8th April, 2022
Co-founder of The Splendid Gin distillery, Mike Travalia shares the story of how four friends spotted an opportunity to turn their love for a drop into serious business.
Husband and wife powerhouse Mike Travalia and Angela Boxall had been living and working in London when they started to discuss a plan that would see them moving a little closer to home.
Originally from Tasmania, the couple had only intended to spend a year or two overseas, but instead they found themselves getting caught up in their careers.
“We lived in London for a long time – probably around 12 years in the end,” Mike tells us. “I ended up running a retail design agency over there for a long time and Ange pursued a very successful music career’.
“It gave me great opportunities to travel the world and design retail interiors for large, blue-chip brands.
“It was a big learning experience, and quite an exciting one too.”
Over the years, Mike and Angela would make regular trips home to Tassie, and it was on one of these visits they stumbled across a rare opportunity that would soon entice them to move home permanently.
“There was a historical, 1830s home called Riversdale that we’d always had a bit of an eye on,” Mike explains. “We just thought to look it up again and saw it had come on the market.”
Riversdale’s two-storey Georgian homestead came with an equally antique mill, all set in ruggedly picturesque surrounds near Swansea on Tassie’s East Coast.
Mike and Ange had fallen in love with the idea of moving into Riversdale – the coordination of long-term work and careers would have to sort themselves out as they went.
And so, The Splendid Gin took its first step towards becoming reality.
Moving to a regional town often means it doesn’t take long to find out who your new friends are, and it certainly wasn’t long before they met Tim and Kellie Lyne – fourth generation custodians of Spring Vale Winery.
The two couples quickly found they had plenty in common, include the fact both of their houses had once been owned by the same English writer, Louisa Ann Meredith.
“Moving to the country, you get to know everybody in the area within about five minutes of arriving,” Mike says. “People suddenly know your business before you do.”
It wasn’t long before the group conversations turned to business ideas, as Mike and Ange were keen for a project. It was at this point Tim mentioned the natural freshwater spring the Lyne’s had on their property.
“The initial thought was whether we could bottle the water, but we quickly realised there wasn’t much point trying to compete with Coca-Cola,” says Mike.
Soon after, the group had a serendipitous meeting with gin expert Natalie Fryar, and from that point on the team began to focus their attention on the possibilities the spirit presented.
“Initially, none of us were big gin drinkers, but we surveyed the market and saw that Tasmania already had some great, more mature and exciting gin products hitting the market.”
Many of the Tasmanian distillers were creating gin as a subsidiary to their whisky operations. Mike and the crew thought they could offer more value by cutting to the chase – gin would be their sole focus.
Acquiring a still the team have since dubbed ‘Louisa’ after their literary connection: Louisa Ann Meredith, the founders began canvassing the market by visiting events and discussing ideas with hospitality operators.
“We literally did the kind of legwork of going to small festivals,” said Mike. “Tasmania’s well known for its food and wine festivals around the state, which was a brilliant way to promote the new brand and ultimately getting people to taste our products.
“Our thinking was that if someone couldn’t try the product then how would they know what we’re trying to offer? They’re less likely to purchase it or order it at a bar if they don’t already have a feel for it,” he explains.
From there, the real work of building a brand in the booze category really began. While Tim and Kellie brought plenty of knowledge about the alcohol industry, there were many of details that had to be sorted out for producing and selling a distilled alcohol product that was all new to the team.
And when it came to keeping track of their sales and expenditures, The Splendid Gin crew turned to MYOB, which ultimately made it easier to figure out any particulars regarding taxes in their space.
“MYOB has helped us immensely and we couldn’t really do what we’ve done without it.
“I think it’s a matter of a number of things: it’s about stock control and it’s about identifying when product comes in and out.
“For instance, as our distillery operations act as a bonded warehouse, that impacts how the finished product is treated – leaving our hands as a finished product with all taxes payable.
“All of this is made much easier to understand and keep track of with MYOB.”
Fast-forward a few years and The Splendid Gin has been going from strength to strength despite fierce competition in their category.
“Gin has just exploded in the last four or five years,” remarks Mike. “It’s gone absolutely ballistic.
“At the same time, we’ve been lucky enough to be ranged with some large retailers, bars and restaurants and that’s helped us continue to grow awareness of our product across the mainland.”
As a result, The Splendid Gin has been ranked in the top gins made in Tassie for the past couple of years.
“It’s been quite the journey, but it’s one that’s brought a lot to our lives and our lifestyle here at Riversdale,” Mike reflects.
Diving headfirst into the boutique distilling business may not have been their plan when Mike and Ange left the UK all those years ago, but it’s given them the ability and time to reconnect with their home State and to raise their daughter in a peaceful, rural setting.
“I guess we just really hope our customers can appreciate The Splendid Gin in the way it’s intended,” says Mike. “It’s all about those quiet moments at home on the weekends – perhaps in the garden on a sunny afternoon – when you can reflect on all the good things life brings.”
And we reckon that’s worth raising a glass to.
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