Culture Factor 2.0

Repurposing your Business During the COVID19 Pandemic, How this Agile Distillery went from Bourbon to Hand Sanitizer Production.

Episode Summary

Their motto is the Spirit of Hard Work, this double entendre is never more evident as they have mobilized to repurpose their spirit production to make hand sanitizer during this COVID19 pandemic. Litchfield Distillery has been in business for 5 years and while they still are a small group of distillers, their outreach, production and heart is beyond measure.

Episode Notes

http://www.litchfielddistillery.com

http://linkedin.com/in/hollyshannon1

https://www.instagram.com/the.culture.factor/

https://www.instagram.com/litchfielddistillery/

Episode Transcription

Recording:
Welcome to the Culture Factor, where we talk to founders and influential leaders about company culture. We share stories from the C-suite that help executives engage their business from the inside and create a map to transform their culture. Because the truth is, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Holly Shannon:
This is the Culture Factor, and I'm your host and co-producer, Holly Shannon. Please subscribe, rate and review. Our journey into company culture has just begun. Today, we sit down with Jack and Peter Baker. They are brothers that went from their third generation family business, Crystal Rock Water, to creating their award-winning Litchfield Distillery. Their motto is, The spirit of hard work. This double entendre is never more evident as they have mobilized to repurpose their spirit production to make hand sanitizer during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Holly Shannon:
Litchfield Distillery has been in business for five years. And while they still are a small group of distillers, their outreach, production, and heart is beyond measure. Hi, Jack and Peter.

Jack:
Hi.

Peter:
Hi there.

Holly Shannon:
Welcome to the Culture Factor. I feel like we need to go back in history for the Baker family a little, for our guests to understand. Just to jump back, Crystal Rock, which was a family company founded in 1914 by Henry Baker Sr. The Baker brothers started as teens with about 15 employees and then scaled the water company to over 300 by the time they left. And so now Jack and Peter with Litchfield Distillery is a team of five including their other brother David.

Holly Shannon:
And so my question is, do you enjoy being back in the trenches and being hands on in all aspects of the business? And how has that served you in repurposing your business from spirits to sanitizer?

Peter:
Well, yeah. We were always hands on in the Crystal Rock business, so it wasn't a big stretch to take those skills that we learned being hands on. Doing everything we could from building machinery and learning how to do production lines and that sort of thing with Crystal Rock. It kind of was a natural as we moved into the distillery business. Jack's very good at both the machinery, and on the technical side, and we're all willing to pitch in and get our hands dirty and do what it takes to get the job done.

Holly Shannon:
Excellent. And I would say though, in the distillery business, there's some chemistry involved that maybe is different from the water business?

Jack:
Yeah. I mean there's definitely our skill set for doing products is helpful. But yeah, there is definitely some different chemistry. We've been distilling water and now distilling alcohol, so some of those things are similar. But there's a big learning curve too, to bring a alcoholic beverage to market.

Holly Shannon:
Excellent. Excellent. While we're on the conversation of chemistry, it's my understanding that one of your key employees, Naomi Adler, started as an intern while studying chemical engineering at U-Conn. How has she transformed from distilling to create this FDA guideline, World Health Organization-approved sanitizer?

Jack:
Yeah. Well, her background obviously is very helpful. And she engaged right away. She enjoyed the challenge of understanding the guidelines from the World Health Organization. Did a lot of research on her own, talked to other distilleries that were also doing it and gave us a lot of confidence that, that we would be able to make that transition with the proper product for hand sanitizer.

Holly Shannon:
Does she have certain groups that she works with for that? I seem to recall-

Jack:
Yeah. There's actually a female distillers Facebook group. So she bounces things off them and vice versa. And she still relies, we've had some... I don't know the names of her professors, but she has... So she's still in the master's program and closely connected to U-Conn. She's asked them for some technical confirmation of what she's been doing.

Holly Shannon:
Interesting. I wonder if she's teaching them a few things right now. The wonders of social media too, right? It's just amazing where we can call information from these days. Getting into a little bit about the hurdles that are a natural part of a startup. You got through that in your five years of production with Litchfield Distillery. You went on to create spirits that have won many awards. What hurdles has your team experienced making sanitizer? It could be positive or negative. And is it like going back in time in being a startup again? Are you reminded of some of the hurdles that you had at the very beginning?

Peter:
I'm not sure it's really that comparable. In some respect is kind of been like the wild, wild West here. I mean, the parking lot fills up with people and we're trying to do the best we can. In the very beginning the hurdle was having enough containers to put the sanitizer in and the right type of containers. We did ask the public initially to bring some of their own containers that we could repurpose for them. We said we don't really want to have... We want to cut down as much cross contamination as we can from bringing stuff from the outside, in. We did receive some pretty good size loads of bottles from friends of ours, and some businesses that we do business with. But it's kind of, we're learning every day. Some of the information we learn on the news changes every day. Which we have to adapt to that and try to keep our people safe and keep the public as safe we can.

Holly Shannon:
So that actually brings me to my next question. I'd like to share with our guests that the business and local community has mobilized, as you've pointed out, to help procure ingredients for this, for the production. They do not, Litchfield Distillery does not take any money for the product. It is all donated to high risk individuals, medical offices, fire and police departments, and healthcare representatives. And they additionally have diverted donations to go directly to local food shelters. So, this leads me to my next question. Has COVID-19 and reinventing your business given you a different perspective on community needs?

Jack:
I think, even through Crystal Rock, our product of bottled water was a natural need during all types of particularly weather, disasters, and so on. So we grew up in an industry that supported community in emergencies. So that culture came over naturally with us here when we recognize that the product we're making now also can be specialized to the hand sanitizer needs of the community. So, I mean, all our people are proud of the products we were making and now they're proud of our community and involvement with hand sanitizer.

