Bill Samuels Sr. entered the bourbon industry by default. Like many farmers, he was expected to uphold and continue the family business.
Yet for 500 years on two continents and in many states, the Samuels family had made really bad whiskey. Bill didn’t want to stay on that track.
“He just simply didn’t have passion for making a whiskey he viewed as a commodity,” explains his grandson, Rob Samuels, chief operating officer for Maker’s Mark.
After failed careers as a banker and an automotive dealer, Bill returned to the whiskey business at the urging of his wife, Margie. This time around, he would focus on quality—not quantity. His goal: create handmade, refined bourbon. He hoped someone would buy it.
“He was deeply committed to sparing no expense,” says Rob, who spoke about his family’s business at the 2016 Top Producer Seminar.
Bill achieved his goal of producing premium small-batch bourbon, but he saw cash going out and not returning. He assigned Margie the task of creating a name and image for their product. Inspired by the “maker’s marks” on her fine English pewter, she decided on Maker’s Mark. To complement the handmade bourbon, she decided on a unique square bottle, a hand-torn label and a neck dipped in red wax.
“The name, bottle and logo have never changed in our nearly 65-year history,” Rob says. “We have, by far and away, the most inefficient bottling process in the country.”
Even with their “purposeful inefficiency,” as The Wall Street Journal called it, the Samuels family is proud of how it grew a hobby into a global icon. In the 1960s and 1970s, the company marketed its whiskey with the tag line, “It tastes expensive ... and is.” Wouldn’t it be great if you could sell your products at an expensive price?
Winning Attitude. Just like the Samuels family is proud of every bottle, this year’s class of Top Producer of the Year winners and finalists are grateful for their respective heritage. The 2016 winners, Cheri and Donald De Jong of Hartley, Texas, along with finalists Ron and Zoey Brooks of Brooks Farms in Waupaca, Wis., and Annie Dee of Dee River Ranch in Aliceville, Ala., exemplify the best in farming through their professionalism and innovation.
Congratulations to this year’s honorees! You can learn more about them and the 2016 Top Producer Seminar in this issue. Additionally, each farm will be featured on a cover of the magazine this year.
During the annual business seminar Jan. 27-29 in Chicago, I was inspired. Farmers remain optimistic about agriculture and are weathering this adjustment period with a focus on management and building strong teams. Our future is in good hands.