Like many distillery owners this spring, cousins Nick and Ian Lee realized they were uniquely able to help fight the spread of COVID-19 by switching part of their operations to making hand sanitizer.
Colorado Springs-based Lee Spirits crafts a line of gin and other liquors. As the pandemic forced bars and restaurants to limit operations, the distillery started to see its own sales slow down, according to co-owner Ian Lee.
“It hasn’t grinded to zero,” he said, but the reduced demand did give them an opportunity to focus on a critical community need.
As an essential business, construction companies are able to stay open during the pandemic, but they must abide by mitigation efforts, including hand washing and sanitizing restrictions. After a conversation with a friend who owns a window and door installation company, Lee realized he could help.
“He was talking about how he’s trying to think [of] what he needs to do to keep his employees safe. I told him, ‘We’re probably going to make some hand sanitizer, so whenever you’re ready, let me know.”
Word got around, and orders started pouring in.
“We did underestimate the market for how many people would want hand sanitizer,” Lee noted.
Lee Spirits had access to much of the raw materials needed to make hand sanitizer, but couldn’t buy all of it in bulk, Lee said. The distillery worked with Chief Petroleum to get the rest of what it needed. When working at capacity, the distillery can make about 1,000 gallons per day, Lee said.
“On the days that we have all the raw material in house, we will crank that out, but every once in a while, we’ve got to wait for an extra day or two because shipping is kind of funky right now,” he explained.
The Lees realized there were a lot of people and organizations that needed sanitizer donations.
“We have been working with the UCHealth system, the El Paso County systems, the police department, the fire department, different nonprofits, retirement communities, daycare centers to donate where we can, so that we can try to lighten the load on some of these places that have serious needs,” Lee said.
They weren’t the only ones. As their business among construction companies grew, those customers wanted to help, too.
“They all recognized the need for those first responders to have this stuff. We’ve been blown away at the number of companies and organizations in the construction field that have been like, ‘Can you double the order and donate the other half because we just don’t have the means with which to donate to those folks,” Lee explained. “It’s turned into this awesome opportunity for us to connect these construction companies with first responders.”
Justin Mitchell of The WoodShed, a wood finishing contractor in Colorado Springs, was among the first to work with Lee on donations.
“We have 40 people approximately, and we were having trouble finding hand sanitizer,” Mitchell said.
He was inspired by the Lees’ decision to donate hand sanitizer to frontline workers.
“When he had some available to purchase, I said, ‘I’ll buy five gallons for me … and then I’ll buy 25 more gallons for y’all to donate.'”
Mitchell added, “It’s just little things we can do to help as a business, us being fortunate enough to be working. Builders are still building, so we’re still supplying and able to pay our employees. We’re very fortunate to give back to the community.”
The sanitizer is available to purchase by emailing co-owner Nick Lee at [email protected].
“We’re delivering quantities to a lot of these vendors that are above and beyond what you would just buy at a Walgreens, so sometimes there’s a little bit of logistics that needs to get ironed out,” Lee explained.
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.