A county man is hoping to turn his passion for whisky into a living by launching his first retail venture and opening a shop in Shrewsbury.
It is a complete departure from anything Mike Hale, 49, has done before and while he admits to it being a daunting task, he says he is loving the prospect of the challenge ahead.
Mr Hale, from Admaston, near Telford, has taken the plunge after serving 15 years in the RAF, his last posting was RAF Cosford, and then 16 years as a programmes and project manager.
He has now opened Wrekin Whiskies on Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, after moving into the listed building, formerly the Truly Scrumptious cafe. Mr Hale also intends to offer whisky-tasting sessions in-shop and will also take his expertise on the road if requested.
“I like to look at this as phase three of my working life. I was becoming bored with what I was doing, didn’t feel fulfilled anymore and had been into whisky for a long time, so thought wouldn’t it be cool to run a whisky shop and take my passion to other people,” he said.
“The company I worked for had a voluntary redundancy scheme and I thought if I don’t try now while I have the chance, I may look back in the future and say I wish I had given it a go.
“I am taking something I love and trying to make a living out of it. Not just selling at the shop but by taking it out to tasting events. The plan is to put on one tasting session a month in the shop to start with and if, say for example, the sergeant’s mess at RAF Cosford or other organisations and hotels were interested, then I would happily take the show on the road.”
Rebecca Welch, commercial surveyor at Halls which found the property for Mr Hale, said: “We welcome another trader to Shrewsbury and wish Mr Hale all the very best in his new venture.
“This shows people are confident in what Shropshire has to offer regarding business opportunities. The small independent retail market in Shrewsbury is continuing to thrive and we love being a part of that process.
“We are being contacted on a daily basis by people looking to set up new businesses or wanting to expand which is great news for the high streets of Shropshire.”
Mr Hale was born in Plymouth and grew up in Inverness and although his and his wife’s initial dream was to open a shop in the South West, they finally decided Shropshire and, in particular, Shrewsbury was the best fit for their plans.
“The South West was first choice but when we sat down and looked at it, from a business perspective it was vital to minimise the exposure to risk, so we opted to stay in Shropshire,” he added.
“Shrewsbury has a massive retail catchment area, it is a great tourist attraction, many people take their holidays in and around Shrewsbury and so that galvanised us into realising that this was the place to be.
“We contacted Halls and they instantly knew this would be the right property for my venture. I dismissed it first of all but after some thought saw the full potential of it and decided this was the property we wanted to go after. Halls were excellent throughout the process.
“The shop was a daunting prospect but during my professional career I have managed many projects and believe I have the skills to transport across to this venture to make it work. To look at something I have to do and work out how to deal with it.
“As far as offering jobs goes, I have already had people knocking on the door and asking, but at the moment it’s just me. There is a bottom line to be met over the first year and if that is met then I would like to take on staff.
“I am conscious there is a difference between working in your business and working on your business. I am starting off spending six days a week behind the counter but know I will also need to get out there and develop it.
“The whisky business is on the up right now. There was, maybe, a very slight waning a couple of years ago but the whisky industry is now talking of perceived shortages and there is more consumption than there was 10 years ago.
“Whisky takes between 10 and 18 years to mature so it’s quite a long process to reverse if there is this perceived shortage. One answer might be to introduce a younger whisky, something that can mature in six to eight years. These can be exceptional whiskies.
“Demographics are changing. Younger people are drinking whisky now, along with 27 per cent of women.
“I am looking at stocking about 200 whiskies, predominantly whiskies not generally found in this area, though there will be some that are well known. I will be selling some Japanese whisky, not a lot but some; Indian and French. France is the second largest consumption nation.
“However, 85 per cent will be good Scottish whiskies. I am interested in anything that is a little bit different – anything you can get hold of which has a story behind it, what’s special about it or what’s unusual.
“I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket and will also be selling some ales and 40 to 50 good artisan gins.”