Lazy RW Distillery has grown from its owners’ passion to excel and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Owned by Todd Roe and his dad, Bill, the whiskey business started with a fascination with some old family recipes.
Three main principles have driven the company to be successful.
“Entrepreneurship takes a few things, and first and foremost is a little grit in your gizzard,” Todd said. “Nothing is for certain. We don’t live in a world where everything is for certain. Talent only takes you so far, but being driven and having a little grit in your gizzard helps you because, when it gets stressful, you power through it with your determination.”
Their first steps with the company were to try out the recipes, then improve the process until they were ready to go. August 2015 is when the Roes officially got their license to distill spirits from Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and from the state of Nebraska.
“The first still I made was a 2-gallon pressure cooker and I tack-welded a column onto it, and we made some horrible-tasting stuff,” Todd said. “I thought we could do better.”
Todd said he is obsessed with learning, and his understanding of science helped him figure out each step of the process.
“I actually studied how ethanol was made because, truly, that’s what we’re doing, we’re just not denaturing it,” Todd said. “We started doing that and understanding it better, understanding the science behind it, understanding it from a molecular level.”
He said if he was going to get into making whiskey on a serious level, he wanted to know more than just how to do it.
“I truly wanted to understand how corn was converted into sugar and how that sugar was converted into alcohol and the processes and the science and the reasoning behind certain things, like why copper is so important and these kinds of things,” Todd said.
Todd said that is one reason for their success.
“I wanted to truly know, because I think it’s part of the reason we’re so successful right now is because we’re very methodical and understand what we’re doing,” Todd said. “By being that way, it allows us to be consistent and allows us to have a point of perfection that both Dad and I demand.”
The second ingredient to be a successful entrepreneur, Todd said, is the culture.
“I think it takes is a creative culture that allows you to grow and you don’t feel restricted,” Todd said. “You involve yourself with the right community and network of people that allow you to feel successful and allow you to grow.”
The Roes first leased and then purchased the old schoolhouse in Moorefield, about 45 miles south of North Platte.
“Frontier County just kind of wrapped their arms around us, gave us a huge hug and said, ‘We’re excited you want to do something this far out in the middle of nowhere,’” Todd said. “They really threw a lot of support our way. By doing that, it allowed us to grow.”
As people became aware of the distillery out in the middle of rural Nebraska, folks were drawn to the old Moorefield schoolhouse — to the point, Todd said, that it looked like they were “having a garage sale every Saturday.”
Then the Roes participated in their first Taps and Tunes at Nebraskaland Days in 2016 and the popularity they gained brought a lot of attention from several distributors.
“The popularity we had there intrigued distribution,” Roe said. “Once distribution got involved, Katy bar the door.”
With a network of trucks and salesmen on staff, Quality Brands — then Sandhills Distributing — was able to take Lazy RW sales through the roof. Todd said now there are four distributors and good potential for expanding out of state soon.
“It’s blown up across the state, over 308 locations in five years,” Todd said. “We went from maybe selling 100 bottles a month to around 600 a week now.”
The Roes have hired three full-time employees and have added a building in Brady where they produce their own corn sugar to make the whiskey.
“They are all local kids,” Roe said, “local high school guys I know well that are hard workers for me. Good ranch kids that just wanted to come work for me and bought into what we are.”
Roe said he is very direct in his interview questions.
“When I sit them down and hire them, I say things like ‘I realize you get your paycheck from me, but if you’re not going to buy into what this is (we don’t want you),’” Todd said. “By buying into it, it actually puts a sense of urgency for them that this is part of who they are, too.”
The third principle the Roes believe has contributed to their success is staying out of debt.
“We have done everything with this organically,” Todd said. “We have a line of credit, but it doesn’t mean we use it all the time.”
He said if it is necessary to use the line of credit from time to time, they make sure to pay it back immediately.
“I can shut the doors right now and, other than upsetting a few employees, I don’t owe anybody anything,” Todd said. “Not having debt allows you to make decisions you wouldn’t make if you had a $600 payment on product and you had a $1,200 payment on a building.”
Debt obligations change the way one thinks, Todd said.
“I have a term for it, I call it ‘organic growth.’” Todd said. “I don’t like forced growth or assumptions. I do like projecting — that’s just healthy, that’s called business planning.”
He said projections are good, but assumptions are “horrible.”
“Organic growth means by its definition, if you can afford to do something you do it,” Todd said. “
In addition to the three main principles, Todd said, another part of the formula to be a successful entrepreneuer is to be able to identify what he calls the “bottleneck.”
“What I mean by that is, you might make whiskey really well and you might make a lot of it,” Todd said. “You might have bottling and labeling and packaging, but maybe labeling takes too long. I can make plenty of whiskey and I can package it all up, but I can’t label it fast enough to package it up.
“So I either cut down on production here so my bottleneck flows or I figure out a better, more efficient way to label.”
Todd said the bottleneck changes with each expansion of business, and his principle is to live within the organic growth concept.
“So instead of looking at the whole thing when I need to upgrade everything, I try to find what bottlenecks me,” Todd said. “It allows me to channel my resources into the area that needs the help instead of spreading it out over the whole thing and spending all this money.”
He has some advice for budding entrepreneurs.
“I would say to them, if you think the road’s going to finally come to an end and you’ve done it, you’re making a huge mistake,” Todd said. “It never ends if you want to be successful.”