It won’t “generate big profits”, but the Shed Distillery is cracking on with a visitor centre
It is expected that the attraction will be up and running in early 2020, and is expected to come in at nearly double the cost that was first expected.
The Shed Distillery is moving forward with plans to build a new ‘visitor experience’, despite its owner anticipating that it will cost almost twice as much as was first expected and won’t “generate big profits” for the company.
Pat Rigney (aka PJ Rigney) opened his small distillery with big dreams, four years ago. The facility now produces Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, and Sausage Tree Pure Irish Vodka. Last year, plans were unveiled to add a new visitor centre to the distillery, but Mr Rigney has said that work has yet to begin, and it is expected that the visitor centre won’t be open to the public until the early months of 2020.
Mr Rigney explained: “It’s going out to tender shortly and we would hope to start work early in the new year,” continuing to say: “At the moment we’re aiming for a soft launch at Christmas 2019 and then it’ll be the start of 2020 when we’re up and running. There’s a bit of a way to go but we’re taking our time and we’re trying to do it right.”
Initially, the company estimated that the extension project would set them back around one-million euro, but they have now said that figure is more likely to be between one-and-a-half-million and two-million euro.
“Visitor experiences typically don’t generate big profits – they’re expensive to run, they’re expensive to build and maintain – but it’s important to share your story with your customers,” explained Mr Rigney.
Leitrim County Council granted planning permission in February of this year for a single-story extension to the distillery which is located in Drumshanbo. The planning permission which has been granted includes a visitor exhibition, café, herb garden, and a space for tasting and selling products. It was originally envisaged that the centre would be fully open by next year, but Rigney said that the project hasn’t gotten off the ground yet as they have been preoccupied with other aspects of the business. Mr Rigney elaborated: “We’ve been very busy with our day-to-day business, growing new markets, hiring more people. We’ve been doing our day job,” going on to say: “At the end of the day your distillery needs to be a success before you can think about your visitor experience.”
A further reason for the delay has been Rigney’s concerns about the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which was passed by the Dáil in September, after taking nearly three years to make its way through the Oireachtas. In a letter to Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, earlier this year, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act, Rigney said that he was putting the construction of the visitor centre “on hold” pending the outcome of the debate surrounding the Bill. Nationwide, concerns had been raised with various cabinet Ministers by the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions that the restrictions on advertising in the bill could “seriously damage” the drinks tourism sector.
Despite his concerns about the potential effects of the new legislation he decided to proceed with his visitor centre in any event.
“We made the decision to go ahead with the plan. I think at the end of the day it would have been a disservice to Drumshanbo and to our staff to cancel the project on the basis of some elements of the Alcohol Bill.” (FANCY QUOTATION)
Rigney detailed why he decided to go ahead with the plan to develop the visitor centre anyway: “It’s still a concern but we’re going ahead anyway. With the growth in tourism and international visitors we hope this particular visitor experience will be of benefit to Leitrim. We’re close to Carrick-on-Shannon so there’ll be great things to do in the area.”
There is no doubt that drinks tourism is a growing trade in Ireland. The Guinness Storehouse was the country’s top paid-tourist-attraction last year, with shy of two-million visitors. The craft alcohol sector is also booming, and a number of distillery and brewery attractions have opened their doors across the country in the last couple of years also.
The Shed Distillery is aiming to get 10,000 visitors in its first year “as a starting point” and is hoping that it will grow from there. Rigney explained: “Our key point of difference is that everything we sell is distilled at the distillery and it’s very important that we can show that to people. We’re the real thing and we hope people will get a kick out of it.”
While they’re waiting for the project to be completed, Rigney has said that his main focus will be on expanding operations and working on the distillery’s whiskey product. There are twenty-eight staff working at the facility and the brand is exported to twenty-eight markets. The company had retained profits of just over one-million-euro in 2017, and is one of the fastest growing brands in the world, having won numerous global awards in recent years.
“Obviously the visitor experience is important for sharing our story with consumers, but we’ve got to keep growing the business at the same time,” Rigney said, before concluding: “We’re looking after our home base but we’re also driving internationally, opening up new markets. Our new whiskey is maturing and will be launched in 2020 so that’s the next big thing.”
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