E34: Cheers to 10th Generation Innovation - Lisa Laird Dunn, Gerard Dunn, Laird & Co.




Laird & Company, is the oldest commercial distillery and the 26th-oldest family business in the United States. With an official founding date of 1780, the company history of apple brandy production stretches back to colonial times and George Washington. Laurie Barkman spoke with Lisa Laird Dunn, and her son, Gerard Dunn, ninth and tenth generation family members, about innovating with an eye towards the future while keeping a proud appreciation of the past.


Listen in to learn more about:

  • Adapting and evolving to survive and thrive

  • Importance of mentorship for new leaders

  • Next generation decisions to join the business

  • Cultivating and engaging their community

  • Laird's Apple Aid fundraiser for bartenders

  • Staying resilient during the pandemic

  • New product development



Show Links

Laird & Company website

Laird & Company on Instagram



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Episode transcript:



Laurie Barkman:

Welcome to Succession Stories, insights for next generation entrepreneurs. I'm Laurie Barkman. I've spent my career bringing an entrepreneurial approach to mature companies struggling with change as an outside executive of a third generation, 120 year old company, I was part of a long-term succession plan. Now I work with entrepreneurs, privately held companies, and family businesses to develop innovations that create enterprise value and transition plans to achieve their long-term goals. On this podcast, listen in as I talk with entrepreneurs who are driving innovation and culture change. I speak with owners who successfully transitioned their company and others who experienced disappointment along the way. Guests also include experts in multi-generational businesses and entrepreneurship. If you are a next generation entrepreneur looking for inspiration to grow and thrive, or an owner who can't figure out the best way to transition their closely held company, this podcast is for you.


Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources to build value in your business. Visit small.big.com and sign up today.




Laurie Barkman:

Founded in 1780, Laird and Company is America's oldest distiller. Yep, 240 years old, Laird makes applejack that people have enjoyed since colonial times. Not many companies can claim George Washington as an OG fan. Talking with Lisa Laird Dunn, generation nine, and her son Gerard, generation ten, was an entrepreneurship and history lesson mixed into a brandy snifter. Throughout their history, the company has faced highs and lows. Like other businesses, they've had to overcome challenges and obstacles in the short term while investing in the future. I enjoyed hearing about the loyalty and pride in this historic family company and I hope that you will too.


Laurie Barkman:

Good morning, Lisa and Gerard, I am thrilled to be with you guys today for a lot of reasons. One of which is I've never had a mother-son on the show and so having you guys with me is quite an honor. Also, it's incredible to have two generations together, that are generation nine and generation ten; it's extremely cool. Your family business is part of US history. I am so excited to ask you about your backgrounds and learn about Laird & Company, founded in 1780. Lisa, let's start with you. If you can introduce yourself and tell us about the company's history.


Lisa Laird Dunn:

I'm Lisa Laird Dunn and I am the ninth generation of the Laird family to be involved in our family business. I am the Executive Vice President / Global Ambassador. Before COVID, I would travel around the world. Currently I'm more in house than I've been in quite a while so I do miss visiting our customers and our friends around the world.


As you had mentioned, we started in 1780. Actually, we started distilling in the late 1600s. But we use 1780 as our official start date from my four-greats grandfather's account book of operations from the 1700s. So we have our first entry of sale that we have an actual physical record in 1780. So we use that as our start date. Through the years, we have managed to pass it down through the generations, it always was father to son. Right around prior to Prohibition, it went from an uncle to a nephew. This is pretty much the first time, except my grandmother did step in for a short time when my grandfather unexpectedly passed away. But I'm the first Laird female to be in an executive position and setting up to take over the company.



Laurie Barkman:

That is very cool and thanks for that. We'll dive a little bit more into the history because I definitely want to learn more. Gerard, you want to introduce yourself?



