As my business partner and Scotland navigator pulled off the 2nd ferry that connects the tiny island of Jura to the mainland of Scotland, we were greeted by a 1-lane road that headed east. If you went west, you ended up in the ocean. As we traversed the beautiful but mostly barren rocky Scottish landscape, we couldn’t help but wonder how this island of 188 people supports a whisky distillery, hotel, and bar. Once we pulled up to this hidden whisky oasis, we were surprised by the amount of people enjoying the 65 degree weather. There were tons of people camping on a rugby field next to the ocean, waiting for a half day run from the whisky distillery to the peak of the paps of Jura (mini-mountains) and back. We had such a good time at this distillery that I felt compelled to write up a few business lessons from this half-day excursion. So sit back and sip the wisdom.
Take the Road Less Travelled…Literally
Navigating our way to this distillery was quite a feat because I was driving on the opposite side of the car on a one-lane road, with very few pull-offs and hundreds of bicyclists hogging the road. Laser focus and white knuckles doesn’t do justice to the mindset I brought to that drive. I had to quickly switch from vacation and relaxation mode to “don’t run over innocent pedestrians” mode. By taking the road less travelled, I got to experience an instinctual cognitive and physical shift that kept everyone safe and allowed me to appreciate the trip on a different level, almost like having an out of body experience. We were definitely out of our comfort zones on the road – which kissed several ocean hanging cliffs – but we are glad we made the trip.
Lesson #1: Finding your discomfort zone in business keeps you sharp and hungry.
Never Compromise on Quality
Each whisky producer offers a distillery tour and whisky tasting as part of their whisky experience for guests. Once you’ve been on one of these tours, they are all pretty much the same. They discuss the aspects of their whisky expressions that create their competitive advantage and walk you through the distillation steps, but what I took away from the Jura distillery was that they never compromise on quality. They source their bourbon casks from American White Oak trees in the Ozark Mountain Range, Missouri, USA. These mountains are in rural Missouri three hours from where I live in St. Louis, MO. This small distillery chooses to ship bourbon casks halfway around the world to maintain its commitment to quality and this is a standard all businesses should strive to attain.
Lesson #2: People remember a commitment to quality.
Build Your Story Into Your Brand
A few reasons I enjoy scotch – in addition to its robust taste – is the history, narrative, and traditional approach to distillation. While each distillery tells its own “whisky story” I was impressed at the passion and knowledge of our Jura tour guide. He was a native to the tiny island and took great pride in working for the distillery and sharing his story with guests, discussing the proud and tragic aspects of the island’s history. It wasn’t just his unique but difficult to understand accent but rather his artful approach to narrating every square foot of the distillery. He had a story for each piece of equipment, all the whisky ingredients, the employees, and the whisky flavor profiles – and they all tied back to the rich heritage and history of the Jura island and its people.
Lesson #3: Tell your brand’s story with passion and let people “behind the curtain” to expose your process and reveal vulnerability.
While I still prefer the taste of Islay scotches like Lagavulin and Laphroaig to Jura whisky, our tour guide’s commitment to his brand and his storytelling ability won me over and got me to contribute to their gift store’s cash register. With each gift of Jura whisky that I gave, I typed up a brief story from our adventure so my friends and family could better envision the art and science behind the whisky.