To begin: when I went into this interview I didn’t know what to expect. Shrugging Doctor has intentionally kept their business under wraps and has done a good job keeping folks curious. Shrugging Doctor is not a brewery. They will not be producing beer at opening and so aren’t something I typically write about. Still, they have a unique idea that warrants a bit of exploration, even if there are some concerns.
Shrugging Doctor wants to innovate people’s access to booze. While it is possible to order alcohol delivery through the MLCC, this requires forethought and time. It’s not something you can do on a whim or if you realize you’ve run out of your favourite beverage. Shrugging Doctor seeks to fix this problem by taking the pizza delivery model and applying it to booze. They want to be your on-call source for booze in the city, with home delivery within 60 minutes.
What will they be selling? To begin, they will focus on sugar wine (a smooth and sweet 20% alcohol), coolers (made from the sugar wine), apple cider and mead. The target audience for Shrugging Doctor is 18 to 25 year olds looking for potent, sweet tasting booze at a reasonable price. This makes sense given the gentleman behind this company. Chris Willows, a 20-year-old entrepreneur, moved out at the age of 18 and found he had bills to pay. With a business mindset – something he says he had since he was nine – he decided to start his own business and solve a problem on the minds of his peers: how do I get cheap booze delivered to my home.
While Shrugging Doctor is going to produce their own product, which they hope to sell in 23 Liquor Marts around the city, the service they plan to provide is the biggest part of their business plan. Offering city-wide deliver of their products. The product is produced by Zach Isaacs. He has been making wine and other alcoholic drinks for several years, investing a great deal of time and money in perfecting his recipes. Willows told me many of his friends have stopped buying coolers because they’d rather drink Shrugging Doctor’s offerings. (I had the opportunity to try the sugar wine and it is certainly potent but incredibly sweet.)
While they do not plan on having beer at the beginning, Willows does respect the craft beer market and would love to add those drinks to their catalogue in the future. For the first nine to ten months, however, they will focus on producing their wine-based products. With four 500L tanks, the starting capacity is quite small, only 10HL, but as they start capturing profit they hope to expand capacity not only add beer but also partner with vineyards to move away from fruit and sugar wines to producing grape wines.
I had the opportunity to view their online ordering system, which will allow people to place orders for either a bottle or a box of their wine, coolers, etc. The wine starts at $10 a bottle and is $35 for a 4L box. The wine is packaged using a 10-plate filtering system, a semi-automatic bottler that fills the headspace with nitrogen for better shelf life, and capped using stelvin caps (the twist offs).
If Shrugging Doctor takes off, Manitobans who are buzzed and unable to drive for more drinks will have an option to top up their supplies. While this certainly solve some problems, it raises others. What assurances will there be that customers (and their guests) are of age? Or that they’re not at dangerous levels of intoxication? Since they are seeking to follow the pizza delivery model, they will be hiring delivery drivers who will be paid using the deliver fee and tips. How will these drivers be trained to recognize when they should or shouldn’t deliver the product? There is also a matter of theft and safety of the drivers that needs to be considered.
Chris Willows told me that their delivery drivers will all carry their “Serving it Safe” certificate and will therefore be trained to recognize when someone may need to be cut off. As for the insurance that all are of age, unfortunately that isn’t something as easy to accomplish. What they will ensure is that the person to whom they deliver the alcohol is of age. Chris also assured me that they would be trying their best to comply with all laws and regulations.
While I admit the convenience Shrugging Doctor offers is very appealing – and potentially the base of a lucrative business model – I am not sure if the pros outweigh the concerns. While I’m not in their target market, they’re likely to appeal to a younger demographic who could still be learning their limits. It’s my hope these young entrepreneurs factor safety into their business plans even as they enthusiastically fill an obvious service gap.