Gerard Dunn:

I want to start off by saying good morning, Laurie, and thank you for having us on. My name is Gerard Dunn. I'm the 10th generation Laird to join the family business. My position here right now is Operations Manager and I do a little bit of everything now, pretty much still trying to learn from everyone in the company. I first started working here when I was 14-15 years old in the summer just to gain a little bit of extra cash - and here I am today- coming back every summer and it led to me being fully interested in the business and here I am.



Laurie Barkman:

Perfect. So how many family members are in the company today, Lisa?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

We currently have four of us that are working day-to-day with the operations and then we have three additional family members that are on the board of the company.



Laurie Barkman:

I think I read somewhere there's around 67 descendants and 12 have been part of the business, which gives today's generations - let's say your father's involved so that's generation eight, nine and ten - that's about a third in the business just in current day. Is that right?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Yes.



Laurie Barkman:

That's pretty incredible.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

It's very unusual to have three generations involved in one family business. My father just turned 80 this year, and he's the very strong type A personality. He's very passionate about our industry and our company and we do not foresee him retiring and stepping away fully. He will always be here to some degree for sure. We do learn a lot from him, so it's fun having him around.



Laurie Barkman:

Okay, well, we want to learn more about him. His name's Larrie, right?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Absolutely. Larrie Laird.



Laurie Barkman:

Well, we'll come back to Larrie. Let's go back in history with the company, and you mentioned a little bit about the distillery. In reading the company history, I was fascinated because it literally is a walk through US history through all the generations. It's so unusual to speak with a company that has such a history like yours. Maybe you could hit some of the highlights, and some of the challenges and obstacles that your company has had to overcome through the years, and by the way, you probably should start with your most famous customer and fan who's George Washington.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

There's obviously a lot of history, a lot of anecdotes, a lot of challenges through 240 years of history. But yes, George Washington was one of our first fans, which was just pretty cool to have as part of our legacy. My four-greats grandfather, Robert Laird, who I'd mentioned before with our first account book of operations, him along with his brother Richard were under General George Washington's command so they were in the area, and we did supply the troops with Applejack.


George Washington wrote the family asking for the recipe, because he had an excess of apples on Mount Vernon. He was producing cider spirits, or Applejack apple brandy, which were all synonymous during this time period, and we had another family member, Moses Laird, who was George Washington's guide while he was in this area. He would find individuals that knew the local terrain, because obviously he did not know the local terrain as he traveled around during the Revolutionary War.


But we also have a lot of history with other presidents. William Henry Harrison was dubbed the 'hard cider candidate' because it was very free-flowing during his big rallies and they say that's why he won. We've got Abraham Lincoln who served apple brandy at his Tavern in Springfield, Illinois. He actually had his bill affair from 1833, headed at 12 cents a half pint for apple brandy.


Coming into more recent times, probably Prohibition was our biggest challenge, obviously, for anybody in this industry. We were producing non alcoholic apple beverages, then my grandfather and his brother petitioned the federal government for a permit to produce for medicinal purposes. We were able to reopen, begin distilling again and we could distill up to 1 million gallons per year under that permit. It's comical, because there were prescriptions that people could obtain during Prohibition for a certain amount of alcoholic beverages. One of those ailments was depression, which I find comical because, who wasn't depressed, couldn't get their little nips of alcohol during that time period. It was the heyday of applejack, once prohibition was lifted, but throughout history it's a very cyclical industry, the American consumers, their tastes change.


We went through a period where customers were moving away from heavy brown spirits. They wanted lighter vodka and gin and rum and so forth so we had a decline in sales moving into the late 60s 70s and 80s. Actually, we created a new federal standard of identity in 1970, of blended Applejack. That was in order to lighten our spirit to accommodate the changing tastes of the American consumer. I guess today, now you would find we're in another challenge with what we're going through with the worldwide pandemic and unfortunately, restaurants and bars being periodically shut down.


