Founding the World's First Baby Rhino Orphanage
Pete Richardson: If you've heard of Urban Rhino, you will know our raison d'etre, why we exist. We exist to help drive resource to people and areas supporting rhino conservation and survival.
I ordered a bottle on the Monday, which was delivered, I think, on the Wednesday, tasted it, and I was like yeah this is alright this will do!
Becky Holland: Hello and welcome to the No Bull Marketing Ideacast. I'm Becky Holland.
In today's episode we have got a very special guest who has made it his mission to protect and preserve the rhino species. Pete Richardson is co-founder of the rhino orphanage and the new owner of Urban Rhino Gin.
Pete has joined us to talk about his journey and to shed a little bit of light on the critical challenges that are faced by rhinos. We’ll also have a little look at why, and how, Pete decided to acquire the Urban Rhino Gin brand and get some insights that hopefully everybody will find interesting.
BH: Pete, hello, it's my huge pleasure to welcome you on the show.
PR: Becky, hi it's great to be here! Really looking forward to it.
BH: It's going to be awesome, and we’re going to be talking about gin which is great. Last time we talked about influencer compliance, which was all a little bit geeky, I know!
PR: I saw some of that. I was like “oh can we talk about gin?”
BH: If I thought about it, I should have recorded them back-to-back. Actually, the influencer stuff, to be fair, is quite interesting. But it's a lot more geeky than this!
PR: Absolutely. But when you do look along the pantheon of things you can talk about, you know, animals and alcohol, I think, are quite near the top.
BH: Excellent. So, on that basis, first of all, congratulations on acquiring Urban Rhino Gin. Shake your hand virtually.
PR: Yeah, no virtual fist bump! It's, yeah it's all a bit mad. If I'm honest, it's all a bit mad. Somebody said to me the other day that I've done quite a lot of mad things in my life. They were talking about me, and this is possibly right up there at the top of the list in the weird things that I've done.
PR: Actually, I've acquired a business called the White Rhino Gin Company limited and the brand that we've acquired is Urban Rhino Gin.
BH: Awesome. So, let's start at the start. Let's see if we can weave into this some of the other weird stories of other things you’ve done.
But, tell us, what was the catalyst behind your involvement in rhino conservation in the first place? Cause you co-founded the rhino orphanage, right? So what motivated you to take action and establish the very first rhino orphanage?
PR: That's a really good question. It was a combination of circumstances. So the aptly named, The Rhino Orphanage, for that is its full name, I moved to South Africa in 2009 as part of my work in the world of golf.
So I had a PR and marketing company, specialising in the golf industry, and we got a new client in South Africa. I'm going to cut a long story short here, we got a new client in South Africa that was just launching to the world. That was a golf and safari resort. So it was quite an amazing place. I went out for two days instead stayed for 10 years. Not quite like that, but not far off. So when I went out to have a look at what was called Legend Golf and Safari Resort and I was just, you know, I was just blown away it was just an amazing, amazing project. The world's only 18-hole golf course where each hole was designed by a different golfer. All well known. So from Bernard Langer, to Cole Montgomery, to a couple of South Africans, Trevor Immelman, Retief Goosen, and Justin Rose.
So that was a world first. It also had a tribute course, which had ten of the world's best par threes that were copied exactly. So that was quite exciting. Then they also had the coup-de-gras, which was the extreme 19th which was the world's highest and longest par three accessible only by helicopter. So, you float to the top of a mountain in a helicopter, you played this par three off the top of a mountain, 400 metres long, 400 metres down to a green the shape of Africa. Now for somebody who had a golf PR and marketing company I was like “that's quite PR-able.”
BH: I mean, you don't need to do that much work do you to be honest? As a marketing agency with one of those.
PR: I was like…” you want some PR on this?”, “I think I can manage!”
I was like, “this is quite good.” It mixed golf and safari. It was called The Golf and Safari Resort. One of the first in Africa. Fabulous place. 600 square kilometres of big 5. So, you've got the big 5, and it also had a wildlife and cultural centre.
BH: Is this where the rhinos come in?
PR: It is where the rhinos come in.
