Wendell West: supplying the party spirit

Wendell West built his business by supplying spirits to the party faithful. Laura Dowrich-Phillips talks to the Trinidadian entrepreneur

BARS` owner Wendell West poses behind the symbol of his profession. Photograph courtesy W Garth Murrell

BARS International started out as a weekend hustle, an exciting break from Wendell West’s eight-to-four daily routine. Today, it is an established business with an office staff of 12, contracted staff of 300, and a growing clientele that includes Trinidad and Tobago’s leading Carnival bands.

The company is now spreading its wings internationally, with an office in Barbados to service St Vincent, Grenada, Antigua and St Lucia, and representatives in Miami and London to service the United States and United Kingdom markets respectively.

BARS’ core business is supplying bar services for events. “But we will do anything clients ask, including co-ordinating the event, supplying music, decor,” explained West, who started the business at his St James home in 1997, stocking non-alcoholic drinks and cups there, while taking liquor on consignment from a shop.

Though he never thought he would one day run his own business, it seems West was destined for this career path.

After graduating from the University of the West Indies, he landed an accounts job at the National Brewery Company, the brewers of Stag. On weekends he worked at the bar, following the advice of his colleague, Brenda de La Rosa, who told him to learn all aspects of the business if he wanted to truly understand it. Carib eventually bought out the company, and after working for two years in sales, West left to join De La Rosa at Angostura, where she was in charge of special events and needed someone to run the warehouse. She taught him everything he knows, he said.

When the long hours took a toll on his personal life, West tried to escape the world of spirits by working as a warehouse manager at a leading pharmaceuticals company. But a request by a party promoter to provide bar services for his event lured him back.

After three years of running BARS part time, West moved the business from his home into a warehouse in El Socorro, east of Port of Spain, where it is still based.

BARS is a small player in the market dominated by West’s former employers, Carib (part of the Ansa McAl conglomerate) and Angostura (subsidiary of the CL Financial conglomerate), but this does not deter the 41-year-old.

His secret weapon is personalised service. “I always handle clients personally. I have built this company on personalised service and high standards.”

Eighty per cent of BARS’ clientele is corporate. The others are organisations such as Tribe and Island People, two of the country’s biggest all-inclusive Carnival bands.

BARS is the only service company to provide bar services on the road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, which is no easy task, considering that each large band has, on average, 3000 masqueraders. BARS, said West, consistently does 600 events a year.

One of West’s biggest supporters is his father, an Anglican priest. He takes his son’s career in good stride, said West. “He says he deals with one spirit, I deal with another.”

While BARS is his flagship company, West finds time to engage in other businesses. He is a party promoter and owns two entertainment companies, Tiny Mite Entertainment and Caribbean Sizzle Inc. He also runs Sonell, a properties company, with his aunt, Allison, who is also a director at BARS, and co-owns WB Distribution Ltd, with two of his brothers who live in London. The company specialises in the distribution of Caribbean alcohol. BARS International has also partnered with Beewil Construction to form a holdings company called Fagamé Holdings.

For more information: www.barsintl.com