Obviously, many people are afraid once they are open or afraid to go out, which is very understandable for some people. So we definitely are in a challenging time period again with our industry and unfortunately, that's when Gerard jumped in and he's learning quite a bit right off the get go.



Laurie Barkman:

Gerard, your timing is impeccable. You joined right in the middle of a pandemic. Congratulations!



Gerard Dunn:

[Laughs] There couldn't be a better time.



Laurie Barkman:

Lisa, thanks for sharing that history. I think it's important for the audience to really appreciate not only have you been curating a business in terms of the legacy, but you're also trying to move it forward. That's a big part of what I want to talk about today with succession because your father - and I think you touched on it - in the '70s, perhaps he had a role in there, where he had joined the company and then he had dealt with some of those changes. Is that correct, that you were just alluding to was your father really part of that?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Absolutely. And in addition, because at that point in time our business was Applejack and Apple brandy, we found we had to diversify because consumers really weren't drinking that much brown spirits. So we diversified into other types of spirits, where we rectify and bottle. We created an import division, where we import wines and spirits. We also started contract modeling for other customers, and we were able to keep the doors open and be able to continue the legacy and continue the company. And it's amazing.


At one point, I guess, in the 70s, and 80s, about 80% to 90% of our business was contract bottling. Now it's reverted where 80% to 90% of our business is our own products, we still do some contract bottling. So it's ebb and flow, depending on what we're up against. But we have found a way to diversify and make the necessary changes in order to keep the business going.



Laurie Barkman:

For anyone watching this on video, on YouTube, you'll see a display of a lot of vintage. Vintage means something really different in your company - vintage means way back. It looks like there's some really cool old bottles behind you. I've seen your products today, and they do have quite a different feel. Gerard, maybe you can talk about this.


So as the products have evolved and tastes have evolved, I think your products were appealing to the working man. It was something that I think I read, or I think I saw Lisa, you were on CBS News for this segment, talking about back in the early days with water quality not being so great, people would put applejack on their oats or their morning meal. Flash forward to people after work maybe and then today. How have the tastes for your product evolved? And how do you think about that, Gerard, in terms of where it even might be going?



Gerard Dunn:

So yes, the tastes have definitely changed with the modern consumer. In our heyday, it was mostly known for people's grandfather's would drink it. It would be a shot and a beer type of atmosphere at a bar. But now you're seeing a reinvigoration of the cocktail culture and a lot of bartenders are bringing back these old recipes for the modern consumer. Personally, that is my favorite way to consume our apple brandy.


But you see a more modern shift with the packaging as well so we had to pivot with that a little bit. We still like to include our history and some of our labels, like our seven and a half year old apple brandy is almost a spitting image of one of our oldest bottles we have with us here. But our newest apple brandy expression, our 10th generation apple brandy, which was created to celebrate the 10th generation joining the family business, is definitely our most modern looking package. It's absolutely beautiful. Everything from the class bottle to the clear coated label, but it still ties in some of the older parts of our labeling, like our apple logo as well as the cork finish.



Laurie Barkman:

So you have an eye towards the future with certainly an appreciation of the past. You had mentioned in your introduction, Gerard, that you had - I think you said - swept floors, and you did all kinds of things as a teenager, and we'll just assume the labor laws all worked out, but we won't go there. But how did you really get interested in working in the business? Was it something that it was just assumed you would do? Or was it genuinely an interest that you had and you had developed on your own?



Gerard Dunn:

So from the start, I never really thought about it. I just worked here, as I said for some extra spending money and during the summers. But as I came back each and every summer, my responsibilities increased. Eventually I moved on from sweeping floors and cleaning out of the machines. And don't get me wrong, I still even do that today. But I started working in our accounting department in our processing where I was actually making the batches of liquor, worked a little bit in sales and marketing as well. So as I gained more responsibility, I gained a greater sense of pride.


