25 years of Whisky.de (aka The Whisky Store)

How it all began, the universe and all the rest

25 years is a long time. Do you still remember 1993? Helmut Kohl was still Chancellor, Germany introduced five-digit postcodes and Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. And in a small cellar in Seeshaupt, Theresia Lüning buys her first delivery of 11 cases of single malt whisky from the Asbach company. Over the years, Asbach became Diageo - the largest spirits group in the world.

Cellar by Theresia Lüning

At The Whisky Store (today Whisky.de), everything developed a little more slowly. The official business registration is dated 15.6.1993 and even today, 25 years after its foundation, there have been no takeovers or changes of ownership. Whisky.de has remained an independent family business. After justone year, it was clear that Theresia Lüning had the right idea at the right time with The Whisky Store. The business went really well from the very first moment and already in the second year another cellar room had to be prepared as a special packaging cellar.In 1994 we were one of the first companies in Germany to put our website on the young internet. Four years before Google was founded. In the third year of existence, The Whisky Store also hired its first female employee. The hiring of the Seeshaupter native turned out to be a real stroke of luck. Not only did the employee already know her way around whisky, she also spoke good English, having lived in South Africa for many years. The next highlights both date to 1997. The Whisky Store built a large, additional extension cellar with two dispatch workstations and reached the magic turnover million in the same year. Still in DM, though. What a big cellar it was! We could store many thousands of bottles and finally present them to the ever-growing number of customers in long rows of shelves. Who could have guessed back then that this cellar, built 'for eternity', would be too small in just a few years?In 1999, when the number of employees had already increased to three, Theresia Lüning made the most important decision in her professional life. Instead of continuing to work on her own, separated from her husband, who was becoming absorbed in the globalising world of information technology, she decided to drive the development of the company forward together with Horst Lüning from now on. The aerospace engineer expanded the website to include a shop system and also studied marketing. The private cellar business slowly turned into a real small business.The year 2000 brought great upheavals. The first, special whisky catalogue was printed with a print run of twenty thousand copies and the ensuing growth overwhelmed everyone. Now with double the power, The Whisky Store was bursting at the seams again in 2001 after four years in the new cellar . Bottles piled up to the ceiling and the car garage had become a whisky warehouse with dozens of pallets. Every day, trucks squeezed into the narrow cul-de-sac and it was clear to everyone involved that things could not go on like this.

October 2000 catalogue cover

The construction of the new hall turned out to be a nail-biter. The first sod was barely turned in September 2001 when the terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in New York in a second attack. "Continue or stop building?" was the crucial question. The Whisky Store decided to continue and within two months of the attack, sales had recovered.

With foresight, we built the hall so big that it would be able to handle ten times the sales. The following years flew by . We finally had the space to buy and store all the whiskies our customers wanted. We were also able to hire staff for financial accounting, purchasing and internet development, thus easing our own workload - or so we imagined at the time.

But everything turned out differently. In 2002, we were nominated by the jury of the Federal Ministry of Economics and the industry association Bitkom as one of eight companies for the German Internet Prize. In the same year, an industry magazine voted us Retailer of the Year. In the following period of change, The Whisky Store transformed itself from a classic catalogue mail order company to a modern internet retailer, without neglecting its catalogue customers.

2002 was also the year we launched our virtual club with the new printed club newspaper The Whisky Times. 2003 saw the launch of the free whisky book, which to date has been downloaded more than a million times from the internet. In the following years, it was steadily expanded and even supplemented with an audio book version.

Since the end of the 90s, The Whisky Store has also been active in the young social media, first with a mailing list that soon had 1,000 members and reached a performance of 1 million mails per year within a few years. In 2004, the new forum was much more comfortable for everyone and in the meantime the forum became a whole community and the Whisky Club reached 4,000 members.

In2005 Horst Lüning started blogging, first in a separate section of the forum and then, after a few years, in his own blog.

In 2006, we received the Young Business Award from the Bundesverband des Deutschen Versandhandels e.V. (Federal Association of the German Mail Order Trade ), an honour that couldn't be higher for a small, young company. After all, the Federal Association with its companies represents 70% of the German mail order turnover of 28 billion euros at that time.

In 2007, Horst Lüning shot his first and now legendary whisky tasting video of a bottle of Lagavulin 16 years. The first videos were rather wooden and bumpy, but over the years things went better and better. Today, son Benedikt Lüning actively supports the video blog, which now contains 2,000 videos with over 27 million views. In the same year, The Whisky Store reached a turnover of €10 million.

In2010, after many years, the domain Whisky.de was acquired, but it would take years before the domain could manifest itself in the company name.

In 2011, the editors of Versandhausberater voted us Online Shop of the Year at the Mail Order Congress in Wiesbaden. A little anecdote on the side: due to a spelling mistake by the engraver, the award now adorns the internet domain Whisky.com, which did not belong to us at the time. A foresighted omen?

Atthe end of 2013, we were able to acquire the domain Whisky.com - the world domain for whisky - in an auction. Since then, parallel to the thousands of German-language pages on Whisky.de, the identical websites in English have also been created on Whisky.com.

This internationalisation was also the starting signal for Benedikt Lüning, who is also a mechanical engineer and brings a decade of international experience to the company. In 2016, we therefore changed our name and now call ourselves Whisky.de GmbH & Co. KG after the domain.

Then in 2016, we switched the padding of our packages to a single-material solution. Finally, the plastic has disappeared from the packages and Schrenzpapier provides equally good protection for the bottles with minimal breakage rates.

The year 2016 ended with our first live video event. Ben and I fielded questions from our viewers. They asked via chat and we answered in the live video.

Even though Whisky.de grew significantly every year in the past with its turnover and employees, we were and still are a small light when measured by the absolute numbers of the industry. But we are highly effective and stay close to the wishes of our customers with reasonable prices.

What does the future hold for Whisky.de?

In 2018, we will celebrate our anniversary with numerous special and exclusive bottlings, of course also from 1993. In addition, there will be a special shop area for our club customers, where in future rare bottles will first go on a club pre-sale before they become available to the general public.

Our taste ratings in the internet shop will be switched to the new tasticons of our whisky database, making their purchase decision safer. After many years, the 2018 catalogue is getting a gentle makeover in design. Even though printed advertising media are said to be dead, the printed catalogue is becoming more and more popular and the circulation is steadily increasing.

In 2019 we will then celebrate 25 years of internet presence. This time a little 'louder' than our 10-year YouTube anniversary in 2017.