Drinks industry veteran bringing Leitrim brand global

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Patrick J Rigney of the Shed Distillery

Shed Distillery founder Patrick J Rigney: “The term ‘hard’ is not in my business vocabulary.”

Shed Distillery founder Patrick J Rigney: “The term ‘hard’ is not in my business vocabulary.”

 

For three decades, Patrick J Rigney was instrumental in Ireland’s drinks industry, establishing brands such as Baileys as global leaders. Before establishing his own business – the Shed Distillery of PJ Rigney – he created brands including the twin-bottle Sheridan’s Irish Cream Liqueur.

Rigney went on to establish the first distillery in Connacht in more than a century, in a community in Leitrim that had been blighted by unemployment.

Rigney’s distillery in Drumshanbo currently employs 23 full-time locals, many of whom were previously long-term unemployed, where his primary brand – Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin – is produced.

The gin brand is now available in more than 25 international markets including the United States, the UK, Russia and Australia and is stocked in high-profile retailers such as Selfridges, Cunard and Target.

Having breached the €6 million turnover mark, Rigney is setting his sights on further expansion, and plans to increase employee numbers to 50 with the launch of Sausage Tree Pure Irish Vodka and Premier Grand Cru Irish Whiskey. Additionally, the company is investing €2 million in a visitor experience.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Following my instinct and fulfilling my ambition of founding the Shed Distillery of PJ Rigney and, in doing so, bringing 23 new jobs to rural Ireland through the creation of a pipeline of remarkable, world-class brands.

What was your back-to-the-wall moment and how did you overcome it?

Notwithstanding my strong track record, I could not raise seed capital funding for the project through normal channels and furthermore was rejected by the bank with which I had a historic relationship for the provision of the bond – critical to a distillery.

I overcame this by recalibrating the size and phasing of the investment, putting up all my savings, combining with funding from Enterprise Ireland and finding a new bank who believed in the project, and me in particular.

What moment/deal would you cite as the game-changer or turning point for the company?

The day Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin hit the shelves in the US. Our distributor, Palm Bay, sent me a text with a photo of the brand on the shelf in Target, one of the leading US chains – the Target buyer simply got the brand from the get-go and we were listed in 210 stores immediately.

Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?

Yes. The lift is gradual, people remain cautious but interestingly the tendency is to trade up and the premium sector is where the key growth is. People are drinking less but investing in quality, taste and authenticity. Now is a really exciting time for experiential spirit brands worldwide.

The category has long been underdeveloped but new generations have embraced the untapped potential of gin. The educated, well-travelled millennials are leading the charge by embracing our brands, but they demand authenticity and real substance. They will very quickly recognise a fake.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

The term “hard” is not in my business vocabulary. Challenging, exhausting, non-stop, complicated, yes – but these are not hard, they are the essence of the entrepreneurial world and that’s what makes it so energising and exhilarating.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies?

Completely switching off is a rare occurrence with regular travel to the US and other markets in Europe, Asia and further afield.

I have a weekly fitness programme in the gym that I really enjoy. I found sailing some years ago and today race regularly in Dublin Bay and I love to travel with my wife Denise and family.