Citrus Grove Distillers changes business model in time of need

by Peter Weinberger |  pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

Just over a year ago, when co-owner Madelyn Dillon first went into business with her father Thomas Rohde, she never thought Citrus Grove Distillers (CG Distillers) would pivot to create a different kind of product. But that was before a once in a lifetime pandemic changed the way we all live.

Now, instead of producing spirits in a 300-gallon vat named “Bertha,” Ms. Dillon’s business is focusing on making hand sanitizer for the masses. And back in March when hand sanitizer was in short supply, it became obvious that CG Distillers made exactly the right move.

Like other businesses when the stay at home orders were put in place, CG Distillers closed to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“It was a shock to our system, we weren’t ready to shut down,” she said. Ms. Dillon was not only concerned about remaining in business, but also how she could keep the jobs for her beloved employees.

Finally, one of her customers who happened to be a nurse started talking about the severe shortage of hand sanitizer. She heard that another distillery converted to make it and thought, why not us? Within a couple of weeks they secured permits to make the conversion.

Modifying the equipment was not hard, although they did get help from Coca Cola to provide 275-gallon containers called totes to produce enough fermentation to get the process started. It was a true team effort because the need was so great.

Once word got out they were in the sanitizer business, organizations like San Antonio Regional Hospital, USPS, the Air Force and dozens of nurses came to them needing help. And just like that, “Bertha” was producing thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer.

There are significant added costs involved in producing hand sanitizer. It impacted their electric and water bills significantly. It’s not surprising they have a $900 a month water bill and up to a whopping $2,500 electric bill to keep the equipment running.

But that has not stopped Ms. Dillon, who sells their hand sanitizer just above cost to keep the lights on and employees paid. CG Distillers was also a recipient of Claremont’s small business grant program.

Even now that demand has leveled out, there’s still a need to produce quality hand sanitizer at competitive prices. With a future still murky because of the coronavirus, Ms. Dillon remains happy that her business can contribute to the common good in a time of need.

 

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