a magnificent example of perseverance and strategic intent – truly inspirational
According to Bryony; Kilchoman have had an amazing journey and their success is all the more incredible given that they have only been producing spirit for 10 years. She believed that part of the Kilchoman success is due to the growing prestige of Islay whisky. She explains, that whisky is very much part of Islay – living on an island we [whisky producers] are geographically connected but we are also philosophically connected through out passion for fine whisky – Islay could be described as a whisky community. Many of the people work for a distillery and it is not unusual for members of the same family to work in for the same or different distilleries.
She explains that Islay has a long history of good and bad times. Many of the people on Islay remember when the whisky industry was depressed, they know that distilleries can close, when we were working reduced hours, when there was high unemployment – and this impacted on the whole community. She emphasizes that what has to be kept in mind, is that Kilchoman is the first new distillery on Islay for 124 years. Today, she explains things are different, because of the success of Islay whiskies there is new life on the island and a generation not forced to leave the island in search of work. This, she explains, is important because Islay is our home this is where we choose to live. Bryony believes that because they are all in this together they are competitive but also collaborative and she finds that the whisky community on Islay is incredibly supportive of each other primarily because it provides employment.
I ask Bryony that it is one thing to work together and have a sense of community but why is there this new optimism? Bryony explains That drinking whisky has become more fashionable – people are more ‘involved’ in whisky – it is an obsession for many, and they want to taste different whiskys – marketing practitioners refer to this as searching for epistemic qualities. She explains that this obsession for whisky has also generated what we call ‘whisky tourism’. We are now having people visiting Islay from parts of the world that we never had – and this brings people together. She explains that on her distillery tours she hears so many people, from so many different parts of the world, who have just met, talking and making friends – connections are being formed. Our visitors tend to engage in a style of conversation that I call a ‘happy banter’ – to compete for attention. They want to show-off their knowledge – what is their favourite whisky, what they can taste in the whisky, their personal preference for a particular whisky – perhaps a small drop of water to ‘open out’ the whisky or whether they prefer it neat. When people come to Islay their appreciation of whisky matures and I like to think that I play my part in that process and help them understand that at Kilchoman we have something that is quite unique, we are on a farm, there are advantages of being on this farm, it gives us a sense of who we are, and we have a founder, Anthony, his wife Cathy and sons George, James and Peter, who are all very much part of each bottle of whisky we produce – the staff at Kilhoman are family led and I guess it is about staying true to our roots. The boys all travel and promote Kilchoman – last year they did a European promotional tour, 7000 miles around European in the branded Landrover, doing tastings for our supporters, visiting and setting up distributors and stockist of Kilchoman Whisky.
As we walk around the shop, I complement her on the shop. Thank you – what is interesting is that when we first started the shop and the café were there to help support the business – to provide the needed cash flow. Now it is still important but as the business has developed it has a different role – it is still important as part of the overall Kilchoman experience but we are not so dependent on it now. I speak with a couple from Malaysia and I ask if they are buying gifts for their family and the tell me that they are gifts – but gifts for themselves. Perhaps these gifts will be purposefully ‘on show’ in their home in Kuala Lumpur, not as mementos of a whisky distillery tour but to identify them as collectors of epistemic experiences.
an interview with Anthony Wills
Bryony introduces me to Anthony Wills the founder and Managing Director of Kilchoman and we begin to have chat. He explains. Our philosophy is pretty simple and straightforward we target the premium end of the market and to do that we have to provide a uniqueness in our whisky – so we began the distillery on a working farm, the objective is to enable us to have much more control of the entire production process. Anthony explains that this appeals to whisky drinkers who want a product that is more carefully crafted and genuinely comes from Islay including the barley and the malting process. Thankfully our customers like what we produce and this has driven demand and our capacity. We produced 50,000 liters of pure alcohol in 2005 and this year we will produce 200,000 litres – so that is a big step for us. At present we now have the capacity to produce 250,000 litres now that is 600,000 bottles at 40% alcohol and depending on the demand we will look at it and see where we will head – we just have be cautious and careful. Clearly with the whisky industry and the long production time you need to forecast and invest with the next 6-7 years in mind. Nevertheless, we have had great interest in our whisky and have increased production every year.
We also understand that when you have the long term say the next 20, 30 , 40 years in mind – we cannot become greedy – we have to serve our customers and value the support of our customers and we have to realize that consumers will turn against us if we get it wrong and lose their trust. We have to build the brand.
Statement: in the interview with Bryony she talks about the spirit of collaboration on Islay, the recognition that the future of Islay as a destination/brand is in the hands of its people; in the interview with Anthony he talks about how the future of Kilchoman as a product/brand is in the hands of his family.
Task: Reflect on how you see this spirit of collaboration and competition.
Statement: Anthony’s experience in the wine industry and his knowledge of the French wine industry most likely influenced his strategic thinking – and his ideas on provenance.
Task: Reflect on how an organisational philosophy is cultivated and how it shapes strategic intentions & the strategic business & marketing plans.