And the longer time I spend here - it's hard to explain - there's like an aura where I don't know if it's the history or - I think it's the history - but it's that greater sense of pride, as I was touching on, and it just makes me proud to work here. I never assumed I was going to join the business. I think that's something my grandfather and my mother did exceptionally well. I never felt pressured at all. Until one day, my grandfather just walked in my office, sat down, and just straight up said out of nowhere, "So do you think you want to join the business?" And I said, "Yes." He got up and left the office, not a word more was spoken.



Laurie Barkman:

That's it.



Gerard Dunn:

That was it. That was the only time it was ever brought up. So I think they did a great job of not pressuring me.



Laurie Barkman:

Lisa, what's your position on that for yourself? And then as you think about Gerard coming into the company, what were your thoughts?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Well, obviously, I wholeheartedly wanted him to come into the company. I also have a daughter that hopefully someday will come on board. But obviously, I feel very strongly that it has to be their choice. It has to be their passion because if it isn't their choice, or passion or what they want to do, it's not good for them and it's not good for the company as well.


Luckily, my father took that avenue with me. I never felt pressured so I felt it was also important that I didn't pressure my own children, because I saw how I started one path and then I realized that this is what I want to do. It was my decision and I think it's very important that you don't feel that pressure.


So yeah, and I pretty much had the same avenue that Gerard did. Worked here just to make some extra cash, worked in quality control and production, and then when I finally decided to come into the company, I went into accounting and to sales and so forth. Which is pretty funny. When I was younger and working here and working in production, we had an elderly gentleman called Jake Gunther, he'd been here for years and a local guy here in Colts Neck, and he ran our processing. He went one day into my father's office and goes, "Do I have to listen to her?" My father goes, "Yep, if she tells you something to do, you got to listen to her." He goes, "Okay." And that was it.



Laurie Barkman:

So I'm a little stumbling here. Because I know you mentioned - I want to be sensitive to it - that in your history, it's typically been a man at the helm, a son. Your father is the chairman and CEO but you have an external facing role. You have a significant role in the company and I think your cousin is also in the company under finance. So you have a significant role and you're a woman. In your coming into the company and people saying things like you just heard there were some rumblings internally. What about externally in this industry? Isn't it male dominated? What was the reaction to you coming on?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

It's extremely male-dominated. You're seeing many more women involved in the industry today, which is wonderful, but when I first came in there were very few women and it was difficult at times. But I think I did have some type of advantage just because of my name and I was part of the family of the company. But in some instances, that didn't make a difference. So there were certain times that it was definitely difficult. I had to go above and beyond to prove myself, that most men probably did not have to do in this industry. And I've had to do it internally, as well as externally.


When I started, we had a female VP of production, Janice Custer, who was a wonderful role model for me and taught me so much about production. We were probably one of the first companies in this industry that had a female in a very prominent role. So that was something for me to look up to, as well and to learn from her.


Internally when I went and started in sales - because that's when I really started seeing any of the impact of being a female in the industry - when I went out and started in sales and working with sales distributors and working with salesmen and so forth, there was Skip Hutchinson who ran my distributor here in New Jersey, who really taught me so much and brought me along and made me help with my confidence level and so forth. And I had Gene Chandler who was in Virginia with Control Market, so I had different men throughout the industry that had my back and saw my potential and helped build my confidence and I'm very appreciative to them because not everybody was like that.


I had a lot of sexual harassment obviously. I was on work for the salesman one day and all of a sudden he had a bottle of champagne and a blanket and a picnic lunch and wanted to go for a picnic lunch instead of visiting accounts. And I'm like, “No.” Different things like that. So obviously, he wouldn't have done that with a male supplier but it was a nice idea to go for a nice little picnic, which, so there's different instances for sure which I could go on and on and on. It's crazy. It's gotten much better. Obviously, there are many more female representatives in the industry. I think it's a wonderful thing and I hope it continues. One thing that I'm hoping is that someday my daughter will come in and be able to have another female Laird family member in the company.



