What started as need to learn how to make bio-diesel has fermented into a successful business venture which offers affordable, professional grade distilling equipment options to customers in the craft distilling industry.
Spotlight on Business was excited to speak with Larry Taylor, founder of StillDragon about how a small, family owned business from South Florida has gone from its early and humble beginnings operating out of Taylor’s garage to expanding the business to where they have needed to move into their third warehouse and being recognized as an industry leader for developing and supplying craft distillers with affordable high quality still parts to fit every still needs and budget.
When speaking with Taylor we find out that his distilling equipment business, StillDragon North America, was first built based on curiosity and Taylor’s keen observation that affordable equipment options were lacking for the growing craft distilling industry.
In 2009, while Taylor was learning about distilling and fermentation, he was originally motivated by a need to learn how to make bio-diesel after hearing about a few guys running diesel pickups powered by bio-diesel that was created from harvested seaweed, and knowing what he was spending on gas to fill his tank, thought that this could be a potential business. However, it did not take long for Taylor to find out that his seaweed harvesting bio-diesel venture wasn’t viable, as it would take him more than a week to produce enough for one tank of fuel, meaning the numbers would not come together to keep his truck on the road let alone drive a profitable business.
But as they say with every failure for an entrepreneur is a new opportunity and that is exactly what happened with Taylor. After he visited a distilling site his fascination with distilling grew. Taylor started out as a participant in the underground hobby distilling community, but it did not take long for him to see the increasing interest in craft distilling industry following the tremendous growth of both the wine and craft beer industry and saw opportunity.
“I figured if I made parts that could help with the processing systems, I could make money. So, a website was created, a few items were sold, and we soon found ourselves sold out,” said Taylor.
Business was growing, as manufacturing small quantities became larger and larger, with now up to 4,000 of the same items put into production at a time.
As with any successful business, StillDragon, now finds themselves being replicated by a handful of others. Taylor is confident that the companies focus on customer service and follow-up with customers will keep their customers loyal to coming back when they are in need of products or an upgrade to their current system.
Taylor was a construction guy before he started the business and was happy to leave it all behind.
“I was getting chewed up during the recession, and the job just wasn’t fun anymore. This business is amazing. It started in my garage. We could put the entire company on a single set of utility shelves,” he said.
From their very humble beginning they grew, seeing Taylor having to move his cars out of his 1,500 square foot garage as the parts began to consume all available space. Then Taylor had to make the move and as he says “sell legit.” They got the company licensed and soon moved into their first warehouse.
Taylor knows that the business is continuing to grow but is never quick to sign any lease for longer than a three-year term. Now on their third warehouse since leaving his garage, Taylor knows the way that it is going that in a few years they will need to move to a larger facility. That is a small price to pay for things going so well and Taylor said that he hopes StillDragon, has another good 20 years before they hit a ceiling in the craft distilling industry.
He said there’s something about liquor-related products that just reels people in.
“I don’t know that my products are any better or worse than others. It’s just evaporation. But we have the original model for modular distilling equipment. We can take a small amount of components and add on to make a larger system,” he said.
Taylor likens it to producing vodka, which can’t be done with an eight-plate column. There isn’t enough scrubbing action to clean the dirt off the ethanol molecules but in saying that Taylor says, “But we can help add to that, and the modular distilling will help people with minimal budget increase capacity.”
StillDragon focuses on the needs of each customer and makes sure that they get the most out of their budget. If a craft distilling business with a small system needs to ramp up production, they have the products to help and make sure that any initial investment isn’t wasted as Taylor remembers back when he was starting his business and you can’t waste money if you want to grow your business.
What separates StillDragon from the rest in the industry is that the company can help build anything and bring their clients along for the ride as we offer continued solutions as their company grows and are there to make sure that their equipment grows with them.
“We love to let them be a part of that design process, have dialogue with customers, and help design systems that work best for their environment. We aren’t selling generic versions for mass production. We love building for custom needs,” he said.
StillDragon has gained a wealth of expertise working with customers in the distillery industry. Some know exactly what they want and need, coming to them with their plans and drawings, while others have no idea and Taylor and his team are up for the challenge to get them the right products. “The gratifying part of the business is helping these people. It’s seeing customers proud of the equipment that comes in.”
Taylor sees unlimited potential in the people he works with and the business that he built. Taylor is quick to tell you that the biggest thing he has learned in business and the best advice that he can give to any entrepreneur is to surround yourself with good people, because you do yourself a disservice if you don’t. As a business owner you might think you can do everything but if is not possible to do everything yourself. As Taylor put it, “The goal is to insulate yourself well enough so that you aren’t saddled in a warehouse all the time.”
Taylor adds that, “People with skills here are invaluable.” He also acknowledges that just because people look good on paper does not make them a great fit for your business and that you want people you trust and who fit the work culture.
As with any industry or business Taylor does not have a crystal ball that can predict the future, but after speaking with Taylor we get the feeling that he kind of enjoys the thought of what is to come. In his words, “I’m not totally sure where it’s going. Things happen so fast. We just want to sell equipment to larger distilleries and get bigger.”
What we do know is that StillDragon wants to grow with their customers and continue to offer more innovation to the industry with more sophisticated systems for their customers. Taylor ended the interview with a very simple message that has a lot of meaning, “We want to keep our customers happy.” And we have a feeling that they will do just that.
By Jordan Parker