Melbourne gin distiller Chris Cameron says two key incentives included in this year’s federal budget will allow him to move much faster towards realising the original vision for his business, in a year that has thrown more than one curveball.
The former professional basketball player is the co-founder of Naught Distillery, based in Eltham in Melbourne’s north.
Together with co-founder and business partner Marcus Hansen, Cameron launched Naught’s first Australian dry gin at the start of this month, after working on the concept over the past five years.
The new business is selling online and via click-and-collect to local residents within its 5km zone.
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But the original plan was to open a hospitality venue alongside the distillery — plans that were scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across Melbourne.
Getting the distillery itself up and running was even delayed by several months as a result of Melbourne’s restrictions, and the associated COVIDSafe protocols.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Cameron says COVID-19 really forced him and Hansen to “press pause” on plans to open the venue as it simply wasn’t going to be “financially viable” to have the space sitting empty while all of Melbourne is staying home.
As the “tumultuous” year draws to a close, however, Cameron says the massive asset write-off scheme announced in the federal budget this week will make it much easier for the business to pick up its original plans over coming months.
“That’s a massive one for us,” he says of the tax incentive that will allow almost all Australian businesses to claim immediate tax deductions for all new assets, regardless of their price tag.
Building and fitting out a distillery is not a “cheap venture”, says the founder. “The equipment itself is really expensive”.
“That’s part of it, when you go into a business like this you know that there’s going to be significant costs ahead,” he adds.
But being able to immediately write-off the full value of these expensive purchases gives Naught “the opportunity to move faster than we would have been able to,” Cameron says.
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This is Cameron’s “first jump” into running a hospitality business and with the pandemic halting plans to open the Naught venue, and therefore hire staff, he is essentially running the business as a “one-man-show”.
Cameron says the original plan was to “have locals involved … young and old”, and the government’s JobMaker hiring credits, which offer employers a subsidy if they hire a young person, will now make that more of a possibility.
“Being a local, I wanted to provide a pathway for young adults to get a taste for distilling as employment,” he explains.
As a 38-year-old who grew up in the Eltham area, Cameron says he understands how hard it can be to find a part-time job as a young person and he wants to help change that.
“The biggest thing for me is local, and certainly a wage subsidy that pays $200 a week, half the minimum wage a week … it’s a really big incentive for small businesses,” he adds.
Elsewhere in the budget, Cameron says he would have liked to have seen specific industry support announced for small distillers and producers, similar to support offered by the South Australian government to local distillers.
“We pay a lot of tax as distillers,” he says, highlighting how international gin brands are sold in Australia for almost the exact amount of tax an Aussie producer has to pay per bottle.
While distillers understand these costs when they set out starting their business, it “does make it really difficult,” he says.
Naught Distillery has been able to access JobKeeper support over the past months, but Cameron is expecting the business will no longer be eligible for the second phase of the wage subsidies now that its gin has been launched and customers are buying it.
But, he says he is continuing to research what other forms of financial support might be available to the business as it sticks to its original plan.
Cameron doesn’t have a set timeline for when the Naught Distillery venue will open, as there is still work to be done to fit out the space, and uncertainty around when Melbourne hospitality businesses will be able to start returning to normal, but he is looking to get it “underway pretty quickly”.
And he’s hopeful that having made it this far during “one of the hardest times in recent history”, it will hold the business in good stead for the future.
“Starting a business, I don’t believe is ever going to be an easy, smooth sailing thing,” he says.
“It’s certainly been an eye-opening experience starting a business during a pandemic.”