Your Business: Rum fellows out to steal the limelight

By Gill South

Roger Holmes (left) and Jamie Duff want to take Stolen Rum to the next level. Photo / Richard Robinson
Roger Holmes (left) and Jamie Duff want to take Stolen Rum to the next level. Photo / Richard Robinson

When you start your small business with instant global ambitions and consider yourself the next 42 Below, you've got no problems with self-image.

To be fair, the two men behind the 2010 start up, Stolen Rum, Jamie Duff and Roger Holmes, do have some reason for their high aspirations.

They launched in February this year and in March, Stolen Rum Gold was awarded a Double Gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards while Stolen White Rum collected a bronze.

In July, Stolen White Rum won a silver medal at the International Wine and Spirits competition in London. As a result they have been approached by many countries to export but they want to win markets one step at a time, starting with New Zealand this year, Australia next and the UK after that.

Not so long ago Holmes was a site architect working on Westfield's White City shopping centre in London.

Duff was a lawyer working for London-based investment bank, Bank of America. In their spare time, they worked at finding the right properties needed for a good rum.

"We started with understanding flavours and aromas - what made up a good rum," says Holmes. Then they took their recipe to a well respected distillery in Trinidad, working with a master blender, contracting out the fermenting, distillation and ageing.

At the moment they are putting all their energy into educating the NZ market, which doesn't have a great selection, on the merits of rum, according to Duff. "There are a lot of rums that are very similar - there was nothing unique. No one is really taking it to the next level."

The pair have plenty of champions - 42 Below founder Geoff Ross is a family friend of Holmes. "We've had two or three catch-ups over the past year. At the last one we set a few sales targets. His advice was: 'Ready, fire, aim'!" says Holmes. Ross also said: "Don't bother exporting unless you send someone with the rum."

They have also met with marketing guru Erica Crawford, co-founder of Kim Crawford Wines.

The pair have a story to tell. They called it Stolen Rum because they wanted to associate it with rum running in America's prohibition times. There is also a link with the Caribbean from Holmes' side - his great great grandfather, Captain Christopher Welch, sailed around the Caribbean in the slave trading era. They are two-thirds of the way through a major capital raising.

"A bunch of guys who missed out first time round are now saying, I want a piece of that," says Duff.

International chef Peter Gordon already has a 2 per cent stake in the business. Duff worked with Gordon in his restaurant, Providores, when he lived in London, and his restaurant, Dine, stocks the rum.

The main liquor retailers here haven't been very receptive, they have their own brands."It's totally a David and Goliath situation," says Duff.

Liquorland Newmarket has been very good, they add. Duff and Holmes are hoping to be in one of the Auckland Airport duty free stores by Christmas.

Stolen Rum is sold in a number of bars and restaurants including Racket, the Gypsy Tea Room, Long Room, Chapel, Cassette Number Nine, Neighbourhood and Clooney.

Duff and Holmes agree bar staff are extremely important to get on board, just as 42 Below found. "They are the ones who pour the drinks, it makes sense to look after them," says Duff.

Stolen Rum is in some of the country's top luxury lodges, Kauri Cliffs, Millbrook and Huka Lodge, which Holmes hopes will help their entree into Australia next year.

Duff and Holmes will be at Taste Auckland held on November 18 for four days in Victoria Park. They are about to appoint a board and have drawn up a shortlist of 12 prominent Auckland businesspeople.

- NZ Herald

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