Stumpy’s Spirits: a grain to glass startup

Adam Stumpf, PMBA ’14, has defined a unique niche within the small-batch spirits category of the distilling industry. The ingredients for his brand, Stumpy’s Spirits, are sourced from the Illinois farm surrounding his craft distillery. And the farm has been in his family for eight generations.

Stumpy’s just celebrated its second anniversary in July and has released six products to date, including a single barrel bourbon, vodka, and four flavors of whiskey. And like so many great startups, Stumpy’s began to take shape while Adam Stumpf was a student at Olin.

Stumpy’s distillery and farm in Columbia, Illinois

Thanks to Adam, Stumpy’s self-described “Chief Everything-else Officer,” for taking time from his busy schedule to tell us about his company and entrepreneurial experience:

What were you doing when you were earning your PMBA degree?

I was working at AB-InBev while I was earning my PMBA. It was also while earning
my PMBA that we conceptualized and took the first steps to starting the distillery.
In fact, while I was in the Introduction to Entrepreneurship class with David
Poldoian, we secured funding and purchased our original distillation system.

How did your Olin experience affect your career?

The Olin experience was honestly the extra push we needed to get the distillery going. Olin changed my way of thinking, changed the way I approach problems, and it changed the way I view business and the industry in general.

Did Olin courses help to build and run your business?

Absolutely. Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Supply Chain Management,
Negotiation, Economics, and Power and Politics are the classes I find myself
referring to the most often! So many incredible nuggets of information buried in
those lectures. I also competed in and was a finalist in the Olin Cup (now the Skandalaris Cup). I remember it fondly. It was our first business case competition and it helped us really refine the business plan and our pitching skills!

Were you ahead of the small batch spirits trend?

I wouldn’t say we were on the cutting edge, but we were fairly early in the
movement. Looking at industry and category trends certainly helped make the case
for launching a distillery, but definitely wasn’t the deciding factor.

This was a project where we knew we could combine our skills, our passion, and our family history to create an incredibly unique and one-of-a-kind brand.

In terms of being ahead of a trend, we are definitely on the leading edge of farm distilleries. We are one of only a handful of distilleries in the country that grows EVERY kernel of grain that we put into our bottles.

What are the biggest challenges to starting a distillery from scratch?

Oh goodness…where to start? For us, I would say that there have been a few
challenges that really stick out; some which are certainly not exclusive to distilleries:

1. Funding

My wife and I 100% boot-strapped this thing ourselves and have not sold any
equity. That has obviously made access to capital a bit challenging.

Convincing a bank to believe in your dream when all you have is a homemade mason jar of moonshine can be a bit tricky! Luckily, we have a great partner in a local bank who is willing and able to keep up with our capital requirements as we build our barreled whiskey inventory.

A whiskey distillery is certainly a cash flow problem. Spend all of your money on day 1 to make the whiskey, roll it on the shelf, and hopefully you’ll be able to pull out an incredible product in a few years, or, what is left after evaporation! Our approach has always been quality in = quality out, and we’ve had tremendous success with our whiskey thus far.

2. The unknown

We walk into work in the morning with a blank slate. There is no one to give us
direction, tell us what needs to be done, etc. It’s definitely a blessing and a curse.
We set the production schedule, the marketing budget, do the accounting, sweep
the floors, and try to make a little booze along the way. Our approach has always
been and will continue to remain to be that we aim to do what is best for our
business, our family, and our community.

Laura and Adam Stumpf

3. The not-so-glamorous side of entrepreneurship

Laura and I are incredibly involved in our business every day. Sometimes that means
18-hour days (with the occasional all-nighter). The business is almost always on your
mind so it makes work/life separation challenging sometimes. Unfortunately, we
don’t get to spend as much time with friends and family or take as many trips as we
would like, but we love what we are doing and are incredibly passionate about it.
Sometimes that makes work feel like a vacation.

There is just a certain feeling that you get when you see that first drip of alcohol come off the still in the morning or pop the cork on a barrel that has been resting on a shelf for a couple of years, turning your hard work into some incredible whiskey.

How many employees work at Stumpy’s?

Right now, there are only four of us, with a TON of help from our incredible family and
friends. My wife Laura runs the front-of-house operations and sales at the distillery;
my brother Andrew helps a ton with production in the distillery; our awesome
Brand Ambassador Rachel visits the market and introduces our brand and story to
consumers; and I’m the Chief Everything-else Officer, but spend most of my time
distilling and running the day-to-day.

How many markets are you in?

Right now our products are distributed mostly in Southern Illinois and we just
started distribution in the St. Louis area. We try to keep the store locator on our website
updated as much as possible! We’ve recently increased our production capacity by 4 times in order to prepare for future distribution growth. Hopefully, in the not so distant future, our products will be widely available throughout all of Missouri and Illinois.

Do you give tours?

Absolutely. We love giving tours. We offer tours Thurs-Sun at 2, 3, and 4 p.m. We ask
that customers call in advance to make a reservation, because we want to make sure we are not over-booking. Tours are $10 per person and last about an hour, which includes a full tasting of our products, a cocktail, and a guided tour of our entire process from front to back, along with a complimentary tasting glass to take home. For more info, folks can visit our website.

What is your advice for current students dreaming of being entrepreneurs?

Industry and relevant experience are crucial to starting a business. If you don’t have
that experience, make sure to build a team with someone that does, because it
really is a situation where you don’t know what you don’t know on so many
different levels.

You don’t have to have a brand new idea or the next Google to start your own business. In the words of someone far more successful than me, “Ideas don’t make you rich. The correct execution of ideas does.” – Felix Dennis

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