In times of recession, spreading your risk and exporting are two ways to ensure survival. For Hot Irishman co-owner, Bernard Walsh, the two-pronged strategy has paid off. The whiskey and liqueur producer exports 80 per cent of its products to 23 countries, including the US, Australia and South Africa. Walsh hopes to boost exports by a further 10 per cent this year, with sales to six new markets, including Finland, Denmark, Ukraine and Hungary.
‘Hot Irishman’ is also planning to launch the new premium whiskey brand ‘Writer’s Tears’. “We want to become one of Ireland’s leading producers and exporters of premium Irish whiskey and liqueur brands,” said Walsh. “In a time of recession, it may sound strange that we’re bringing out a premium brand, but there is a market there.
” Walsh established the Carlowbased company, with his wife Rosemary, in 1999 to sell a pre-mixed version of their own Irish coffee recipe. The couple approached a research and development team in Dublin Institute of Technology to kick start the venture, and launched the company nine months later. In addition to Irish coffee,
Hot Irishman sells French and Calypso coffees, mulled wine, cream liqueur and two whiskey products; Single Malt and The Irishman 70. The company exported to the British market initially, selling through local distributors. In 2001, it expanded its sales reach further with overseas sales to France and Germany.
The gamble paid off, attracting BES funding of 500,000 Euro from the 2006 Davy BES Fund, in association with BDO Simpson Xavier. Today, the company employs 17 people at its headquarters in Urglin. Based on his own experience, Walsh advises other entrepreneurs to plan for long term growth, even in the early years.
“The excitement and enthusiasm in the early years will get you through almost any problem, but you need the management discipline at all times to plan for and manage the opportunities and the challenges,” he said. Rapid growth, although welcome, creates its own challenges.
“The first three years is about enthusiasm, but thereafter it is about persistence - continuing to do the right thing. Your sales are growing at a pace. Therefore, you need to produce more. It is important to keep on top of the growing cash requirements to fund your stock needs,” said Walsh.
Now that the global economy has cooled, working capital is a priority for companies in all sectors. Healthy cashflow is dependent on careful financial management, but also a responsive approach to the needs of a rapidly changing consumer market. “It is a big challenge.
We have invested hugely in the brand in the past, and we are now at this growth phase, which just so happened to coincide with a world recession. “Having said that, drink sales are going strong and in order to survive we need to mix up the portfolio," said Walsh.