A Year in review of The Whisky Order

by Steve Forrester

A Year in review of The Whisky Order

Hey Folks - Welcome to The Whisky Order: A Year in Review.

Holy Shit! I can’t believe it’s been a year already!

It’s been such a surreal experience to grow this business from a small idea to one that has now shipped thousands of whisky packs to over 20 countries and taught me so many lessons about running a business and well….life. 

First Orders for The Whisky Order

I can still remember the moment that the first subscription was sold; I was away in Nowra for a friend’s wedding. I was relaxing on the bed, waiting for my wife to get ready when a notification suddenly popped up on my phone: “Congratulations on your first sale! Payment of $59.95 successful”

I swear my heart stopped at that moment. It’s was just… weird…and exciting… and scary.

All at the same time.

Someone, somewhere, had trusted me to deliver on the promise of my site, a site that was mere hours old, to deliver a box of high quality whisky samples to them by the 14th of that month.  

To put it bluntly. It was fucking awesome.

Rip, Pivot and Jam

I’ll backtrack a bit here though. The Whisky Order wasn’t always a subscription box. It actually started off as a daily deals site – for whisky! Great idea right? Um, no. Well, at least it wasn’t the best idea for me at the time.

Week after week of putting up ‘deals’ of whisky and nothing really happening (sales wise) I decided I needed to change things up. I’d recently read this killer article on Reddit about something called a Subscription Box: HERE. This was while I was visiting Scotland to see my old man who had recently re-immigrated (returned home?) back there.

I’d been loving touring the distilleries and finding out those great little stories that the tour guides seem to know that made each distillery and batch so unique then loading up on miniatures to enjoy when I got home.

I thought…wait? I could do something here! Why not send out a little box of samples to people so they can taste whisky, see if they like it or even get a bit of an education on whisky. How cool would that be!

So I did! I built the site myself using a cool tool called Cratejoy, strained my brain to come up with some better ways of actually explaining to people what it was. Then I started running some Facebook Ads to the site.

And that’s how it was born:

  • Nothing fancy.
  • No investors.
  • No funding.
  • Just me + 5 bottles of whisky + funny little bottles + some boxes (oh.. and that stupid woodwool…ugh I hate that stuff now it’s the suckiest thing ever invented and I hate it).

Just a dream that I could build something cool.

The First Month

That first month was amazing! I think from memory that I ended up with 12 subscriptions. 12 people who I had impressed enough to purchase a subscription of kickass whisky samples each month.

I was so so, so amazed.

There are still a small (but very, very important) group of subscribers who joined that first month that are still current customers. They were the first official beta testers of The Whisky Order who have seen the evolution of this brand.

Evolution

Evolution has been pretty much constant since I started The Whisky Order. Over the course of a year I have:

  • Change box styles 4 times
  • Changed Website layout 5 times
  • Change backend + subscription software twice (this was really…really scary)
  • Changed bottles 3 times
  • Moved from self-fulfilment to outsourced fulfilment
  • Change the inserts about a million times

Every month has presented you, my amazing subscribers, with some incremental improvement to the product/experience.

Each piece of feedback I receive is logged and assessed. I truly do want The Whisky Order to be the best subscription box on the planet. So each month I gradually improve something.

To give you an idea about the changes here is a shot of some of the first boxes that were being shipped out:

The Original Whisky Order Boxes

 

Here’s my attempt at creating product shots

Ghetto photo shoot of whisky

 

Here are a few examples of the homepage evolution

The Whisky Order site Version 1

Or this Update: 

The Whisky Order Website Version 2

Bonus Image - Back from the "daily deals" era:

Daily Deals for Whisky

 

And here is the current look of the boxes (the homepage you can checkout by clicking the logo at the top of the page)

 

Learnings

I have to say this though, it’s not always been a bed of roses. Things don’t always go to plan here at The Whisky Order HQ. Software fails and then rebills someone when it shouldn’t. Packages go missing. Things break. Bottles leak. Expectations are not met. I miss an email or message on Facebook. The gifting system is stupid and confusing. People get pissed off.

That was probably the hardest thing to learn to deal with.

Internally, as a business owner, you want to be everything to everyone. You want to be that beacon of knowledge and be able to please everyone 100% of the time. You imagine in your head that everyone just loves what you do and are always going to.

‘Fraid that’s never gonna happen buddy boy.

I’ve made mistakes in the past and I can guarantee that at some stage in the future I’ll make more. They will end up costing money, pissing people off and keep me up at night.

But that’s just the harsh reality of business.

The good news is: each mistake, error or miscommunication is simply an opportunity to adjust, adapt and create or modify an SOP (a business term for Standard Operating Procedure).

Learning is a constant evolution of ideas and theories. The best laid battle plans often fail at the first contact.

So I’ve taken my lumps along this journey!

 

Feedback

So after about 10 months of steady growth, sending a metric tonne of parcels all around the world I decided to do something that I should have done earlier. I sent out a survey asking “what do you think of us and how can we improve”. I’ll tell you what – want to talk about feeling vulnerable, just ask open ended questions.

The survey went out to all current and past customers. Yep – even people who cancelled and maybe didn’t enjoy The Whisky Order.

The feedback was…Actually awesome! There was a LOT of really constructive criticism, tips for improvement, pet peeves and easily actionable changes that could make perception of the business even better!

So, one by one I am addressing them. Not everything is going to be changed, don’t get me wrong. A lot of things are built into how the business is costed (let’s just say I don’t get the whisky for free) so certain aspects can’t change. But I’ll be continually improving the business each month.

 

The Future

So I’ve laid out where The Whisky Order has come from. So, where are we going on this crazy journey?

Well, if you haven’t noticed, we have been a spiffy new site for the last month. We are now using a new system (Shopify + Recurring Billing by Bold Apps if you are interested) that is going to make it a LOT easier for me to give you the products you want.

Some of the wheels turning at the moment:

  • Online store FULL of cool shit. Yes, I’m being deliberately vague as the lineup hasn’t been committed to 100% yet. But rest assured you are going to like it.
  • Affiliate Program – Yep – Make money by selling subscriptions – all the glamour of being in the whisky biz and none of the responsibilities. Anyone interested reach out over here: hello@thewhiskyorder.com.au
  • Do you like…free shit? Yeah damn straight. We are working with some interesting people at the moment to provide an ongoing source of ongoing discounts for all subscribers across a range of retailers, other online stores and events/tastings.
  • Australia’s largest range of distillery edition miniatures to buy as one offs (hint: not the type you find in your normal stores).

That’s just the stuff I want to talk about. Not all of this is going to happen immediately. As with everything I want to make sure that it’s sustainable, people want it and that it works as it should.

The big aim for 2016 is to continue to grow the subscriber base. 1000 Subscribers is a goal I would have scoffed at a year ago. But right now it’s actually a very close goal.

So we are working very hard at increasing our exposure to new markets both domestic to Australia and also internationally. If you have any sweet hook-ups with media outlets let me know! There will be a box of whisky goodies in it for you :P

 

Conclusion

Well I certainly didn’t expect this post to turn out so long, nor be such a behind the curtains exposure on the business.

But I think that’s good. I’ve always wanted to be open and upfront with the business and who I am as a person.

This next 12 months is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to see where we stand at the other end.

If you ever want to talk about Whisky, subscription businesses, entrepreneurship or scaling a small business please don’t hesitate to reach out.

You can find me at: steve@thewhiskyorder.com.au

Adios!




Steve Forrester
Steve Forrester

Author


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