Laurie Barkman:

And you would be a wonderful mentor for her.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

I hope so. I hope so.



Laurie Barkman:

Yeah, and so Gerard for you, you have your mother, and your grandfather, and others in the company that are very interested in your success. Do you lean on them to learn the ropes and ask for help when needed? How do you think about mentorship when it's your mom and your grandpa? By the way, you call them by their first names at work, right?



Gerard Dunn:

Yes, I do, which I'm still getting used to. But calling my mother "Lisa" is better than calling her "Mom" in front of my co-workers. So still getting used to that. When people bring it up, I chuckle a little bit. As you said, learning from my mother and grandfather, obviously, especially, my grandfather has seen the highest of highs that this company has been in, and the lowest of lows, so there really hasn't been anything that he hasn't experienced firsthand. Just leaning on him to even transfer over some of that tribal knowledge that you can't just write down in a book and and learn it in a couple years. Just being by his side, and trying to absorb as much as I possibly can. I also lean on my mom a lot too. I don't work with her alongside internally here in the company yet. When I do learn from her, it's out in the field when we're visiting customers, and accounts and just seeing all the respect that she has, from all these people, makes me realize that whatever she did do, she did it the right way. I try to follow the way she acts when she's out in the public speaking with our accounts, and all the different bartenders that absolutely adore her.



Laurie Barkman:

She is a good role model for you. I love the ride alongs. I think that's a great way to learn. Certainly getting out in front of customers and understanding what their needs are is important, especially in a year, like this year, and I thought maybe we could talk about that. Talking about 2020, it's almost in the rearview mirror at the time we're recording. It's the end of 2020 and we have a lot of hopefully wonderful things to look forward to in 2021. How has this year been for you and the company Lisa?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

It's been a challenge that is for sure. In the beginning we transitioned to produce hand sanitizer. We had product here and we wanted to do what we could to help the frontline workers as well as any health care workers. So we were donating to different first aid, police stations, fire stations and so forth, as well as frontline workers. We were doing drive thru sales here where local customers, people that lived here, couldn't find hand sanitizer. On weekends, we were having drive thru and it was insane. The lines of cars that we had coming through trying to get the hand sanitizer. We still are producing some, not as much as we did, and we have people that still come in because they think ours is the best and so they keep coming to purchase it.



Laurie Barkman:

Does it have an apple smell?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

No. By law, we can't have any aroma to it. Also, our bartending community is very important to us. They have really promoted our product; they have a love for our product. They love the history, and they've been using it in their cocktail repertoire for years now. Many of them have been out of work so we had a program we called Laird's Apple Aid. And, and what we did is we just did a bartender contest and all they had to do was send in a video of them making a cocktail, whether in their kitchen or wherever they were, and it didn't have to be fancy. And we supported them. We felt it was very important to directly support them, instead of giving some lump sum to a group, and hope it gets distributed correctly. We were putting it right in their pockets and what was so heartwarming is the stories that they were telling us. They were paying their electric bill or the utility bill, they needed the money just to pay a bill.


One bartender, he actually went to help buy a crib for their newborn that was on the way. Whenever we run into somebody today that we happened to help out, they're very appreciative, but that was important to us that we wanted to directly help our customers and our friends. We continue to do that today, wherever we can be helpful. But business wise, it's been tight, it's been tough. We have managed not to layoff one employee that's been very important to us. We've done a lot of cutbacks. Actually, upper management in our company has taken a pay cut in order to make sure we can take care of our employees. Being a family business. It's not just family members that are part of family, but our employees are part of our family. And we have many employees that have been here for 10, 20, 30 years, so it's very important for us to take care of them.


