When life offers you lemons, make lemonade – so they are saying. Properly, life has been handing out various Covid-19 formed lemons within the final 12 months or so, which has been fairly robust on everybody in Singapore’s meals & beverage trade. There are solely so many cocktails that may be garnished with a lemon wedge throughout a lockdown, in spite of everything.
A couple of 12 months in the past, drink trade veterans Matthew Fergusson-Stewart and Chris Chambers obtained some considerably giant lemons within the form of redundancy. They weren’t alone, in fact – many individuals in F&B, each native and expatriate, discovered themselves in the identical state of affairs. The locals have been compelled to search out different employment or wait it out, whereas most of the expatriates have been, effectively, repatriated.
Matthew and Chris are each former Glenfiddich model ambassadors and met in 2015 at Glenfiddich distillery. Over pints and banter – effectively, plenty of pints and banter – they grew to become agency mates. They anticipated to at some point begin working collectively, however as Matthew was residing in Singapore masking Asia Pacific, and Chris was in Dubai masking the United Arab Emirates, they didn’t count on that to be any time quickly.
Matthew had spent almost 15 years within the drinks trade having labored with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, The Auld Alliance, William Grant & Sons, and The Whisky Retailer. He additionally began Fb whisky group Dram Full and an occasion we aren’t allowed to speak about. Chris has been within the trade simply as lengthy, having with Oddbins and Royal Mile Whiskies (in Scotland) and African & Japanese (in Dubai), earlier than shifting to Singapore to turn out to be The Grasp of Spirits with grand foyer bar ATLAS.
However come April final 12 months – when all bars and eating places have been closed because of the COVID pandemic – their respective employers needed to allow them to go.
“It was a tricky time,” shares Matthew, “the very first thing we needed to do was scramble for brand new visas to switch our Employment Passes so we might keep in Singapore, as nobody was hiring anybody in our area of experience. After which it was a query of ‘so what subsequent?’.”
“We allowed ourselves a little bit little bit of sofa time, however there’s no level sitting round too lengthy being depressing and petty simply since you lose your job in a pandemic,” Chris provides. “It was a reasonably pure factor to say to one another, we each have some financial savings, let’s put them collectively and get began on our personal enterprise, even when it’s a lot earlier than we had deliberate.”
Spinning SPUN Spirits into place
And so, SPUN Spirits Pte Ltd, a spirits consultancy and distribution enterprise, was born. To finish the workforce, they approached Elaine Seah of Model Integrated – a life-style public relations agency – thereby including some severe advertising chops to their enterprise. In fact, it in all probability helped that Elaine occurred to be Matthew’s spouse.
There was so much to do earlier than they have been in a position to begin buying and selling. “I wish to say it was simple,” says Matthew, “however our passes, incorporation, licenses, permits and financial institution accounts all took so much longer than ordinary due to social distancing and work at home necessities – we couldn’t simply pop into workplaces to get issues finished. I undoubtedly screamed at my pc display a number of occasions.”
However in response to Chris, there was quite a lot of positivity too. “Everybody within the trade was in the same state of affairs, however they have been nonetheless very fast to step in and supply help. Inside a number of weeks we have been supplied sub-distribution preparations by three firms and had an unimaginable quantity of assist from different established distributors like Distilled LLP. They by no means handled us as a competitor; they handled us as mates in want of a hand.””The drinks group in Singapore is a really particular place”, Matthew declares, “They actually band collectively and assist one another out every time they will. It’s an superior factor to be a part of, and we actually need to give again that love wherever we are able to.”
It might have been a wrestle at factors, however Matthew and Chris appear to keep up their banter and wild humour. Upon being requested in regards to the title SPUN Spirits, they each snicker. “Properly, it began as placeholder whereas we although of a greater title, however we ended up liking it so much,” says Matthew. Chris shortly provides – not fairly so jokingly – that it’s additionally an anagram of ‘spirits puns’, and “we’re principally kids”.
That humour pervades a lot of what they do. Within the brief time they’ve been operational they’ve finished two company shifts, particularly ‘Piss Turnips’ (one other anagram of SPUN Spirits) at whisky bar The Single Cask, and ‘SPUN-dau Ballet’ at sandwich bar PorkyPine.
There’s extra to return, they promise.
A SPUNner In The Works
However it isn’t all enjoyable and video games. Chris and Matthew nonetheless tread the pavement day by day doing gross sales visits and virtually all of their very own deliveries as a result of they need to construct shut relationships with their clients. When the dialog turns to the spirits of their portfolio, their collective expertise as model ambassadors emerges.
“Sure, we’ve got quite a lot of enjoyable working collectively, however we’ve got a deep love and appreciation for the spirits we work with. We don’t work with manufacturers if we don’t consider in them,” Chris says extra critically.
Matthew agrees. “We’re not simply box-movers in search of margin. We need to construct a powerful portfolio, we need to construct manufacturers and we need to construct a sustainable enterprise we might be pleased with,” he muses.
Unsurprisingly, with their backgrounds constructing a powerful portfolio got here fairly naturally to them. They’ve already established themselves because the native brokers for some very good worldwide manufacturers together with El Dorado rum, Tiki Lovers rum, Arbikie Scotch whisky, Nadar gin and vodka, Procera gin, and most not too long ago, Equiano rum.
Notably absent although – given their respective backgrounds – is any single malt Scotch whisky. “We’re engaged on that, amongst a few different issues, so keep tuned,” was all Matthew would say.
“We’ve each constructed actually robust networks through the years, and we’ve at all times cared in regards to the trade and the folks within the trade. That’s turn out to be extraordinarily useful to us in constructing a portfolio of nice manufacturers,” Chris elucidates. “We’ve additionally ramped up fairly shortly on the shopper facet. We solely began promoting sub-distributed merchandise in November and our personal imports from January this 12 months,” he provides.
SPUN Spirits isn’t just a distribution firm. Matthew and Chris proceed to do quite a lot of model ambassador work round city and have been engaged on some bar consultancy initiatives. “Distribution work really entails quite a lot of paperwork and fewer glamorous issues like cold-calling to construct the shopper base however we each take pleasure in really speaking about spirits to customers and bartenders. That has turn out to be a big a part of our enterprise. We’ve finished quite a lot of whisky tastings and rum tastings in the previous few months and we’ve got quite a lot of gin tastings forward of us too,” Matthew explains. “That’s been a steep studying curve – clearly we’re each know extra for whisky than another spirit – however it’s been quite a lot of enjoyable and extremely rewarding.”
Whereas each acknowledge that Singapore could be a fiercely aggressive market, that doesn’t seem like one thing that bothers them. “We’re not parallel merchants; that may be a extremely robust recreation. We’re bringing in a variety of recent and high quality spirits, we’re constructing manufacturers and we’re constructing data amongst customers and bar tenders. We’ve discovered a distinct segment the place we’ve got nice strengths,” Chris insists.
Requested the place they see themselves amongst native distributors, the grins return. “Ha! We’re tiny!” Matthew exclaims. “It’s simply the three of us for now, however issues are undoubtedly on track. We’ll be importing by the pallet for fairly some time earlier than we begin bringing in containers,” Chris nods.
“We’re undoubtedly on this for the long-haul. We’re nonetheless a startup however that’s not the place we intend to complete up,” concludes Chris.