(Small) Distillery Life
Family & Friends
We jokingly post our silly shenanigans about #distillerylife on our social media pages on the regular, but just know there are real struggles to small distillery life in such a large, traditional industry. Especially a small distillery that does things very un-traditionally.
“The difficulties we have is funding for operations, staff, product… I can go on and on there. Just fill in the blanks!” said Jeff Mattingly, owner and operator of Bourbon 30 Spirits. “We don’t have investors or backers. We are a self-funded and a debt-free company, but along the way we have had to live off cheese and crackers,” he said.
No investors or backers is the way Mattingly wanted the business to be since day one, but that has also created some hurtles. “We didn’t have the millions of dollars to start with. We just have my retirement that I used to build this company from the ground up,” he said. “I started with a dollar and a dream.”
That dream has grown over the last ten years, but maybe not quite to the extent Mattingly dreamed it would and maybe meeting more criticism than expected. “That’s one reason it takes an amazing amount of faith for any small business to survive,” he said. “Personally, I think every business owner has second-guessed their business model and goals. And that is easy to do whenever you’re doing something outside the lines,” Mattingly said.
What exactly makes Bourbon 30 and J. Mattingly 1845 “outside the lines” you may be asking. Where do we begin? Traditional distilleries blend barrels together to get a consistent profile. At Bourbon 30, Jeff finds different profiles and never replicates a profile, no matter how popular it may become. “Not only are we small, but our unique business model makes it harder to fit in with the industry. However, we don’t want to fit in the industry,” he said. “That’s not who we are and I think people appreciate that and support us.”
During normal circumstances, the distillery is open Monday through Saturday, making it a long work week for Mattingly. “The working six and seven days a week has never bothered me, but it’s hard to balance home life,” he said. “You sacrifice a lot of family time; and when your kids are small, you don’t want to miss those ballgames, dance recitals, volleyball games, and birthdays. It can be hard on your relationships,” he said.
Mattingly is very family-oriented, treating his own staff as family. “I don’t use the word “employee”,” Mattingly said. “We spend a lot of time together. How can we NOT be family,” he said. But with that being said, Mattingly has spent three years looking for the right people, he said.
“Finding the right staff: they have to be creative and imaginative. But mostly, they have to believe in what they are doing,” he said. Mattingly doesn’t simply hire because someone needs a job. He found he needs a better strategy. “If I have to motivate you to use your creativity and imagination, then this isn’t the job for you,” he said.
With a group about five deep, Mattingly encourages suggestions from everyone. “How can I not with being such a small company? If you find a better way of doing something, I would be stupid not to listen,” he said.
You can actually find the signature of one of his “family” members on the bottom of each J. Mattingly 1845 bottle. “Miss Tricia, as we call her, is on the bottom of every bottle, and in order for a company to do that, there has to be an amazing amount of faith and fortitude,” he said. “She could have worked for any company, but she believed in what we are doing here,” he said.
Overall, Mattingly struggles with what all businesses struggle with and that is budget. “Providing wages and benefits that are in-line with the industry is difficult,” Mattingly said. “And we don’t have the budget to spend on marketing and advertising like the big boys. We rely heavily on word of mouth,” he said. And that seems to serve him pretty well for now. “Oh. And sampling too much bourbon can take a toll on your health, FYI,” he said with a laugh. “That’s just being honest.”
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