This week we speak to George Georgiadis, co-founder – alongside his friends Sean Baxter and Tim Boast – of Never Never Distilling Co.
ISB: What inspired you to get into the gin distilling business?
GG: Gin is incredible because it’s a blank canvas for flavour. I’ve always been mad about big,complex flavours, whether it be in spirits or other passions such as coffee, beer and cheese. I love that with gin, you can build up the botanical profile until you get something absolutely stunning. I was living in Sydney while the cocktail renaissance was occurring, drinking at some of the best bars in the country, so starting the planning for a gin distilling business over a delicious gin cocktail was the best inspiration.
ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground, and how did you overcome it?
GG: Cash is king as they say. The spirits business is brutal on the bottom line because of the tax (excise) on spirits. Most people have no idea that tax on a typical bottle of Australian gin is about $26. That rate also goes up every six months, so your margin goes down, meaning you need to keep growing and doing thing better just to stay still. It helps to have alternative sources of cashflow like distillery door and website sales, as well as being careful with spending, which is why we started with 16 square metres in the back shed of a brewery.
ISB: How did you manage to keep the business going through the COVID-19 pandemic?
GG: We invested heavily in our e-commerce business, selling gin directly through our website at a time where people started shopping online a lot more. We hadn’t really focused on this before, so it was a tiny part of our business. Fortunately, we’d recently completed development of a new website, and we quickly schooled up on things like social media advertising and search engine optimisation. We combined that with a couple of new product launches and some same-day delivery and things really started to take off. Local Same-day delivery was also a great way to keep staff engaged and people really appreciated the personal aspect of it.
ISB: And how did your collaboration with others struggling in the hospitality industry specifically help you come through this difficult period?
GG: Some of those hit hardest during lockdown were obviously bartenders and those in the hospitality industry. We’ve always had a strong relationship with the on-trade so we launched the Never Never Have I Ever competition as a way to stay in touch. We set weekly challenges for bartenders around the country to try and lighten the day-to-day while in isolation. We partnered with some of our favourite restaurants and bars around the country to supply fantastic meals and takeaway cocktails as prizes. It was a fun way for us to give back to our supporters doing it tough while making sure we were still present in the market. We were lucky enough to pick up an award at the COVID-19 Hospo Awards for best brand content on the back of it, too.
ISB: What is your vision for the development of the business in the next couple of years?
GG: The next couple of years for us are all about sharing our passion for gin with more flavour with as many people as we can. That means really focusing on getting the word out about our gins, liquid on lips and showing people why we make Australia’s most highly awarded gins. To do this we’ll need to grow our current team of 35 staff to well over 50, which is really exciting. We’ll work hard to maintain our culture and bring excellent new people on.
ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?
GG: A lot of people get into business because of a passion, with the whole “if you love what you do you never work a day in your life” kind of mantra, which is true to an extent, but the reality of business is that it is all-consuming, and it takes significant sacrifices of pretty much everything else in your life. So, my lesson would be to really consider if you want to make it a passion project or a business. In our case, we’re really glad that Never Never is growing fast and has the potential to work as a business.