Small Business Friends | Simin Kayhan from Paper Lantern Distilling
Small businesses are really feeling the pinch at the moment. Now more than ever, we need to band together and support our local businesses (it doesn't necessarily have to be buying from them!) so we can stay afloat through 2020. I'd love to introduce you to my lovely friend, Simin! She runs her family business, Paper Lantern Distilling—they make delicious and unique craft spirits in Asia. Her job covers all the random aspects of running a small business, but at its most basic level, she makes alcohol (gin for now) and sell it.
What does your business do?
At Paper Lantern Distilling, we are a craft spirits company that celebrates the spices and fruits of Southeast Asia. Our first product is a gin, produced in Vietnam, made from rice and only regional botanicals. Right now, you can find our bottles for sale in Singapore and Malaysia and we are expanding into Vietnam, India, Canada, and Europe. My work focuses on a close collaboration with our production partner, managing a small team focused on daily business operations, sales, and marketing, and taking time out to explore the industry and strategize on business development. Alcohol is also a very event-driven business. Pre-COVID-19, we were working on special events with many of the extraordinary bars and restaurants and drinks festivals happening across Singapore. Now we use that time to keep up with all our online orders and gift sets!
How did you get started in the business?
I started this business because of a genuine interest in all things craft, a love for ingredients, creating things, and a desire to start my own business. My background is in corporate finance so this has been a steep learning curve. The only class I disliked in business school was marketing and sometimes I feel like all I do now is marketing! When I first started out, there were only a few players in Asia that were making craft spirits and so it was pretty lonely in the beginning. I really had to figure it out as I went along. There’s been lots of trial and error, many lessons learned, and a huge amount of personal and professional growth. That’s why finding like-minded people such as the folks at Taxi Baby who are on a similar path has been invaluable to me.
How did you meet Elise?
It’s been a few years and my memory is hazy! I believe we met at Woolf Works and kept running into each other at various fairs. Later on, we both ended up at the same co-working space again (Upstart Alliance) and got to talking. As both of us are running product-based companies, we found a kinship while surrounded by various apps and service providers. There are a lot of similarities and challenges we’ve faced together over the years. Oh, and how can I not mention that we both have three kids and do our very best to juggle / balance (ha!) having a busy family and being entrepreneurs.
What is life like for you at the moment, and what’s your outlook for the coming year?
These are definitely weird times. We operate both as B2B (working with distributors that sell to bars, restaurants, and hotels) and B2C (selling direct to consumers in Singapore). The B2B side, unfortunately, has slowed down considerably. Bars and restaurants have been shut, not only in Singapore but also overseas. The question we ask now is who will open back up again, when will it happen, and how will it look when they do. This also creates uncertainty for any potential business development overseas - who will distributors want to work with once the bars are open again? Will they look for established producers with a greater financial platform? Startups are always risky, but I’d say the future of craft alcohol and the traditional distribution model will most certainly look very different in the coming months.
Consumers, on the other hand, on the B2C side, are showing a growing interest in craft brands and online sales are picking up; not just in Singapore but I’m hearing of the same trend overseas too. Strangely, although e-commerce has steadily become a regular sales channel for many product categories, alcohol has not previously been included in that list. There are many logistical and legislative reasons which contribute to that, but we are seeing shifts in consumer behavior in this current climate. We are so excited to see where this goes. Being able to establish relationships directly with our customers gives us valuable information about what people want to drink. In Singapore, we’ve already been working hard to automate our digital marketing and focus more on e-commerce which is yielding early results. That’s keeping me busy as well as trying to put more processes in place when things start to pick up again. Once travel restrictions start lifting, I’m really looking forward to making my way to Vietnam and to the distillery to start working on R&D for a few new products we have in the pipeline.
How can we help?
Many of our customers are using our gift sets as a way to let their friends and families know they are thinking of them, and we can print and include a personalized note with your words of love and support. For those that want to get straight to the gin, we offer our full-sized bottles along with cocktail recipes, lots of gin history, and tips and tricks for making the perfect tipple as part of our welcome pack. Here in Singapore, all our products are available with free shipping. You can find all of that and more on our website. Come see what we are up to and show your support by following us on Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up for our newsletter.
For more information on Paper Lantern Distilling you can visit their website or social media. We've dedicated a post each week to one of our friends who run a local small business, so keep your eyes peeled for more! #supportlocalbusiness