015: From 4 FTE in 2010, and literally chasing cars down the street of a small town in Michigan, to the current 95 FTE with 150 in the summer peak and 200,000 people through its doors (Bill Welter)

distilling fte 51-100 podcast sales $10m-$20m aud usa Apr 05, 2020

In this episode, I interview Bill Welter, the owner/operator at Journeyman Distillery, a business that he was propelled to start by his passion for golf, not to mention the country of Scotland and a young entrepreneur from Australia. His business owner journey began after high school graduation when he and his father took a trip to Scotland. They traveled the country and played its famous golf courses. Welter, an accomplished golfer, was about to start a full-ride scholarship in the sport at Missouri State. His love of Scotland continued after college so much that he chose to return with an overseas work visa and find employment in a restaurant during the evening while playing golf during the day.

That was when he fell in love with the age spirit and a few years later ventured to Tasmania, Australia to work and study world-class distilleries in the Island south of Melbourne. Returning to the USA, he found an old factory and bought, after which he and his wife opened a distillery there (one of 250 in the US back then. 10 years later there are more than 3,000 of them) With 4 full-time employees, Bill literally chased cars down the road to get customers to come in, 80% of whom would then ask, “What beer do you sell here?” Now in 2020, they have 95 full-time employees with a total team of 150 in the peak season which is 15% of the small 1,000 person town they’re located at. 

In 2019, they saw 200,000 visitors come through their doors, hosted 110 weddings, have a successful restaurant, 11 rooms of accommodation, and a 30,000-foot padding green out the back paying homage to Bill’s continued passion for golf. With their products sold through most states in the US, and some export markets, they’re looking to add one or two more sites somewhere in the USA. Bill believes the hardest thing in growing a small business is access to capital and the advice he would give himself on day one is, “Don’t be so hard on yourself” It’s going to be quite a resourceful episode if you’re for some motivation to keep you going in your small business ownership journey, so don’t miss out!

This Cast Covers:

  • How he developed and combined his passion for whiskey and golf.
  • Starting out in 2010 and focusing on quality (making the best product they could) and production processes.
  • How craft distilling became a viable industry and how they had an unexpected growth in the industry.
  • Growing up and working in the family banking business and how it influences how he runs his distillery.
  • Learning a lot from the best distilleries in Tasmania and applying the knowledge in setting up his own distillery in the US.
  • The impact that educating people on beer and distilling had on their growth.
  • From chasing customers down the road and 4 employees to 200,000 visitors and 150 employees.
  • Always looking forward, never backward despite his success so far.
  • Growing the business with the idea of opening other locations and being a good partner to the community.
  • Working on the business 15 hours a day every day for one year to bootstrap it to its current success.
  • Letting go and not being involved in every aspect of the business, and how challenging it is.
  • The importance of working on the “people” (employees) and always hiring the very best.
  • Bill’s biggest mindset shift in his small business growth journey.
  • The number one habit a small business owner should develop and maintain.
  • Making hiring people easier through a suitable vetting process
  • The value of spending a few minutes a week with the key employees.
  • Networking to build beneficial relationships and how capital presents a challenge for small business owners who are starting out.
  • Growing a small business by encouraging open conversations of ideas among the senior management. 

Additional Resources:

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Quotes:

“I encourage our managers to spend time with their people because what’s more important that the people you have” – Bill Welter

“To be an entrepreneur and get a business off the ground, you have to have an understanding, at least a reasonable understanding of a lot of different things” – Bill Welter

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Music from https://filmmusic.io “Cold Funk” by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com). License: CC BY (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/