Ladybank Company of Distillers Club

I was in Scotland over the weekend to meet some of the members of the Ladybank Company of Distillers Club at their wonderfully eccentric headquarters in Fife, between St Andrews and Edinburgh.

It was a lively meeting – I was there as a neutral observer – but it was wonderful to see how this disperate group of people sparked off each other. It was a cross between a union meeting and the local bowling club all resolving around a shared passion and vision.

The brain child of whisky entrepreneur James Thomson, who has been a communications consultant to some of the largest brands of Scotch, Ladybank turns business convention on its head.

It is very much a real world manifestation of the online social media that my colleagues and I get so excited about. Imagine a manufacturer owned by its consumers – everything produced by the distillery, when complete, will be produced only for the members, by the members and to their exacting standards.

This is reminiscent of the original building society or co-operative movements, whereby only those with a passion for James’ vision will benefit from the success of the business (indeed, business may be a misnomer –it’s more of a movement, albeit apolitical).

James believes that the only way for people to fully indulge their passion for whisky would be to build a distillery for a limited membership who would have the opportunity to be involved with the development of the distillery, single malt whisky production and, of course, enjoying an exclusive dram or two!

Ladybank is like MySpace for the whisky lover – they even have a blog and an online boardroom where members can swap ideas. But they are also sharing something in the real world – excellent single-malt whiskies.

The Ladybank Distillery Club is a club unlike any other in the world. At its heart is the formation of a traditional craft-scale distillery near St Andrews in Scotland, an establishment that is set on producing some of the finest—if not the finest—single-malt whisky made in all of Scotland, from the best ingredients that can possibly be obtained.

Production will be intentionally small—a fraction of that produced by Scotland’s existing and world renowned single-malt distilleries—so that meticulous care can be taken throughout the entire process. The whiskies are destined not for general sale but to become prized possessions and collectors items, available to those that take up ownership through the membership programme.

Its members are also its owners, and are therefore entitled not only to receive their allocation of whisky from each vintage, but only they can visit the distillery—which will be private and exclusive in its romantic setting amongst some of Scotland’s most beautiful and tranquil countryside—so they may, as owners, discover the magic and mystique behind the creation of Scotch Whisky and be kept closely in touch with the secrets of distilling that are rarely shared with other whisky enthusiasts.

With all the privileges of an owner, they can come to witness, and even assist, in the entire whisky-making process, have their visit personally organized by the distillery manager, and sample their whiskies from different casks as they mature over the years. They can bring their family and friends, and use the distilleries private rooms for lunches and private celebrations – as well as enjoying the myriad other activities that can be enjoyed in the surrounding area.

Ladybank was founded in early 2003. Membership, which now stands at more than 300, will be capped at 1250 and thereby guarantee that membership value will increase in time. It is likely that memberships will be passed along from generation to generation within families.

The trick now is to encourage further membership. Curiously, the bulk of the current membership is outside Scotland. James has asked me to look at this and I will be seeking to mash-up the old and the new by mixing old-fashioned media relations with online social media.

What do you think? How would you approach this task?

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