Gerard Dunn:

I'd like to touch on that more. When I first started here, probably half our employees were here when I first started when I was 14 years old. So I grew up with them. As we were mentioning earlier about the mentorship, everyone here has mentored me in some way. Growing up in that type of environment is definitely something else that I cherished and realize how lucky I was. Especially our VP of production, Raymond Murdock, he tells me all the time that he basically is a Laird. He is a family member and he treats everyone like family and seeing that firsthand makes me realize that is the only way to do it around here.



Laurie Barkman:

Absolutely. Family is one of your core values as a company. It sounds like that was maybe first and foremost and how you approach the pandemic, with your community, in your community, being a larger sense of your, your customers, the bartenders and of course your teammates and the family in the broader sense of your company. So that's great and I'm sure that your community really appreciated all that you've done. I hope that 2021's a better year and we have some things to look forward to.


Switching gears to talk about the long term, I know you have a balancing act between managing the short term with an eye towards the future. Some folks have submitted quotes to me over LinkedIn, I wanted to give them a shout out and use that as a segue here. The quote is from Peter Drucker and it's "the best way to predict the future is to create it." That was submitted both by Davey Hec and Steve Wagner. So thanks to those guys for submitting that quote. How do you set the course for the future? How does your company adapt with new ideas, new innovations, whether it's technology or otherwise? Gerard, let's start with you.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Technology is right up your alley right now.



Gerard Dunn:

Yes. When I first joined, one of the first things I learned around here is if it's not broken, don't fix it. So we still have production equipment from the 1960s that, don't get me wrong, works well, and it gets the job done. But there's some areas where that mindset hasn't worked out for us and one example would be our software system. We've been dealing with it for about 20 years now. I personally think that it is inefficient in that we waste more time entering stuff in the system than the benefits that it could possibly be giving us. So one of the projects I'm working on right now is I'm researching a bunch of different software systems, and seeing what fits our needs and how it can help us not only immediately, but 5, 10, even 20 years down the road.



Laurie Barkman:

That's a great place to start. I think also to help you be more efficient, your hopefully it'll be more cost effective. Is your vision to grow and to scale? Or is it more about of what you guys do in your production footprint to do it in a more cost effective, efficient way?



Gerard Dunn:

I think a cost effective and efficient way immediately, but with the changing dynamic in the consumer tastes as we say, there's always new ways to grow so that when there is that consumer shift, we're prepared and we're ready if we take a big hit on some of our areas of sales. So just branching out into different products, I think is the safest bet for us in the long term to make sure that we're prepared, and we're not caught off guard when the consumer tastes switch.



Laurie Barkman:

And Lisa, what are your thoughts?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

We are in the process of developing new products. We're always trying to come up with new items for our sales team to sell and looking at what the consumer trends are, and developing products that would fit into those categories. We've also been in the process of trying to open a visiting center. We had to put everything on hold with the pandemic. We didn't feel it was the right thing for us to do at this point in time. To put our funding and capital into that we needed to preserve that for whatever was on the road ahead. But we do have our plans and that's one thing. I'm hoping that in 2021, we can get it accomplished, and be able to grow our business there where we can have people actually come visit us and sample products and see our history. It's not only going to just be a visiting center, if it's going to be a museum, so it's not just Laird history, but American history. I think that would be wonderful for us and that's in our plans.


We're looking at increasing some of our contract bottling to help offset some of our lost sales due to COVID. We're definitely looking at many different avenues to continue our business and we need to be constantly changing. We will continue to look at new avenues and develop new products, and as Gerard said, become more efficient in what we are doing. Time wise like the software system, we would make our employees more efficient using it, and also be more cost effective for us and there's other avenues that we can make some changes as well.