The wildlife and cultural centre was a place where rehabbed animals, basically it was an animal rehab centre, so it had a variety of animals on it, run by the amazing, amazing, amazing human being called Ari from Devanta and my arrival coincided with the beginning of the rhino poaching crisis. So, we're sort of [saying] 2011, 2012. So, 10-11 years ago.
BH: So, were the rhinos all OK until 2011?
PR: Not quite. It began to escalate in the late noughties and the poaching crisis really started to hit home in the beginning of the you know the 2nd century…the 20-hundreds, whatever. 2010, 2011 and, Ari was called to poaching one day. So, we had a vet that we work with, we obviously had a helicopter for the golf and for various other things, we did helicopter flips around the site, and Ari was asked if they would help with the poaching that happened relatively nearby. So, he flew with the vet, and he came back and there’d been a female rhino poached, a mother, and there was an orphaned calf, and Ari had asked “what's going to happen to the calf?” and the fear was that it would have to be euthanised because nobody knew what to do with it or where to put it.
BH: That’s awful.
PR: I know! Oh, it’s a horrific situation. It's still ongoing, the rhino crisis has not gone away. It's slightly less than it was, but that's partly because there are a lot less rhinos. Something like 12,000 rhinos poached.
But yeah, Ari said - well fundamentally – he said, “let's build a rhino orphanage”, and my job, at the time, was to try and go out and help raise funds to pay for it all. We were looking away that the result attracted a lot of corporate South Africa - it was a big conferencing venue, we had 500 beds conferencing venues, 500 - so we were attracting a lot of corporate South Africa to do conferencing and we would then go on hang them upside down and shake them by their ankles and ask them for money for our special project.
The response was amazing. It was really amazing. We got a bank on board, quite early, we've got Lafarge cement, I'll never forget Lafarge cement who came in and done it – all the cement - to build the orphanage. Loads of people, and ongoing to date, it’s self-funded.
I'm going to go back a step actually, if I may, and describe what a rhino orphanage looks like.
PR: It's a building with a series of big rooms in, where tiny little baby rhinos can be looked after from the earliest days of their life, through to a few months old. So, it's got an ICU unit, accommodation, kitchen, where the milk’s prepared and all those things, office, and then the rhinos go out from [a] small little room, to [a] bigger room, to bigger enclosure, to bigger enclosure, to bigger enclosure, as they grow and you wean them away from humans, so you could re-wild them later on.
So, through the process of rehabilitation, you are breaking that human contact, which is necessary right at the beginning. Somebody has to become rhino mum, and then as the rhinos get older and bigger, you sort of move them through the stages of enclosures to ultimately [where] they’re in quite a big, wide enclosure just coming in at night to be fed, going and to be safe at night and then ultimately re-wilded somewhere safe.
BH: I guess there must be that worry whenever you wild it as well, that they're going to be poached.
PR: Well, the idea is we only re-wild them to places that are vetted to be as safe as possible. People have no idea how hard it is to bring up a baby rhino. It's like this. They’re just like a baby. They need feeding every two hours, you know, all through the night. They are incredibly attentive and requiring of love and affection which they give back.
I’d urge anybody to look at the rhino orphanage website, which is therhinoorphanage.co.sa. Have a look, or there's a fabulous charity that were involved. We’ll talk a bit more about that later on which is Waterberg Rhino UK, and they've got some amazing video on there, just have a look at little babies running around they are the cutest.
BH: I want to bring you back to your story and, particularly, I want to talk about the White Rhino Gin Company or Urban Rhino Gin. What let you to buy a gin brand? Like that where did that come from?
PR: So yeah, from golf PR to gin. It's well, I think I've shared this story with a couple of people and the more I say it the more sort of ludicrous it sounds, but it's absolutely true. I was in a board meeting, online, with the rest of the guys at the rhino orphanage. Probably only about nine or ten weeks ago now, Becky.
PR: Yeah, and there's an amazing organisation, in the UK, called Waterberg Rhino UK, who I was informed that, I'd never heard of them, was informed at that board meeting that they were helping support the new solar energy project at the rhino orphanage to take the rhino orphanage off grid in South Africa. South Africa’s got loads of electricity problems.
So, I was busy - as a side thing - while the board meeting was going on, I googled this organisation, discovered it was sort of the leader of that organisation was a lady called Belinda Chaffer, and I just dropped row quick e-mail during the board meeting.
