01 July 2020, 08:12 AM
  • David Wood, director of The Liana Cocktail Company, reimagined his drinks distribution business, pivoting the brand into an interactive cocktail retailer in a matter of weeks in order to survive the coronavirus pandemic
How I pivoted my drinks business to survive Covid-19

In January 2018, I left the security of an executive position at Aspall Cyder and launched a distribution business, focusing on helping a small selection of independent drinks producers build their national distribution and brand recognition with the UK consumer. I had a laptop, a list of customers and a kitchen table to work from.

Fast forward to early March this year, and the business, The Liana Collection, employed seven people, had a swanky new office in London and represented brands that were flying. We looked set for a fantastic 2020.

By 28 March, the hospitality industry was shut down. We had no revenue steam and the business that I’d spent every waking hour obsessing over and developing with a small group of equally dedicated colleagues and friends looked dead in the water.

I vividly remember walking out of the house in early May to make the first phone call to one of the team to let them know that I was going to have to let them go on 1 July. I couldn’t take the call in the house because I didn’t want my fiancé’s family to see me cry. I made the call and took a long walk.

Covid had really beaten the team up, and I remember during that stroll a feeling of unfairness. I felt that all the people who told me that starting a business was a bad idea were right. On the walk home I messaged the team on Whatsapp and said we all needed to talk the next morning.

At 9am the next morning, I hosted a call with the team and explained the situation: “The measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The call lasted four hours, and in that time we made a pact: no one was leaving. The business was going to react. We were going to create something new that would get revenue coming back in and help do what we have always done best: tell the stories of independent drinks producers and great people.

Six weeks later, we officially launched The Liana Cocktail Company, the world’s first interactive cocktail experience utilising QR codes to bring a Virtual Bartender to you wherever you are. The three cocktails had three corresponding videos using four incredible independent producers: 30&40 Double Jus Apple Aperitif, Westerhall Rums, Regal Rogue Vermouth and Jim and Tonic Gin.

So far, we have been approached by two of the country’s biggest supermarkets, we have been asked for exclusivity with the biggest distributor in the US, and we have almost sold our entire stock holding. I have paid the teams salaries for June and July, and this morning I officially registered the company and allocated shares to the team.

Our story is a great example of the power of teamwork and the compassion and sacrifice people are willing to make in times of hardship. From Icely Done, a business that has helped us with production and fulfilment when it has its own business to run, to my fiancés cousin Dickie’s Video Production who dropped everything to work on a reduced rate for us, to all the guys internally who turned themselves into operations directors, health and safety experts and brand managers. This has been the most powerful experience I’ve had in business, and I have never felt more excited about what the future holds.