — a decision he never expected to garner so much attention.
“I was genuinely shocked the first few times our videos went viral,” Phelps said. “I remember laughing in disbelief when I saw that the first video did so well.”
Now, both owners said they have come to enjoy creating TikTok videos, and they share a continued goal of being humorous and informative. The two have found themselves constantly brainstorming new video scripts — generating ideas from everyday work tasks, audience feedback and customer interactions.
“Most people that work in customer service experience this,” Pentland said. “You deal with so many people. You notice things, and a lot of them are funny.”
Pentland realized viewers are also interested in educational content, he said. So, much of @liquorstore352’s content informs audiences on common alcohol myths, tips and tricks for buying the best bottle and other alcohol-related advice that novice drinkers may not be familiar with.
Pentland and Phelps also occasionally livestream from their TikTok account, usually Friday around 5 p.m. The streams, which document customers as they enter the store and are rung up the register, offer audiences a glimpse into the mundane, day-to-day activity at Gator Beverage.
“The livestreams was something I was hesitant about,” Phelps said. “I wondered if it would be a good idea because I was not sure why anyone would just want to watch us work. Surprisingly, it has been very successful.”
One livestream they held Sept. 29 received 290,000 viewers.
Although TikTok is their most popular account, Pentland and Phelps have also ventured into other social media outlets — such as Instagram, which currently has more than 2,800 followers, and YouTube, which has over 600 subscribers.
On their Instagram, @liquor_store_352, the owners typically post the same content they post on their TikTok. However, their YouTube, Liquor Store 352 Reviews, features separate, longer videos — usually reviews of new alcoholic products like seltzers and drink recipes.
“We thought it would be helpful to try these new products and give insights and information on them,” Phelps said. “In the product reviews, we are trying the product for the first time as well, so it is true and honest feedback.”
As they grow in popularity, Pentland and Phelp’s social media accounts — especially their TikTok — has begun to become a brand of its own. In addition to the hundreds of non-UF individuals who comment on @liquorstore352’s videos, Pentland said Gator Beverage customers and UF students now recognize the two owners and express appreciation for their videos.
Still, Phelps said he understands @liquorstore352 and Gator Beverage aren’t always synonymous in the minds of their audience — especially since Gator Beverage has an Instagram account of its own, @gatorbeverage.
“The goal is not for @liquorstore352 to become some big brand of its own — we love where we work and our boss,” Phelps said. “We are not trying to separate ourselves from the store, Gator Beverage. The goal is to be fun, educational and show what we do at work.”
At the end of the day, Pentland said he believes @liquorstore352’s popularity comes from the legacy and nostalgia of Gator Beverage. The store has been a Gainesville staple for 35 years.
“Gator Beverage reminds people of their college experience,” Pentland said.
Contact Naomi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @volcyn_.