Starling for Business stories: Kecia McDougall

5th December 2018

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For Kecia McDougall, a one-way ticket from Ohio to London marked the start of a journey that would lead her to become a nurse, mother, and entrepreneur.

“I always wanted to go to university and train to be something, but education in America was so expensive,” says Kecia. She left the States for the UK aged 24 to be with her boyfriend Duncan and trained as a nurse. After 20 years in the NHS, with her children grown up, she started a new chapter of her career. “The opportunity to start my own business was never really possible until now,” says Kecia, 53, who launched Tayport Distillery earlier this year.

Just six months after she started trading in March 2018, she won the Best British Brand category in the Speciality Food New Producer Awards. “Sales exceeded our expectations, with a very high demand for a new alternative Scottish spirit,” she says. Her spirit, Never.25, is made from local fruit and she has recently launched a liqueur called 1992, named for the year she married her husband Duncan.

“We’re incredibly proud of the award, and we plan to continue entering competitions to gain recognition surrounding the great taste and flavour you can create using home-grown produce,” she says. According to the website of Bread & Jam, which co-sponsors the awards with Speciality Food Magazine, 16,000 food and drink brands emerge into the UK market every year, yet 90% of them don't make it past their first year of trading. For Kecia, winning the award gave her a big leg up and the chance to get her drinks in front of some of Britain's most renowned buyers, distributors, journalists, and industry experts.

Kecia McDougall, founder and director of Tayport Distillery
Kecia McDougall, founder and director of Tayport Distillery

A new kind of spirit

Kecia learned how to make her liqueur and spirit from scratch and completes the whole process herself, including all the bottling and labelling. The liqueur is made from Scottish blackcurrants and there are four types of Never.25 spirit - strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and apple.

Kecia making fruit spirit/liqueur from scratch
Kecia makes both the fruit spirit and liqueur from scratch

She created her liqueur after meeting a local farmer who wanted to give her some of his leftover blackcurrants. “I didn’t realise that he would have 360 kilos of them! I had to go out and buy a new freezer,” she says.

She will now be working with bartenders to develop new cocktail recipes for Christmas that include both the Never.25 spirit and the 1992 liqueur.

Building a brand

Kecia came up with the name Never.25 after discovering that her original name - Bluebird - would not be possible due to legal and trademark complications. She was on the phone to her father-in-law one day when he wished her a happy 25th wedding anniversary. She had been working so hard on the company that she’d completely forgotten. “It’s never 25!” was her instant response. The words stuck.

“I’m really inspired by brands that bring more to the table than just a product. The story and purpose behind the product is so important,” she says. Growing up in Ohio where she would pick apples and berries with her father, coming to the UK to be with Duncan and bringing up her children in Scotland are parts of her story that have become part of the brand. The label for Never.25 is full of symbols to represent their family: stars and stripes for Kecia, a Scottish saltire for Duncan, a golf ball for their son Ali and a musical pause for their daughter Mary, 23, who writes and sings her own music and manages the social media and marketing for the business.

Never 25 label
Label for the fruit spirit Never 25

Kecia’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to have three words that encapsulate the motivation behind the business. “My three words are happiness, freedom, flock.”

“My aim was to be happy and enjoy the business, I wanted the freedom to create, and always remember that my family and friends around me are the keys to my success. When things get hectic you can take time out, look at these three words and regroup to make sure you are following your path,” she says.

For Kecia, building a good business network has been fundamental to her success. “I had no experience in starting a business and the help I received has been invaluable,” she says. Business Gateway Fife, a local group providing business advice, and Scottish Enterprise, the national enterprise development agency, gave her the support she needed to start up. “They set me on the right path and from there I have built up more business connections. I’ve made so many friends in the industry and we all share our experiences and knowledge,” she says.

A new way to bank

As with all small businesses, finding the time to get everything done is a challenge. “Most banks forget that when you’re running a business you don’t have time to wait in a queue to deposit money,” she says.

She used to spend up to an hour and a half every week driving to her nearest bank branch and queuing to deposit cash. Now, however, she uses one of her five local Post Offices to deposit cash directly into her Starling business account. “Time is of the essence and the ability to use local Post Offices for my banking is a huge help.”

“I pride myself on being very diligent and organised. But with the business still just beginning to walk and with just myself and my daughter running a full-time distillery and online shop, there’s a lot to do. We have to do all the marketing, develop new products and then the paperwork on top.

“It really keeps you sharp - I’ve learned so much in the last year. The most satisfying part of starting a business is being in control of your own destiny - I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.”

To find out more about Tayport Distillery and its products Never.25 and 1992, have a look at their website or follow them on Twitter or Instagram.

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