Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Joe Collins, president of Edwin Coe Spirits, located in Churubusco, IN, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Edwin Coe Spirits is a grain-to-bottle artisan distillery. I produce my great grandfather’s prohibition-era spirit, Old Coe. He started making during prohibition in 1928 and kept up with distilling until his death in September 2000. I picked up the craft from his apprentice in 2012 and have expanded the product line to include a high rye bourbon, vodka, gin, rum, barrel-aged rum, and a rye version of his original Old Coe.
Tell us about yourself
I started bootlegging Old Coe in my garage as a hobby. I wanted to keep the family tradition alive, and it was a lot of fun. Building my own equipment from scratch, learning and refining the process there is so much to learn and explore in distilled spirits.
At the time, I hadn’t even thought of opening a distillery. It wasn’t until I visited an artisan distillery that I thought, “Oh, I can do this.” The following Monday, I filed for my LLC, started filling out permit applications, and sold my motorcycle to buy my first production still.
I love the artistry and science of distilled spirits. Taking something like milled grains, and over the course of 2+ years, turning it into a delicious whiskey is fascinating.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Maintaining my great grandfather’s legacy as a premier distiller. For a bootlegger, he was very well known, even gaining some national attention through various articles. I try every day to make him proud. We’ve been offered a lot of opportunities that would require me to cut corners. I’ve passed on all of them to maintain the integrity of my products.
We’ve also created a great place for the community to get together. The term ‘pub’ is shortened from ‘public meeting house.’ We are here to serve our community, not just in our business but out in the community.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Uncertainty. You might have the best product or idea, but you never know if people are going to show up or are going to buy it. To be an entrepreneur is to be comfortable with a certain level of risk and uncertainty. It is stressful, are you the type of person that thrives under stress/pressure? Everyone likes to think they can handle it but be very honest with yourself before you start. How do you react to stress?
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Create a business plan, then forget it. Creating a business plan helps you think and plan through all the steps you need to take. But they are quickly OBE (overcome by events), forcing you to adapt and overcome. If you stick too close to your business plan, you will miss opportunities and might end up forcing an avenue that just isn’t working.
- For planning cash flow, underestimate your sales projections. Think conservatively and then reduce that by 25%. Cash flow management is the hardest thing for small businesses, especially startups. Assume low cash flow but set aggressive sales goals. Both will probably fall somewhere in the middle, and you’ll be alright. But it is hard to recover once you are overextended. Having unexpected cash on hand because you planned for low cash flow is always better.
- Invest in your employees. They are people, not tools. They will take care of you if you take care of them. An employee with a good attitude and zero know-how is worth a lot more than experience and a poor attitude.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Figure out your backup funding plan before you ever get started. You’ll burn through more money than you expected faster than you expected. Have a plan that isn’t credit cards and hopefully doesn’t require you to leverage your house.
Find the organizations in your community that is set up to help small businesses. They are out there and often have funds available for grants, loans with favorable terms, and a great network to draw from.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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