The Entrepreneur: Paul Currie, Lakes Distillery

The whisky connoisseur talks to Growing Business about operating globally, learning from mistakes and why starting a business with a team around you is essential

Founder: Paul Currie
Company: Lakes Distillery
Website: www.lakesdistillery.co.uk
Description in one line: The only distillery in Cumbria producing single malt whisky, gin and vodka using traditional artisan techniques
Previous companies: Isle of Arran Distillers
Turnover: Expected £4m by 2016
12 month target: £2m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We’re the only distillery in the Lake District
  • Creating global whisky, gin and vodka brands using traditional artisan methods
  • We will become one of the leading visitor attractions in the Lakes offering distillery tours and a high calibre bistro with menu designed by a Michelin Starred chef

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

The setting up of two separate, independent and world-class distilleries – firstly the Isle of Arran Distillers with my father Harold, and now the Lakes Distillery – an achievement I believe is unique.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

As we’re mid development of our distillery, bistro and shop, I primarily view the build and develop costs to ensure the project is on budget and on time. I then review sales figures of our British blend of whiskies, The ONE, and our distillery memberships which uniquely offer whisky enthusiasts an opportunity to be part of the distillery as we grow.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We are a truly global business and currently operate across five markets – the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UAE. Next year we will add a further 15 markets to this portfolio and will commence exporting the Lakes Gin and The Lakes Vodka, with The Lakes Single Malt to follow in three years after its in-cask maturation process is complete.

Describe your growth funding path:

The Lakes Distillery is a £5m project. Initial seed investment came from directors, private investment, some asset finance, bank loan and funding from Britain’s Energy Coast. We also raised £3.8m EIS funding which we believe is the most raised by an independent UK company this year.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Undoubtedly the internet as it enables our Cumbrian-based business to operate on a global scale. We are able to communicate directly with each retailer or stockist, blogger, whisky enthusiast or individual on a personal scale and ensure they each receive a rapid response, regardless of their global location.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

We will continue to grow achieving £5m turnover and exporting to over 25 countries. Our Lakes Single Malt will also reach its minimum in-cask maturation (of three years and one day) to legally become whisky and the first bottles will be available for purchase.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Undoubtedly raising money and getting investors to buy into your idea from the beginning.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Frequently being over-ambitious as to how quickly things can be done. We make mistakes every day, it’s how we learn from them that is the true test.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Planning permissions and general government bureaucracy. As we’re based in a national park, we have more levels of planning permissions and development approvals than most.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Not raising enough initial investment. There must always be a balance between diluting your interest and making sure you have enough money to grow the business

How will your market look in three years?

There will be a continued move towards more interesting, artisan products and away from the ‘big’ brands owned or developed by large conglomerates. Consumers are now looking to find new and different products produced with love and care by artisan or small scale producers, which provides us with a strong opportunity to promote our spirit brands.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Get a team together from the very beginning because you’ll never do it all by yourself.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

A meal in a top class Japanese restaurant.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Some education can help, but you can’t beat learning on the job.

What would make you a better leader?

Ensure that all members of the team’s ideas are fully listened to, that they understand your vision and why you’re asking them to do what you’ve asked.

Business book:

The Google Story, by David A Vise. It outlines how founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have in 10 years taken Google from being just another internet start-up to a company with a market value of over $80bn. They never accepted what is the norm and always questioned ‘normal business practices’.

Paul Currie will be speaking at the Fast Growth Entrepreneurs Club at Holborn Bars on Tuesday 16th September 2014. For more information please visit www.fastgrowthentrepreneurs.com

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