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Westpac REWORK: Cheers to a very different tipple

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Just a few months ago, as the hot summer months rolled on, couple David Whittaker and Vanessa Wilton were flat out making boutique gins, vodkas and whiskies from their distillery on Sydney’s iconic northern beaches.

Then suddenly, COVID-19 went from being a concerning new coronavirus in China to a global pandemic that has upended their world.

“We’re normally making spirits, as of a couple of weeks ago,” Whittaker, the co-founder of Manly Spirits Co., tells Westpac Wire as part of a new series profiling how businesses are adapting to the COVID-19 crisis.

“(But with) COVID-19, three quarters of our customer base being asked to close down, bars and restaurants, our revenue down to a quarter, export markets drying up…we thought, ‘well, what are we going to do?’”

Launched by the married couple in 2017 after being inspired during a drive through rural Tasmania, Manly Spirits Co. has grown into a leading boutique supplier of local gins, botanical vodkas and whiskies and was one of 200 Businesses of Tomorrow in 2018.

Like many businesses, the shutdown of large parts of the economy due to COVID-19 left them having to manage ongoing expenses despite a sudden slump in cashflow. But the couple saw an opportunity to leverage the business’ equipment and skills to manufacture hand sanitiser, which has been in short supply amid an unprecedented surge in demand from health professionals, businesses and the general public.

“We made 30,000 litres of sanitiser, not just made, but out to customers in one week,” Whittaker says. “To pivot really fast, we’ve learned a lot. Logistics (at) scale and websites virtually nearly crashing under the weight of orders.”

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