Taking Their Business to the Next Level

A little more than a year ago, Ryan DeHart MBA '10 reunited in Dallas with Marine Corps friend, Quentin Witherspoon. At this time, Witherspoon had decided to turn a 20-year-old hobby into a fully licensed, rum-producing distilling business, the Quentin D. Witherspoon Distillery. The resulting product is Witherspoon's River Rum.

"As soon as I tried the rum, I knew immediately that he had a product, and he definitely had a passion behind it," DeHart said. He started getting a business model and financial plan together and joined the business as CFO in the spring of 2012.

After a few months, DeHart's Cross Continent classmate, Laurent Spamer MBA '10 joined as Director of Business Development. With his prior experience of alcohol importation and strong business background, Spamer was a perfect fit.

"The three of us as cofounders had a solid footing on how we could present ourselves to our investors, and ultimately our customers," Spamer said. "In creating a team, you make sure you have every facet of the business covered."

Witherspoon, the Master Distiller, notes the experience and contribution of Spamer's and DeHart's education from Fuqua as "immeasurable."

"What their education, experience and perspective brings to my company is a core part of its success going forward," Witherspoon said. "In this industry, one has to be prepared to grow at a rapid pace, be flexible in the market and work with the subtle nuances. You need really savvy people in there to do it."

Aside from confidence in the product, DeHart and Spamer critically and strategically evaluated the distilling industry to determine whether their rum would offer a unique selling proposition. Currently, rum is the second most popular spirit, behind vodka. And with craft brewing on the rise, craft distilling isn't far behind. It is a growing industry, in which rum is under-represented.

"There are over 300 craft distilleries nationwide, about 26 in Texas, and about four in Dallas-Fort Worth," said DeHart. "None are making a craft silver rum."

Not only is this product facing less competition in a broadening market, but it also has the most reasonable timeline. Silver rum can be put on the shelf and distributed immediately, whereas most spirits must be aged.

"As a craft distillery, aged spirits are one thing we want to be able to offer eventually, but not being able to serve something for five years kills a business, " said DeHart.

Even with a quick turnaround product and a welcoming industry, these Fuqua alumni have faced regulatory hurdles that restrict quick growth.

"This is one of the most heavily regulated industries on the planet," said DeHart.

In fact, 40 percent of the costs of goods sold by Witherspoon's River Rum goes to taxes. Considering the fixed costs required before they could even start selling their product, a strong business model and plan were critical from the beginning. This is where their background and experience with Fuqua truly came into play.

"[In business school] we had focused on a well-rounded, holistic approach that gave us a better understanding of the big picture," Spamer said. "There are just so many different components you have to take care of when you're running a business. Anything and everything can pop up and you need to be familiar with all the functions of business. I think Fuqua did a great job of helping us understand those bigger-picture concerns."

The business partners' personal tastes for Witherspoon's River Rum vary. Spamer prefers his Witherspoon's River Rum in the form of a Cuba Libre, while DeHart opts for a mint mojito made with a new mix from their partner company, Nectar Girl. As for Witherspoon, the craftsman himself?

"I drink it neat. In a glass, by itself, at room temperature," Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon's River Rum is currently only available in the Dallas Fort Worth area, but the business partners feel confident it will reach the home of their alma mater in summer 2014.
 
With a solid business background, a strong network grown from their experiences at Fuqua, and an award-winning product, Witherspoon's River Rum could be a recipe for success.

We first learned of DeHart and Spamer's Witherspoon's River Rum story through a class note they submitted. Email us your class notes.