Holly Shannon:
Just to jump back, so when you were with Crystal Rock, did you have like a certain time, a disaster or something like a hurricane, or something that came through the area that required your help?

Peter:
Yeah, it wasn't just an our area, Holly. But certainly when things did hit Connecticut, whether it was super storm Sandy, and that sort of thing, we always rose to the occasion and got water to the emergency people that needed it. We always, when I started, we get requests from the Carolinas or you know, the hurricanes in Louisiana and Florida. We would send truckloads of water down to help the first responders in the communities that got hit the hardest.

Jack:
And occasionally there'll be a boil water alert, and hospitals will be in need of backup, clean water that they can depend on. So, there's been a variety of things, but it's just water is a basic necessity when there's an emergency anywhere. We did what we could and the Bottled Water Association eventually coordinated more of that as time went on.

Peter:
And we also want to thank you because you facilitated getting us some hydrogen peroxide, which is one of the ingredients. So, through your channels we got that 55 gallon drum that's been helping a lot.

Holly Shannon:
I'm happy to hear that. Again, it's been a lot of people in the community that I think have been helping out. And anything to do that, happy to jump in. Another question for you. Do you believe COVID-19 has made you a stronger team? Did you feel your company culture already had the ingredients to thrive under this kind of pressure?

Jack:
Yeah. I think our past certainly helped us in this crisis. You know, it makes us feel proud to be able to provide the service. So it's kind of easier to work the long hours and do the things that we need to do when we get... Obviously everybody thanks us every time they come. We've heard a lot of different stories from a lot of different people that had very scary situations. So, it's kind of rewarding. So it kind of offsets the fatigue and, the hard labor that we're doing here. So, it evens out.

Holly Shannon:
Incredible. I'm just going to add here that, for the audience, that you are producing about 1,200 gallons of sanitizer now. And for the rest of us who can't envision what that looks like, that is 6,000 bottles of bourbon, or about 40,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. I just want that visual to sink in for people. I think that, that's an incredible undertaking and I realize you're working unbelievable hours and getting much less sleep, I'm sure. Can you share with us how you and your team end your day?

Peter:
At a distillery, there's only one way to end the day. And we still have some of our beverages here. And we like to gather at the end of the day and just a share a few stories from the day and enjoy a relaxing cocktail together.

Holly Shannon:
I will say my favorite is your Vanilla Bourbon, and I'm going to encourage many people, especially when you're up and running again in that capacity, to go get that. I do understand that you are diverting people to the local businesses that are selling your spirits, the different throughout Connecticut that are selling your product. Because you're already getting inundated with hundreds and hundreds, to a thousand people a day coming in to drop things off and pick things up. So it's a little hard to sell, right?

Peter:
Yeah. So, I mean, our retail room is open, but we do encourage people to come in. Well, they come in the building one at a time. But visit your local liquor store. Even bars or restaurants now can give you sealed containers along with food order. So stay local, support your local stores and restaurants as best you can. If you're here getting hand sanitizer and you want to pick something up, we're allowing one person at a time into the tasting.

Holly Shannon:
Okay. So before my last question, I'm just going to get a couple logistics out of the way. This podcast is co-produced and sponsored by Company Tribes. There'll be links in the show notes that will take you to Litchfield Distillery in beautiful Connecticut, for a wonderful tasting experience and a tour of their facility. Hopefully soon. Hopefully we push past COVID. Again, I do highly recommend that Vanilla Bourbon. And they do make an incredible syrup for your pancakes that you can suffer through. My last question for Jack and Peter, because I know they need to get back to work making a few more thousand bottles of hand sanitizer. Many people are having virtual quarantini happy hours. I think I've decided that I've coined that hashtag, so due to COVID-19 of course, and I know that you work closely with several mixologists. Are you, can you share a cocktail recipe with our guests that maybe they can enjoy this evening?

Peter:
Well, our classic what we call the Litchfielder is our bourbon, a little bit of maple syrup, as a simple syrup, instead. It's kind of a New England version of a simple syrup, and a little bit of lemon. It makes a very simple cocktail. The nice sweetness from the maple syrup and the tartness from the lemon are a nice balance. If you do it properly, you can do it to taste. But bourbon, a little bit of maple syrup, and a little bit of lemon makes a easy to drink cocktail that's a fun to drink.

Jack:
If they visit our website, there's a bunch of different recipes. For some of the different spirits we make as well as the gin and the vodkas and that sort of thing also.

Holly Shannon:
Excellent and you guys are on obviously LitchfieldDistillery.com is your website and you're also on Instagram under the tag of LitchfieldDistillery as well. So if people want to see some of the recipes, I know you have posted some experiences with mixologists and they've posted there, the ingredients on there. So I do encourage people to check that out. So, I thank you guys. I really want to thank Jack and Peter from Litchfield Distillery. Their brothers isn't on this interview today. David, that's correct, right?

Jack:
Right. He's out working.

Holly Shannon:
And we needed one guy in the trenches while you're here with me, so thank you for that. And the community really appreciates the spirit of your hard work. Sorry to steal your little motto. So, thank you very much to both of you.

Peter:
Thank you.

Holly Shannon:
And if you need any help, please get in touch with the Culture Factor, we're happy to come out and help.

Peter:
Okay. Great. Thank you.

Holly Shannon:
Thank you. Bye.

Recording:
The Culture Factor was born from the intersection of company culture and employee engagement, which is what we do at company tribes. As the sponsor and co-producer of this podcast, we'd like to offer business leaders a virtual experience for the organization aimed at keeping your workforce connected during COVID-19. To find out more email Paul@CompanyTribes.com.