Family Values: A Look Inside island2island Posted by: Ashley Pini April 23, 2015 As island2island nears eight years of trading, Managing Director Les Page looks back on the development of the business, family business principals and the challenges the broader industry faces in a time of unprecedented change. If ever the phrase “change is the only constant” were true now would be the time you’d find few detractors. One company however is building strongly and picking its own direction amidst the backdrop of wholesaler and distributor changes across the industry. The man behind brands such as Heineken and Bacardi in Australia has been working away developing a bespoke premium spirits (and now imported beer) business that not only holds family values as core to its business principles but as it’s ‘secret weapon’ in attracting the best to join the island2island team.“I take great faith from the quality of the people that we have working with us. You’ve got to give the customer a reason to believe in both you and the brands, and I believe I’ve got the best set of people in the industry to do just that”“We’ve always had family appeal as a company, I learnt that from Martini & Rossi when I worked for them. They used to say… ‘come to Italy and bring the family with you. You’re part of the Martini & Rossi family’. It wasn’t a second thought to them – it was natural.”“I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided that if I was ever fortunate enough to be running my own business that I would adopt the same philosophy. And that’s the way I like to have it. Our people are all part of the island2island family. They are welcome here any time – they are part of us.”“We’ve got 30 odd employees, but we have 160 people that rely on this business for their livelihoods. That to me is very important because we feel responsible in a financial sense.”Strong relationships with the trade is a vital component of that and the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, run every two years, gives the business the opportunity to show the versatile nature of the Angostura products and to take the Australian winner on a one in a lifetime trip to Trinidad. Three Australians have gone on to win the global finals (Marco Nunes in 2006, Andy Griffith in 2011 and Mike Tomasic in 2014) and fits with the education platform from which island2island can reach the trade.“I believe we have the best professional bartenders in the world. The thirst for knowledge is incredible – they often hear things before we do; of course technology has made information available globally and instantly.” “Our brand principals are very good at supporting that thirst for knowledge, coming out regularly to visit the market and give master classes. John Georges (Angostura master distiller) and Ian MacMillian (Burn Stewart master blender) both support the local market with visits. Those guys do wonders for the brands and for us. And Meagan Sacher with Stolichnaya is inspirational whenever she’s here with us. We’re pretty lucky.”island2island is a business that was born from the Angostura distribution agreement, and is now positioned as a premium spirits (and imported beer) business. The Angostura aromatic bitters product has been the backbone to that expansion with practically 100 per cent distribution and exceptional brand recognition – alongside a range of premium rums the envy of any distillery.In 2012 we reported on island2island’s desire to carve a niche in the premium single malt whisky market, and they’ve done exactly that. “We believe the single malt whiskies we have offer a big opportunity,” said Page back then.Three years down the track and you can now see 26 premium whiskies on their website from highly respected distilleries.“We’ve enjoyed having the world’s most awarded premium rum range so it was natural to expand in the premium single malt area; which is growing so well. This has been really good for us, in a sense of giving us additional credibility. With Bitters we immediately had credibility, but it’s a bit ubiquitous – it’s everywhere – a very special product. With the single malts we’ve moved into the premium spirits area so we’re building a reputation as the go to people. We are selling out every drop we get. Almost all of the malts are on allocation now.”So with single malt scotch well represented they turned their attention to Irish whiskey, the addition of Writers Tears seemed a perfect fit.“That brand is premium. It suits us down to the ground. We spend the time hand selling. We sell bottle by bottle. That’s what we’re good at,” said PageStolichnaya Premium Vodka and its premium ‘elit’ variant became available in 2012 due to the normal evolution of brands moving between distributors and island2island Beverages were a part of the solution for SPI group, the owners of Stolichnaya.“They came on board three years ago and we are re-establishing the brand extremely well; it’s a lot of hard work but they are a great company to work with. We’ve repositioned some of the deals and pricing and we’ve got some great partners in both the on and off-premise.”More recently Broker’s Gin and San Miguel Beer have joined the portfolio and, with the exception of Premium Tequila and Premium American Whiskey, the portfolio could be deemed complete.So on the subject of bringing in a large-scale volume brand, Page states; “you never say never, but I see our future in the premium area. The aim is always to be the best professional agency company for premium brands.