Name: David Tomer

Age: 58

Title: Co-founder

Company: Sebago Lake Distillery, Gardiner

About: A Maine-based craft distillery exclusively focused on premium rum products.


What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Herding the cats. Juggling the complexity of production, investment, sales and marketing, and everything that goes along with making a startup go. It’s getting harder for good reasons. We’re entering markets faster than we had anticipated because of the acceptance and the enthusiasm for our products. Per our plan, we didn’t plan to enter another market until next year but our broker, Horizon Beverages, wanted us to. We’re in Massachusetts now and we just shipped (Thursday) 100 cases to New Hampshire. We’ve also received an order from Quebec.

Production-wise, we’re good. Sales and marketing — we didn’t intend to be in these markets for another year.

What it shows us is that Maine craft products, especially our rum, is well accepted. We’re the only guys who exclusively make rum in Maine. Others make rum, but not exclusively.

It’s gotten hard because the intensity has increased more than we thought.

What’s the best advice that anyone has given you?

An employer once told me, there’s one reason you’re in business and it’s to stay in business. You do what you do to fight the next day. You just move forward.

Many, many years ago, I was asked the question by a CEO — why are we in business? I said to make money. He told me it’s to be in business the next day.

You just have to move forward.

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

I always ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?”

I don’t look for reasons things will fail, I look for them to succeed. I’m not afraid of failure.

Here’s an example. I look at our labels. Early on, were told that 50 percent of the reason that people buy a spirit is that they like the label.

We put a lot of effort into designing our label and going back and forth. We’re still now thinking of redesigning the label. On one of them, I failed. There was something that went here and it should have gone there. I came around, but it took me six months.

You never want to stop trying to improve and trying to really take the comments of others into consideration. You are not always right but you should be willing to at least try and give them a fair shake.

What’s your biggest fear?

My biggest fear is of not being afraid. When you’re not afraid, you are in trouble.

Fear drives you. It has to drive you.

You can’t be afraid to fail, and I am not. Fear pushes you. If I stop, nothing is going to happen.

For every nine nos, there will be one yes. You have to uncover those opportunities.

If you don’t work hard, if you don’t listen to advice, there might not be a tomorrow and you want to get to tomorrow.

You never want to not get afraid. The day you think you’ve got it made is the day you should do something else.

Where do you see your business in five years?

We see our business as a national brand and Sebago Lake Distillery being known as the premium rum guys from Maine. We want to put Maine on the map where it was and where it should be as a premium rum producer in the United States. That’s what we’re shooting for.

I’m in a good place right now. I’ve done a few things, the kids are out of college, I can travel. I enjoy what we’re doing and we’ve had nothing but support in this state. I want this to continue to be fun.

Our initial phase is really to dominate New England in next 18-24 months and to move on to the rest of the country. You have to think that far ahead.

We’re blessed that we are in markets faster than we thought we would be.

Our first product was out in October, and we have outsold every other rum in Maine. Hopefully, we’ll get on the shelves at Hannaford’s. It accounts for 50 percent of the liquor sales in Maine.

But right now, we’re in some 60-odd stores. We have great word-of-mouth. And Dan Davis (the master distiller) has done an amazing job.

We have three products. We have our Original Rum, which is an amber sipping rum. We have our Kopi Coffee Flavored Rum, it’s a cold brew with dark Sumatra coffee, and we have Spider Island, a robust premium sipping rum that’s only been out about three weeks.

Our fourth is a barrel-aged rum. We won’t have a lot of it. We hope it will do well.

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