Donna Ahern talks to Laura Bonner, founder and CEO of The Muff Liquor Company.
How would you describe your role?
I develop the overall strategy for the business, alongside being responsible for bringing in new business, dealing with our existing customers, and coming up with ideas for expansion.
I am constantly looking at ways to perfect our current product while developing new ideas.
Another core aspect of my role is to make sure my team is happy and motivated on a daily basis.
One of my favourite aspects of the job is getting to interact with our customers, so I have really missed the gin fairs and other sales events.
Creating a product from scratch, seeing it completed, and watching people enjoying our gin, vodka and whiskey with friends is the best feeling. I can’t wait until normal service has resumed!
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My first job was when I was 11, working in my dad’s company, which manufactures windows and doors, during the summer holidays. I arrived thinking I was going to be sitting in the office with all the girls, but when I got there he pointed to the door which led to the factory floor and said “before you learn how to sell, you must understand how it's made.”
I was on the floor every summer until I was 14.
My dad has given me great advice over the years, but this first lesson never left me.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I pray that we have our own visitor centre/distillery in Muff, Co Donegal. I want to create jobs locally but I also want to have successfully expanded globally. I’m very lucky to have a solid and successful team, so I expect to achieve both goals.
My advice to people starting out in the industry is ‘just do it’.
Everyone starts with only an idea, but if you believe in yourself and have the passion, you can't go wrong. It is about learning from mistakes and persevering.
I didn’t know anything about the alcohol industry when I started, and I'm still learning, but I believed in myself, my team and my products.
What was your worst job and what was so bad about it?
I have never had a bad role, but I did once have to work with an awful manager. Every morning I had the worst anxiety thinking about going into the office.
Looking back, I now know that this person was struggling with their superior.
This highlighted how important a fair and approachable management style was in producing a
successful and happy workforce. Since that experience, that approach is something I have led within every team I have managed.
Who are the three businesspeople you most admire and why?
My dad will always be in my top three. He taught me, my brothers and my sister, who are all successful entrepreneurs, the value of hard work, the value of money and of good ethics.
I also admire Michelle Mone and Karen Brady, who are two incredibly inspiring women in business.
Finally, I have to mention Sara Blakely, creator of SPANX – her drive and work ethic to get her product onto the shelves is something I respect as I know the level of work that goes into creating a product and brand from scratch.
What advertising campaign have you most enjoyed in recent months?
I really liked SuperValu’s Christmas advert. It captured the true meaning of a COVID-19 Christmas, as it highlighted how the most important thing is family and spending time together, not presents.
It was great to see that come to life from a child’s perspective.
If you could bring back one product that is no longer available in Ireland what would it be? Fat Frog ice pops. They were amazing!
What was your favourite grocery brand when you were growing up?
Daniel Doherty’s bread from home. It brings back such great memories. I think it is important now more than ever to support local Irish brands and to help drive our economy in the right direction by making a conscious effort to purchase products produced in Ireland.
Who would be your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive?
Guests at my ideal dinner party would include myself, Michelle Obama (I love her!), Sean Connery, (he was my ultimate when I was growing up), Princess Diana (I adored her when I was little), and John Hume (God rest his soul. I knew him growing up and he told such interesting stories).
Also Richard Branson (mainly because he won't reply to my emails, only joking!), my dad (he is the best storyteller and pianist I know), Gerry Hussey (Ireland's leading health and performance coach who is an incredibly gifted man), and Maya Angelou (I would love to get her views on the world).
Of course, we’d need some music, so I’d love to have Bob Marley there. I could see us all jamming after dinner!