New NAAME Members Black Shuck has diversified their current distilling operations to produce hand sanitiser for the front line and key workers. Black Shuck specialise in distilling the finest liqueur and spirits in their brewery in North Norfolk! Patrick and Sarah Saunders have kindly devoted the below story to our members to express their diversification strategy and business resilience.

The Black Shuck Story

We established our family-run business making liqueur and spirits in 2011. It started as a family project which we hoped would supplement our pensions.
After 18 months of recipe development, gaining licences, sourcing bottles, and working on our brand design we sold our first bottles of Black Shuck Sloe Gin in October 2012 at an Autumn Fayre. Our then teenage children played important roles in the business. Leanne is responsible for drawing all our artwork most notably the Black Shuck Logo which adorns all of our products. Nicola focussed on the figures, creating breakeven reports to ensure that our business was viable. William took charge of ICT related matters including the design of the website.

In our first year, we had produced 300 bottles of Sloe Gin and 100 boxes of Sloe Gin truffles.  Our concerns that we might be giving Sloe Gin to friends and family as Christmas presents for the following 10 years were soon dispelled.  To our delight, within days of our first sale we were approached by a local farm shop wanting to stock our ‘range’ and the entire stock for year 1 was sold within a few weeks.  Since then the business has grown exponentially both in terms of turnover and the ever-expanding range of products.

By 2017 both of us had given up our full-time jobs to devote our time to the growth and development of Black Shuck Ltd. In 2018, as the business continued to thrive our daughter Nicola and her partner Jordan joined the team.


Micro Business Challenges

As a micro-distillery with just four full-time team members, we recognise the many challenges that presents – not least that we are the finance team, bottle washers, marketing managers, technical experts, and everything else all rolled into one. The flip side to that is the joy of having complete autonomy. So when changes are required they can be agreed and implemented very quickly. That has never been more important to us than in the last few weeks.

Whilst on holiday early in February we became increasingly aware of the situation in China and the increasing inevitability that the virus would reach the UK. We pre-empted our own retail customers needing PPE in order to operate safely and we recognised the possibility of being able to use our ethanol to make Alcohol-based Hand Sanitiser.

First things first we needed a strategy.
As a distillery, our first thoughts turned to the likely loss of sales if and when the shops and bars closed. So the question was, how could we use the production of hand sanitiser to make our business sustainable.

Short Term Objectives

We listed our objectives as follows
• To maintain our identity as a distiller of Spirits and Liqueurs
• To stay financially viable
• To support existing customers (shops, delis, bars, restaurants)
• To ‘do our bit’ to help our local community
• To maintain personal and business integrity
• To use goodwill from HS to boost online sales of BS range.

From these objectives, we decided that our strategy would be to offer Black Shuck Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitiser at a cost price to key workers and local businesses offering essential services. So whilst on holiday we spent the evenings researching approved methods, licences, equipment, bottles and other resources needed for making Hand Sanitiser using our supply of Ethanol.

By early March we had been in communication with various legal bodies including Local MPs, County Council rep, Trading Standards, HMRC and WHO to ensure that we could make a product that was fully approved and compliant.

We calculated our cost prices on an initial run of 8000 litres to be sold over 3-4 months. Due to the nationwide insufficient supply of PPE available to key workers, we decided that we would not offer the sanitiser to the general public via our website.

When considering our new target audience we recognised that our ‘customers’ would include care homes, care agencies, delivery drivers and ambulance crews. These people would need the best possible product at the best possible price. They would need a ‘ready to use’ product. They did not want fancy bottles or elaborate labelling.  To that end, we sought 250ml and 500ml plastic bottles with spray and lotion pump dispensers.

The Benefits of Being Agile

Thanks to some early planning and being prepared to drive the length of the country we were able to secure orders for individual plastic bottles with suitable dispensers at the beginning on March. However, as the month progressed plastic bottles became more and more difficult to obtain. Knowing that they were necessary for our key workers we were undeterred in our quest to buy more. After two days of phonecalls, emails and social media requests we happened upon a company who said they may have some availability. We shared our aims and how their bottles would be used. The company CEO was impressed with our ethos and scoured his warehouse for the best bottles he could offer. Within three days two pallets of bottles had arrived and we were thrilled. To show our appreciation of their efforts we send 40 complimentary Black Shuck Miniatures to the company. One for each member of staff. In that moment our relationship was secured. They have continued to provide excellent service. In return we continue to share the stories of how their bottles are making a real difference. In turn their staff now feel part of our effort to keep people safe. What more reason do you need to go to work each day.

We feel that these simple, ethical strategies have served us well. We met our objective to make and sell 8000 litres in 3 months. In truth we could have sold all of it in 5 litre containers in the first couple of weeks. However, that would not have helped us with several aspects of our medium or long term strategy.

As a micro distiller we do not sell large quantities of our spirits via supermarkets. This is not part of our profile and it was important not to compromise our values now.

Burgeoning our Brand

We continue to review our strategy every week. We have increased our social media presence – aiming to keep posts either
• Informative
• Light hearted
• Emotive

This has effectively let to a significant increase in traffic visiting our website and our online shop. The needs and wants of our customers change as the lockdown arrangements change. In turn we have been considering what might appeal to our online shoppers. As a result we have developed a range of bundles combining various items from our range. They have been very popular and whilst our usual business is around 80% down on usual figures our online business has increased 10 fold.

Who knows what is around the next corner? What is for sure is that we will need a new strategy as no strategy lasts forever.

With special thanks to Patrick and Sarah Saunders of Black Shuck for sharing their fantastic story with us. If you’ve come this far, if nothing else, be sure to check out Black Shuck’s delicious range of vodka and gin!

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