Laurie Barkman:

How do you get input from your customers? I guess you have distributors and then you also have the end consumer, which are either the bartender depending how you look at it, or the retail buyer, the retail consumer. I think with some of the challenges due to the pandemic for restaurants and bars, some of the executives in the beer production industry are saying, "Oh, it'll never come back, the bars will never come back to the way they were," and we obviously don't know. They were talking about off premise, on premise and where these products will be consumed. Do you think there's going to be a shift to more people consuming in their own homes as opposed to going to the bars and getting this cocktail served to them?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Unfortunately, we have seen that already. A lot of the business has moved to the off premise. Most of our products, especially our Laird's Applejack and Apple brandy are very heavily consumed on premise, because they're being offered in cocktail menus, and so forth. That's another goal that we have for 2021; to increase our retail business. But I agree, you're going to see more and more of that; people learning to have cocktails at home. There's a lot of cocktail classes and cocktail kits that are going out, which we will become involved with as well. People are becoming more comfortable making drinks at home now that they're actually taking the time to learn how to make their own cocktails. You're never going to lose the on premise and the cocktail bar trade. It will be a lot less. You're going to find, unfortunately, we're seeing every day I hear of another place that's not reopening. You're going to find less, but you're never going to 100% move away from that experience of sitting at a cocktail bar and having a bartender. Part of that experience is having the communication and the relationship with the bartenders and watching them make the cocktails. That's part of the experience right there; watching their expertise. So that's never going to go away. But unfortunately, we're going to see more and more that aren't going to reopen, which really saddens me.



Laurie Barkman:

I understood, and it's going to evolve as you say, and maybe it's the equivalent of when you get your Amazon box and there's those unboxing videos. It's just that even the smallest thing gives people that pleasure of seeing how it's done, what the reaction is. With technology and social media and influencers and maybe there are bartenders who are super influencers and preparing videos of how to make a craft cocktail and how to enjoy but you're right. It is going to evolve and hopefully it'll come back to the level it's been for people to enjoy.


So question for both of you. Are there any family traditions that you can share? Either that you do as part of a daily habit at work or that you enjoy as a family together outside of work?



Lisa Laird Dunn:


Well, one thing that comes to mind because we're coming into the holidays is our Laird's Applejack Eggnog. That's always a tradition that my father, I still make him prepare and he's like, "You make it. You can make it better." I'm like, "No, no, no, you have to make it nice. Get there with the video camera. Take pictures of them." So that's always our tradition, our Laird's Applejack Eggnog, which is delightful. I always look forward to those excess calories during the holiday, but it's really fun. Do you have any other that you think of?



Gerard Dunn:

I wouldn't say tradition, but more of a process that hasn't changed in terms of whenever we're picking our barrels for some of our flagship apple brandies, my grandfather is always the one that sits down and sniffs and tastes all the different barrels to make sure that it fits all the requirements and checks off all the boxes. My mother and I have been doing it with him so that we can learn what to look for and what barrels fill all those requirements as I was saying.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Yep, and you can see if there's something off with the barrel and what notes to pick up and so forth. It's becoming a learning process for Gerard as he's tasting with us and so forth. There are a lot of products when we're trying to taste and you really have to develop the taste buds and so forth. Also the stamina because, obviously, there's only so much you can taste and you spit, you don't swallow, because we're at work, and we can't be drinking because it's coming out of a barrel, it's pretty high proof. So the tradition is always sitting around whenever we get together. Sometimes we annoy my mother when we're always talking business and talking about different ideas with the company and so forth and after a while, she'll be like, "Okay, that's enough."



Laurie Barkman:

Did your mom not work in the company at all?



Lisa Laird Dunn:

She is the secretary of the company. She's been here on and off through the years, but does not work here full time. But I have to give kudos to my mom. She's always been my biggest cheerleader, as well as been there supporting my dad through all this throughout the years they've been married. They just had their 60th wedding anniversary which is amazing in itself.



Laurie Barkman:

That's fantastic!



Lisa Laird Dunn:

She's always been there, supporting all of us, and definitely instilling in me my confidence and my strength that I have to help me do what I do.



Laurie Barkman:

Absolutely. When I first learned about your company, the word that came to mind for me was Legacy. I was wondering if there was one word that each of you would associate with the business? What would it be? Gerard?



