Small Business: Rogue Society putting the tang in artisan gin

By Aimee Shaw

Left to right: Rogue Society co-founders Richard Bourke, Daniel McLaughlin and Mark Neal.
Left to right: Rogue Society co-founders Richard Bourke, Daniel McLaughlin and Mark Neal.

Canterbury-based gin producer Rogue Society is shaking up the premium liquor market. Co-founder Daniel McLaughlin weighs in on how important product design is in this competitive retail industry.

Brief description of the business?

Rogue Society Gin is a super-premium gin from the bottom of the world. We launched just under three years ago, after two years of development.

We have three founders - myself, Mark Neal and Richard Bourke - and we're currently in 10 markets around the world including Australia, Singapore, Dubai, UK, handful of European markets and a sprinkling throughout the Pacific.

What inspired you to start the business?

We've always had a huge passion for gin. We used to get together and drink a lot of gin from around the world and there wasn't heaps on the market that reflected who we were as gin drinkers.

There was very old English and traditional, but we really wanted to create a super-premium New Zealand product that we could take to the world - and that kind of led us on the journey.

What's a typical work day like for you?

A usual day is quite varied. I look after the operations, engine room, production and our international business. A typical day would generally involve something to do with one, or all of these departments.

We have just launched in the UK and about to launch in a number of European markets which I'm working heavily on. We're also working to improve our supply chain to cut our order lead times down.

Co-founder Daniel McLaughlin.
Co-founder Daniel McLaughlin.

How big is your team?

All up we have 10 staff members.

In the Auckland head office we've got myself, and Mark - two co-founders work the business day to day, and then we've got a finance operations manager.

In our distillery we've got a master distiller, assistant distillers, and a few other people down in Canterbury.

Internationally we have a Rogue Society ambassador in Australia and I'm employing another ambassador for London as well.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?

The biggest challenge would have to be securing offshore distributors and getting them over the line in a timely fashion. Everyday we're faced with new challenges, though.

We're constantly learning and adapting; especially when you're wearing multiple hats with a small management team. Whether it's understanding offshore markets or securing key distributors, juggling cash flow, raising capital, they all sort of bring unique challenges.

How important is packaging design in this competitive retail industry?

It's very important, consumers shop with their eyes first. But you definitely need an incredible award winning gin to back this up.

When they purchase something in the super premium price range they want something that upholds its value - something they can feel proud off and highly comfortable with when they introduce the brand to new friends and family.

Rogue Society creates premium grade gin.
Rogue Society creates premium grade gin.

In 2014 just after we launched Rogue Society we won a double gold at the prestigious San Francisco Wine & Spirits competition for packaging.

The only other brand to receive a double gold was one of Diageo's brands, Diageo being the world's largest liquor company. Not bad for a start-up gin brand from New Zealand. It was at this point we knew we had something special.

How much of an emphasis does Rogue Society put on its design, packaging?

We treat the design with equal amounts of respect as we do to the liquid.

From a positioning viewpoint we look at the tradition category of gin with a modern, progressive brand lens. This positioning suits the new generation of gin consumers.

In 2014, when we launched Rogue Society, we got a Gold Pin at the NZ Best Awards for its packaging and design. A Gold Pin means it is the very best in class in any packaging across any category and any product. To receive this award is something we are very proud off.

Co-founder Mark Neal.
Co-founder Mark Neal.

Our consumers are looking for a breakaway brand that splits them apart from the more traditional gin brands in the marketplace. Our positioning and style is a reflection of the gritty behaviour and polished style of the brand.

Rogue Society is a bit different, it's not for everyone but that's what makes it special.

What makes your gin different to others on the market?

Ours is award winning - we've picked up a number of gold and silver medals in both London and San Francisco. Our profile is basically citrus - super smooth - so it's perfect for cocktail diversity, with that citrus freedom.

We also use glacier waters from the Southern Alps which gives us a unique point of difference. We're slightly more citrus forward than a lot other gin brands on the market, we're distilled in a handbeaten 19th century John Dore copper pot still which is quite unique, and I guess the brand has a some what modern approach to a traditional category.

How important is it for New Zealand-made products to have that brand association when sold overseas?

We pride ourselves on being New Zealand made. What we have found in international markets, and especially through Asia and Europe, is that New Zealand pieces are very unique.

There are gins for a number of markets around the world, but very few from New Zealand, and that works quite well internationally.

Does Rogue Society face much competition?

There's probably a handful of New Zealand brands on the market at the moment - which we see as really positive - as it helps to build that category and premium end of the market.

Rogue Society creates premium grade gin.
Rogue Society creates premium grade gin.

In any kind of international market you'll have a handful of domestic gins and then the big corporate brands that are generally across all markets.

In terms of profit, how are you scaling?

We're growing fair quickly. We've seen 200 per cent growth from year one to year two, and we forecast similar growth on this financial year. We're looking at launching in to the offshore markets and grow domestically.

The total gin category in New Zealand is around 120,000 cases of gin, whereas the UK is about two and half million cases of gin, so it's a much bigger market by scale.

Co-founder Richard Bourke.
Co-founder Richard Bourke.

What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business in this industry?

Secure an amazing management team that bring really well-rounded skill sets - it's best if your management team bring different skill sets to yourself.

Pull together a board is quite a good one as well. We've got a board that we meet with monthly which is good - it's good to have people challenge your thinking in the day to day business - we've found that really important.

And just get good partners - they're the key to successful business, I reckon.


Who is your biggest market?

At the moment our biggest market is New Zealand, which will soon be overtaken by some of our offshore markets with the likes of the UK and Australia; just due to the size of the total gin category.

- NZ Herald

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