PR: …saying, I'm in the UK, you're in the UK, don't know where you are, I'm…do you fancy meeting for a chat about rhinos, and she emailed back a couple of days later. So, turns out she's just down the road in Newbury, and I’m like, OK, my favourite pub’s in Newbury. That sounds like a great excuse to go back to my favourite pub for a working lunch. So, we met at the Five Bells at Wickham, and we discussed rhinos, and some of the things we've just talked about, and Waterberg Rhino UK's work with the charity.
Turns out, she's been to the rhino orphanage, our rhino orphanage, she's met Ari, and they were donating a considerable amount to help the solar energy project, and I was like “that’s brilliant”, and then she mentioned, in passing, that one of their supporters was a gin, and I was like “really that's interesting.” So yeah, really, really nice gin. Premium London dry gin called Urban Rhino, owned by some lovely people. But I think they're looking to move the business on. Would you be interested?
Always worth a phone call!
PR: Always worth phone call. You never know do you, and that's one of the things I always take out of this and say to people. It's always worth conversations. You never know what's going to come out of it. So, I ended up… I was introduced to the one of the founders. That was on a Friday. On the Saturday we had a conversation, which lasted about 2 1/2 hours on the phone, chatting about the gin and the rhinos, the world and on Monday they said, “let's do it.”
BH: So why was the brand for sale? Is there something wrong with it?
PR: Yeah, it's too nice! So, the White Rhino Gin Company was founded, co-founded, by three guys. Billy, John, and Mike. The prime movers in the business. Both in their 70s, they won't mind me saying, Mike’s just about to emigrate to Australia. In fact, about a week later, John was like “hang on I'm not sure I'm up to doing this anymore.”
So, I said “listen guys. Let's see where we can go.” So, they said OK, with the story, I am co-founder of the world's first rhino orphanage, and this is the world's first specialist rhino-supporting gin, why don't you do it? They've maintained a minority share in the business, cause they're passionate about, you know, they set the business up because they've been to South Africa and they’d seen, I think it was the last male northern black rhino. The last of a species which inspired them to come back and do something.
BH: Focuses your mind, doesn't it? The last one.
PR: The last one. It’s just one of those fateful days.
BH: Sometimes it happens. Serendipity.
PR: It's serendipity. So, I just thought well why not it? Rather than it close, I might as well take it on cause the gin’s fabulous.
BH: I was about to say, had you tasted it at that point? Or did you buy it without having tasted it?
I know people with a lot of different skill sets. I should meet people in marketing who do podcasts who can help spread the word about how fantastic the gin is!
BH: I want to talk to you about the brand and I want to talk to you a little bit about the marketing. So, have you actually got some gin to sell?
PR: Yes, Becky we've got gin for sale. urban- rhino.com. Go buy your gin!
BH: Loads of gin? Thousands and thousands of bottles of gin? A small amount of gin?
PR: So, the guys originally made a batch of X-hundred bottles.
PR: We have done a second batch because you've got to be batch numbered, for legal purposes, and we've done a second batch which is 266 bottles.
BH: That's not a lot of bottles of gin.
PR: It’s not a lot. If everybody listening to this buys a case, they’ll be gone in no time and if this podcast goes viral, we're in bother cause we're going to have to make a lot of gin, very quickly. Which we can do! I’ve got a target of how many bottles I want to sell this year.
BH: OK and how many bottles do you want to sell this year?
PR: I want to sell just over 4000.
BH: OK. So, tell me about your plan to sell 4000 bottles? What's the master plan?
PR: Can I ask the marketing guru?
We have put together a strategic plan, targeting four types of human being. Four types of customers. So, we're going to do direct-to-customer, people who buy direct from the website.
We're going to sell direct-to-business. So, we're going D2B, which is sell it to people who sell gin to customers. Pubs, restaurants, golf clubs.
PR: We are going to sell to people who sell gin third party online. For example, sip and share. Gin clubs, and we are then going to sell to wholesalers who sell to businesses, to sell to customers. Four strategic strands to the marketing plan.
BH: And the brand and the story is what it is? Or are you changing things? Are you evolving things? Like, what's coming up?
