Tasmania is blessed with an abundance of rich barley fields, highland peat bogs and the perfect climate to produce malt whisky. Recognising its potential, Bill and Lyn Lark launched a boutique distillery in 1992 - the first licensed distillery in Tasmania since 1839.
From humble beginnings as a tiny family business in Kingston, Lark Distillery has grown to a staff of 24. It’s won a host of prestigious awards, including the 2014 Telstra Small Business of the Year and “liquid gold” status in the 2015 Whisky Bible. Production has doubled in 2014-15 and export demand for their product is at an all-time high – the only thing seemingly in the way of this Tasmanian boutique distiller is keeping up with demand.
Here, Bill reflects on the lessons learned throughout his journey.
The reluctant businessman
“In the beginning all we wanted to do is see if we could make whisky, but at no stage did we think it would grow into a thriving business, let alone produce something that would stand among the world’s best.
“I never really considered myself a businessman until we entered the 2014 Telstra Australian Business Awards and got involved with the events leading up to the final awards. The Awards certainly attract amazing people and businesses, so to be able to share in their experiences is genuinely a real honour. Having come away with the award, I now feel like I’ve earned the title of businessman.“
Admit mistakes. Treat people properly.
“In different aspects of the business we stumbled through and made mistakes, but it’s important not to shy from these tests, as learning to confront our mistakes was part of becoming a business. We all make mistakes, but when that happens we don’t get upset, we just encourage the team to move on and learn from it. I really believe that’s part of why we’ve been successful.
“We started out as a family business and we tend to treat our staff as an important extension of that family unit. By treating people properly and with respect – like you would your own family – the working environment becomes much more fulfilling. In the end, it’s far easier to have people working with you than working for you.”
Community is king
“One mistake we made was thinking we needed to promote ourselves through advertising. After injecting significant dollars into advertising spend, we realised we still weren’t reaching the people we wanted to connect with our brand.
“From that experience, the focus shifted to becoming active in the community – by sponsoring community groups in music, theatre and sport, and we’ve found this is a far more effective and positive approach. We’re a family business, so the personal connection with our customers is integral to us, and its paid dividends.
“As a business grows, it’s important to hold onto these community values so you’re still the respected company you started as. The response and support that we received from our customers and community since winning the Telstra Business Award has been overwhelming, and it’s a wonderful reinforcement of the value of community in business.”
Share your story
“I’ve always enjoyed the company of other people and taken inspiration from sitting around and listening to their stories. The entire Lark Distillery team gained so much from being part of the Telstra Business Awards and the opportunity to share our story with other remarkable business people is a personal highlight. Throughout the process we met some wonderful people, and that interaction has given us inspiration in so many ways – even to this day.”
Success from collaboration
“One of the things I’ve always believed is that to be successful, we should see our competitors as allies and grow together. Winning the Telstra Business Award was a huge accolade for Lark Distillery, but it was equally important in gaining recognition for the industry. The Australian whisky industry is a great example for people in business. It shows that competitors can work together to build an industry that benefits everyone.
“It’s in every business’ interest to see their competitors as allies in a growing industry, and the Awards have given me a platform to spread our business philosophy and grow the visibility and credibility of the Australian whisky industry. I had countless people approach me on the night of the National Awards and say they thought we were successful because of that attitude.”
Rise to the challenge
“I’d recommend everyone put their business to the test and be a part of the Telstra Business Awards. To go through the process, you have to look seriously at your business and it’s a lot of work, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“Just by entering the awards, people in our industry started to look at us as a bigger player in the industry. The business took on a greater profile and we saw that people were looking at us with respect and pride. People have started to look at the Australian whisky industry as iconic, and that’s an accolade beyond our wildest dreams.”