#Makeithappen: Meet the third generation barrel-maker supplying the best Scottish whisky brands

Georgeta Gheorghe 09/07/2018 | 01:25

Starting today, Business Review is launching a new campaign called #makeithappen. Every day, for the next month, we will present 30 inspirational entrepreneurial stories of Romanians who turned passion, hobbies and knowledge into a business. We will present the stories of entrepreneurial initiatives of all sizes in all economic fields, underlining the diversity and creativity of the local business environment. By starting this campaign, Business Review is strengthening its commitment to be the the go-to source for inspiring stories of Romanian entrepreneurship. 

We start our #makeithappen campaign with the story of a third generation barrel maker, and school master by education, Nicolae Rizea (42) and his Butoaie.ro business. His approach on tradition and keeping it appealing in today’s business environment is what inspired us to tell his story. Nicolae Rizea joined his family business of barrel making since he was a little boy, learning along with his father. After becoming a professional, even though he chose a different carreer, teaching, he came back to his family roots and turned tradition into a successful business. When things got tough during the crisis, he found an imaginative way to revive the business by starting to make furniture that caught the eye of foreign suppliers. The biggest sign of success? He managed to convince the Scottish whisky makers his products are good enough for their drinks.

“I entered this business because I am already part of the third generation that makes barrels. Born and raised in “sawdust,” I studied and I became a school master. In 2004 I decided t turn the business into something bigger. I am a former school teacher and I gave up this job to dedicate myself to this small family business because I really do love a challenge,” Rizea, whose business is based in Oarja, near Piteti. “Partially, I managed in 2005 when I collaborated with Cotnari winery producing 500 barrels  of 100 litres in two months. This was one of my biggest challenges.”

The factory, which he describes as more of a workshop, is still a small one. “I only have two permanent employees. Because it is a seasonal business, whenever we have demand we fill the workforce with temporary workers. At our biggest, we there were 14 of us working at the factory,” he says.

Faced with a tough turn, the barrel maker decided to add to his portfolio several products, such as furniture made out of barrels. “In 2006 and 2007 barrels sales dropped. That is when I thought about doing something different and I started to cut the barrels I hadn’t managed to sell and to use their tops for decorations. This is how I ended up making partnerships with wineries. Most wineries we made together with Tohani. Then, we took on a project for another winery, Crama Murfatlar,” he explains.

Crisis spurs creativity

“From the leftovers we started making furniture. This is how I ended up having talks with the director of the Ocnele Mari salt mine for a project that was unique in the country at that time, namely to make furniture out of barrels for the salt mine’s restaurant. We fulfilled that task successfully, I believe, given that today you can still see the results,” Rizea adds.

According to Rizea, clients, who range from bars and pubs to individuals, have kept on coming to him for furniture. “We advertise our products via our website www.butoaie.ro, which was set up in 2005,” he says.

The most exciting project? His creations are used in ads for a major Romanian beer brand and have graced the silver screen. “We produced all the props for Aferim! as well as those used when filming ads for beer brand Timisoreana,” he said.

The Romanian market right now is pretty weak, given the unfair competition in this field represented by the fact that there are tens of makers of furniture from barrels, who, in my opinion, do not do good quality things, Rizea notes.

How long does it take to make a barrel? “There is an entire story around how and how long wood evolves in time, about how and for how long the wood needs to be lacquered so that it doesn’t continue to do so.

In order to stay ahead of competition, we diversified production and introduced another novelty on the Romanian market: we started making sauna barrels and bath barrels. We sell them to clients in Romania, but especially for Germany-based clients.”

Making barrels for Scottish whiskey

We produced whiskey barrels that we sell in Scotland, the barrel makes says. ” Around 500 pieces were delivered. We are also collaborating with advertising companies in Europe who contract us to make barrel decorations.”

As much as they can, at the workshop they use local products. “We supply our materials from the Arges area where the stave makers are located.”

 

“Currently, we make 100 barrels with a capacity of 225 litres and we could double that. I would like to mention that we are the only barrel makers in Europe who make 10,000 litres barrels. It doesn’t take too long to assemble a barrel. But prior to this the wood has been dried for 1.5 years. After that, the process of shaping the barrel takes two to three months. The last stage, assembling the barrel takes between two to three hours,” he says.

“Our turnover does not exceed RON 300,000 annually,” Rizea said. As for plans for the current year “our plan for 2018 is to resume production of furniture made from barrels, which we started listing on eMAG marketplace,” he explains.

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