Starting with Gillespie’s Fine Spirits, Kelly Ann Woods has spent over five years growing her beverage brand portfolio — which includes the non-alcoholic Boozewitch Brands, and the cannabis-infused State B Beverage Company, which is soon set to launch in Canada and the US. The 2019 recipient of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award shares her journey.
By Karen van Kampen
In 2014, Kelly Ann Woods set out to find a home for her distillery. After several false starts in Vancouver, she decided to broaden her search. A friend suggested she consider Squamish, B.C. “That little town you drive through on the way to Whistler?” asked Kelly, the co-founder of Gillespie’s Fine Spirits Ltd.
Kelly discovered the mountain town on the Sea to Sky Highway was a welcoming place built on community. Famous for its beautiful scenery and outdoor activities, Squamish was also a foodie’s paradise in the making. “There was a zing in the air,” she says, adding that you could feel something big was about to happen.
Kelly opened her distillery and cocktail bar on Progress Way, a fitting location for an innovator on the local craft scene. And after that? “A lot of magic happened,” she says, but much of it came from Kelly’s own efforts — she founded the Squamish Craft Beverage Association and helped launch the Squamish Craft Tasting Trail that has propelled the local food and drink movement.
Adding to her beverage brand portfolio, Kelly created Boozewitch Brands, a line of non-alcoholic mixers, and State B Beverage Company (formerly Switch Beverage Company), a line of cannabis functional beverages that is soon set to launch in Canada and the U.S. In recognition of her trendsetting efforts in the craft beverage industry, Kelly was the 2019 recipient of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who owns and operates a small yet impactful business.
Building a drinks empire while working as an actor and raising a four-year-old boy is no easy feat, yet Kelly takes it all in stride. She developed a strong work ethic growing up on a hobby farm in Wakefield, Quebec, where she tended chickens and turkeys and tapped maple trees. Kelly remembers having to finish her chores before heading to the lake in the afternoon and lighting a fire in their log cabin at the end of a long day.
Although Kelly worked as a sommelier and mixologist for many years, she quickly discovered there were real challenges to opening a distillery. She hired a consultant to make sense of the archaic building codes that hadn’t been rewritten since 1941. She fought for zoning changes to operate a tasting room and lounge on-site. Through it all, Kelly never gave up. “I’m a doer,” she says. “I see a problem, and I go and try to fix it.”
In the beginning, Kelly did everything from sales and bartending to social media and event planning. While she now has the help of six employees and a distribution team, Kelly still pops behind the bar when it gets busy at her speakeasy lounge, The G Spot, whose slogan is, “Have you found it yet?”
As her businesses continue to grow, Kelly stays grounded in her roots in meditation and yoga, which helps maintain her focus. A Kundalini yoga teacher, Kelly believes that her business life can complement her spiritual life. “I’m able to do business in a way that’s true to who I am,” she says.
“Get smart about finance and business. The things I had to learn as a businesswoman were all about money and getting comfortable with money.”
Self-care is also integral to Kelly’s success and happiness. She exercises, eats well and ensures she gets enough sleep. “Sleep is my magic weapon,” she says. “Getting a solid night’s sleep gives me the ability to pick up on certain things while letting other things go.”
A self-taught entrepreneur, Kelly says it’s important to educate yourself and “get smart about finance and business. The things I had to learn as a businesswoman were all about money and getting comfortable with money.”
Kelly’s recent experience in a business incubator was invaluable. The Initiative, an accelerator program for women owners of cannabis businesses, was like her very own mini-MBA, an experience that had her “going through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship with a nest of amazing women who actually have your back,” she says.
Mentors have also played a key part in Kelly’s growth as an entrepreneur. “I don’t think we can get anywhere without mentorship,” she says.
If someone offers their time, Kelly suggests sending a thank you note. “We rarely get that tactility from a personal note,” she says, which is such a gift to find in a pile of bills. For Kelly, it’s all about treating people well. “It’s a long game. Be as good a person as you can along the way,” she says. “When you treat people with respect and kindness, that’s what they remember.”
It’s been a year of accolades for Kelly, including Sin Gin’s silver medal at the 2019 San Francisco International Spirits Competition, and the momentum keeps on building. Kelly is set to launch State B in dispensaries across Canada and in California, the first of many U.S. states. Working with a master herbalist, she formulated five ready-to-drink products with different desired effects. Her current favourite is Sparkle — containing CBD and THC, it’s flavoured with raspberry juice, and “makes you feel sparkly,” she says.