Gerard Dunn:

I think "History."



Lisa Laird Dunn:

I'd say "Heritage."



Laurie Barkman:

Those are great words. I think there's a lot of companies that aspire to have something to be so proud of and to hand down. Certainly in your company, that's a foregone conclusion. It's definitely going to the next generation, it's already there. As we wind down today's episode, I wanted to ask either of you, if you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the audience.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Not that I can think of. I think, you can't be perfect and you always have to strive to do your best but realize, as long as you do the best that you can do. That's all you can expect of yourself, and not to be so hard on yourself.


You can't be perfect and you always have to strive to do your best but realize, as long as you do the best that you can do. That's all you can expect of yourself, and not to be so hard on yourself.


Gerard Dunn:

One thing that my current boss, Ray Murdock always preaches to me is, "Make do with the resources that you have now, and try to maximize the potential." Because again, as a small family business, we don't have the capital to just buy whatever we want, whenever we need it. We always need to figure out how to get the job done with what we have, and then build on from there.


We always need to figure out how to get the job done with what we have, and then build on from there.

Laurie Barkman:

It sounds like great advice and good insight that's befitting many companies to work with what they have, but also strive to improve. So before we close, how do people find you online?



Gerard Dunn:

That is one thing I'm working on. We are on social media. We're on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We do have a YouTube page that just kicked off. One of my jobs is to make that more prominent so we can expand our footprint. I took that on when I joined and unfortunately, it does garner a lot of time. It requires a lot of time. Unfortunately, I'm now at the point where I can't give it the attention it needs. So one of my tasks right now is finding someone to take over because we know that it's free advertising. With our history when people find out about it, they become obsessed with it. When they try our products, they usually end up buying more. So my goal is to hopefully expand upon that once we get this other person on board. But yes, Instagram is by far our biggest following. That’s @lairdsapplejack.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

And our website is www.lairdandcompany.com



Gerard Dunn:

We have a little bit of history on the website, some cocktail recipes, even our distributors in each state. So if you're trying to find a store, where you can purchase it, you can call up that distributor and they'll help you out.



Laurie Barkman:

It was really handy for me, I purchased one of your applejack brandies as a gift for my sister-in-law who lives in New Jersey for her birthday. So your website is a great spot. I love the idea, by the way, that you mentioned of opening a center that is showcasing the history as well as the products. I would definitely come there and visit you.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

The earliest foundation is from the 1700s. We're going to refurbish that, as well as add on to it, so the building in itself will be historical.


Laurie Barkman:

Wonderful. Well, Lisa, Gerard, thank you so much for being on Succession Stories today. It was great to meet both of you.



Gerard Dunn:

Thank you for having me.



Lisa Laird Dunn:

Thank you so much for having us. We've really enjoyed chatting with you and we love talking about the history. It's something that not many companies have, ten generations. It's fun to chat about it. Thank you so much for thinking about us and wanting to speak with us.



Laurie Barkman:

You're very, very welcome.



Laurie Barkman:

Innovation, transition, growth.


Easy to say but hard to do. If you're an entrepreneur facing these challenges. I get it. I work with businesses from small to big for strategic planning with your team to achieve your vision.


Visit smalldotbig.com to schedule a call with me. I'd love to connect with you. Be sure to catch the next Succession Stories episode with more insights for next generation entrepreneurs. Thanks for listening.


I help business owners dramatically increase the value of their company and create options for the future.

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Laurie Barkman

Founder, SmallDotBig and Host, Succession Stories Podcast



SmallDotBig is a strategic advisory firm for owners of small to mid-size companies. Our mission is to dramatically increase the value of your business anticipating a sale or ownership transition in the future. We help you get more freedom over your time and more happiness in your personal life. Our process combines Value Building, Executive Coaching, and Strategic Planning. Want a business and personal roadmap to achieve your dreams?  Reach out today. 

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