PR: That's a really good question. When I bought the brand. I mean Urban Rhino is a fantastic name. The guys have done some great work on the brand. We've had a look at it, and we think it can probably be tweaked, don't we? We've had a look at it, we've created the brand persona, and then we think there are some tweaks to the brand.
Maybe [towards a] slightly more feminine look to it. Currently, it’s, you know, if guys go on and have a look at it, you’ll see it’s quite dark and slightly masculine. Angular, would you agree, Becky? I know this is you talking to me, but slightly angular, slightly dark.
PR: So, we've got a team of extremely clever people. Specialists who are pulling together to go “hang on what does perfect look like in this world?”
BH: How does the gin actually help the rhino orphanage or with rhino conservation? What does it do?
PR: OK, so several ways. Firstly awareness, you know. If you've heard of Urban Rhino, you will know our raison d'etre, why we exist. We exist to, as well as being commercial entity, we exist to help drive resource to people and areas supporting rhino conservation and survival.
BH: Are you talking about money?
PR: I'm talking about more than money Becky I'm talking about more than money!
PR: There’s one thing giving money to the rhino orphanage, which is fantastic, and I would urge people, if you can, spare a few shekels. Give some money to the rhino orphanage. But there's a wider issue. Rhino poaching is way more about horrible human beings killing rhinoceroses and chopping their face off and taking the horn away.
This is about empowering the communities to protect their own community and species. So, it's a whole world of education, food programmes, a whole range of things that underpin the ability for the communities themselves not to be dragged into the world of terror, crime, poaching. Because what we're talking about here is massively impoverished communities where the riches of rhino poaching are extremely attractive. So, what we look to do is, you know, save, and protect as a first option. But then educate, promote, help the communities themselves.
BH: I understand – a little bird tells me - you're thinking about doing a crowdfunding campaign at some point?
PR: I am more than thinking about doing a crowd funding campaign. I was going to speak to my excellent marketing team within the next few hours about pulling it forward as fast as we can, cause I think we would be a great example of how you can do a crowdfunding campaign that's got several strands to it, you know, creating a business opportunity for people. But also doing some good somewhere on the planet which is what obviously we're ultimately aiming to do.
BH: What are you're planning to do with the crowdfunding money that you raise?
PR: There will be a large element of the crowdfunding that will be directed to the cause, and I am thinking, at the moment and in discussion, about how that could be very specific. So rather than just going in a pot at the rhino orphanage, it could do something specific.
So, for example, the solar power project was a very specific project at the orphanage that required funds. There's some great work that Waterberg Rhino are doing at the moment with food growing programmes which is really interesting, teaching kids about how to grow food in a school’s project. There are very specific security requirements which are ridiculously expensive.
BH: I bet they are I bet they are. Yeah, so hugely important that the money goes where it's needed.
PR: Absolutely. You know, there's never enough money. But we'll make sure, because we have a hotline to the people who run the most important organisations in this space, rather than just working with any NGO, any charity that just you give them money and then you wait and say thank you and then, you don't know what's happened to it. We are absolutely in communication with the people who can tell us exactly what it's done and show the benefits and share the benefits with all the people who participate in the campaign.
BH: It feels to me, we've not really talked about this much in the podcast so far, but if it feels to me that there's a real kind of sustainability message here. That you are…clearly, you're creating a business that's a force for good, in terms of supporting the rhinos. But are your green credentials, kind of, wider than that? What does that look like?
PR: For everything we will do, we will do our upmost to be as green - for one of a better expression - as possible. The greenest method of presenting alcohol is in a glass bottle. Glass is recyclable. So, you know people have gone down the line of cardboard that doesn't work.
So, we are looking at how we can make our glass bottles lighter, use less glass, look at ways that we can make sure that the stopper is - I never thought I'd be saying any of this ten weeks ago - but the stopper is totally recyclable. If not 100% organic. We're looking at ways - because alcohol bottles have to have to be sealed for various legal reasons - those can be looked at in a more environmentally friendly way. Production methods, transport, we are, even though we're in the early days, we want to work towards being [as] environmentally compliant that we can be.
BH: Obviously you've come to this with a kind of, PR, journalistic background. How is that going to affect what you do next, and I guess what advice would you give to other organisations that are trying to make a positive impact? From a brand, in terms of from a marketing and PR perspective, how can you do that well?
