Part 2 in our "Why They Succeed" series...
If you want to know what “busy” looks like, then consider the seven years between Chattanooga Whiskey’s 2011 founding and where they are today.
In less than a decade, the company launched their brand across a regional footprint, lobbied to successfully change century-old prohibitionist state laws, created an experimental micro-distillery across the street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and built a 50,000 square foot facility that is one of the largest bourbon distilleries in the Southeast.
Whew! That’s certainly a mountain of work. But “busy” might not be the best word to describe Chattanooga Whiskey’s ride so far. At Market Street Partners, we prefer to use the word “success” when talking about them.
So how did this scrappy startup turn into one of the area’s most beloved brands? And what does the future hold for them? We talked with Chattanooga Whiskey owner and co-founder, Tim Piersant, to find out.
Undoing 100 years of prohibition (and more)
It’s inarguable that Chattanooga Whiskey is responsible for one of the most compelling local advocacy campaigns of the past decade.
If you’ve lived in or around Chattanooga since 2010, you likely recall the “Vote Whiskey” campaign pushed forward by Chattanooga Whiskey and area residents. That grassroots effort culminated with the legalization of whiskey distilling statewide, a practice that hadn’t been allowed — except in a handful of locales — since the dawn of prohibition in 1915.
Yet, in a number of ways, that was just the beginning for Chattanooga Whiskey. Since rewriting the laws, the Chattanooga Whiskey team has directed much of their energy to mastering their own product to the point that they’ll be able to introduce a new phrase into the whiskey lexicon.
Tim calls it “Tennessee High Malt,” which is a “higher quality, more flavorful” recipe anchored in “malted grain, longer fermentation,” and innovative barrel toasts and chars.
Since opening their experimental micro-distillery in 2015, the Chattanooga Whiskey team, led by head distiller Grant McCracken, has tried dozens of ingredient combinations in an attempt to identify this new flagship recipe, soon to be unveiled to whiskey drinkers everywhere.
However, that’s just part of Tim’s focus. He also oversees a swelling employee headcount, refines the company's marketing and product development, directs sales, manages investor relationships and handles whatever else requires his attention.
How does he do it?
A specialist in “situational awareness”
Tim laughs when he says, “I’m marginal at most things.”
(This is trademark Piersant, understating his role in Chattanooga Whiskey’s success. We didn’t let him off the hook that easily.)
When pushed, he surmises that, “because of my ability to read people and read situations, I've been able to raise capital, I've been able to assemble a team of some of the most amazing investors that any company could ask or wish for,” and get “some of the most genuine, creative people I've ever known (to) commit their work lives to Chattanooga Whiskey."
Focusing on situational awareness — reading people to understand their feelings and needs — has helped create a high level of trust and respect while fostering a shared passion for the company's success that runs from the investor level to each employee.
Tim attributes his ability to read people to his upbringing. Coming from a “well-balanced, loving family” has also enabled him to see the best in people and to "know what trust feels like." This has been crucial for him in building out the Chattanooga Whiskey team and confidently letting each person do what they were hired to do.
Making the most of partnerships
Prior to starting Chattanooga Whiskey, Tim worked in manufacturing as a purchasing manager. In that role, he formed strong bonds with suppliers and other partners. To this day, he relies heavily on business partner relationships.
"When we find someone we feel is passionate about what we do, and they try hard to do their trade well, we want to stick with those people."
At Market Street Partners, we feel fortunate to be in that group.
“The thing that I love about Market Street Partners,” Tim says, “is that I feel like they want what's best for Chattanooga Whiskey, and we feel taken care of. We've utilized them for much more than just end of year tax stuff. We're working with them on projections and manufacturing cost accounting," among many other things.
The future of Chattanooga Whiskey
Speaking of projections, where does Tim see Chattanooga Whiskey in, say, another five years?
"My mission in the next five years is to be known as the best sipping whiskey from Tennessee.” But there’s an important caveat in that goal. "I'm not saying the largest. There's a huge difference between the largest and the best.”
Tim says he’s just now “beginning to get the satisfaction of how cool it is that people really talk about and enjoy the product that you make.”
If he hits that five year goal, we’re guessing his satisfaction level will be through the Chattanooga Whiskey roof.
And we look forward to being there with him.
Be sure to read more profiles in our “Why They Succeed” series.