Without giving away too many secrets about what you’re about to do next.
PR: I'm more than happy to share anything that comes out of my head - as we said right at the beginning of this, you haven't prepped me with questions - so I think the greatest thing, we've talked about what's your unique selling point? What’s your story? What is it about you, your brand, that makes you stand out from what everybody else is doing, what you do?
We're very lucky. I wouldn't be doing this if it was just a gin. If this was - I'm going to pick up the closest thing to me - Spectacles gin. If this was Spectacles gin that's a great taste and it's made from flowers from somewhere, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but I wouldn't do this I'm only doing this-
BH: I’m not sure I’d buy the Spectacles gin. Made with flowers from somewhere.
PR: See I’m not great at telling a story! I can’t make up a story! What I can do is articulate something from the heart. Something that I'm passionate about. Something I believe in passionately, which is which is the rhino conservation project.
I'm really excited about creating a brand that makes a difference, you know? As there’s a worthwhile benefit, as well I wanted to be successful commercially, because the more successfully commercially it is, the more we can make a difference to the projects that are closest to our heart. I would say keep it simple. What is your USP?
I wanted to talk a golf conference in Cyprus. As you know we were specialists in the golf industry and there are 36,000 golf courses in the world. Of which about half in America, and the guy was building a new golf course then he asked this panel I was on, “how would you advise I sell my golf course?”
PR: I’m like “OK what's different about it?”, “Well it's got eighteen holes and it's made of this grass and it's this such and such. It’s designed by someone who’s designed 40 other golf courses.”
I'm like “yeah but what's different? What makes you special? What stands you apart from all the other golf courses?” and he couldn't answer, and I'm like well good luck with that then. Cause there's 36,000 to compete with. I just think it's about being unique and being yourself.
BH: Looking ahead, what's your vision for the White Rhino Gin Company as a brand, and kind of involved in rhino conservation? What does long term look like?
PR: Long-term looks like “be available in every country where they drink gin”, starting with South Africa, or anywhere that you go on safari. If you go on safari, and anybody who’s listening who's been on safari, one of the highlights of safari, is the sundowner, where the vehicle stops and [you] get out an alcoholic beverage which is - most of the time - a gin and tonic and I think that should be a conservation gin and tonic.
Be that in India, or South Africa, or Kenya, or Uganda, or wherever you might be. Anybody who's ever been on safari should buy a bottle of Urban Rhino Gin. Anybody who’s into rhino conservation should buy a bottle of Urban Rhino Gin and what's the vision? Five years’ time, be able to say we've given a million euros to rhino conservation.
BH: Wow. This is a big question now; do you think we can save the rhino?
PR: Yes, I do. We can save and protect them in their environment at the moment, and we can work on – I said this at an international conference - there are a lot of people with much bigger brains than me, working on international relations, international solutions, to try and stop the market developing.
So, what you need to do is stop the market for rhino horn, and that's a generational education project in the Far East. If we can get that right, and I can't do that. All I can do is help ring fence the Waterberg rhinos, while people on a global economic political level, sort out the nonsense and the cultural misunderstanding of what rhino horn can do. I'll go back to the conversation at the Five Bells in Wickham, at Table 8, I realised, really quickly, that actually, I think if there's an opportunity, there’s something I'd really, really like to give it a go. Because what have I got to lose? Being presented with this opportunity having co-founded the rhino orphanage, which I am immensely proud, not that I did much apart from raise money, there's a lot of very special people. There are a lot of amazing things over the last 10,11 years there. But if I’d have not said “I'll give it a go and try and do my bit with what I know about how to talk about a story, to tell a story that links to making real difference”, and making some great gin, and I'm guessing that we’ll have some fun along the way as well. I intend for us all to have fun doing this while working hard and helping to service species in a nutshell. That is it.
BH: That’s amazing. Sounds absolutely amazing. Create a global gin brand, save the rhino, and that, I think, is a perfect place to stop.
Thank you so much, Pete, for coming on the show. It's been my absolute pleasure to have you here today and would love to get you back sometime tell us how it's going a year or so down the line.
PR: Thank you for the platform, Becky. It’s fabulous to be able to talk about it.
BH: I'm Becky Holland. Thank you everybody for listening to the show. I will see you again soon. Take care. Bye!