IN this week’s SME Focus we hear from a man who has used lessons learned in corporate life to help him develop a successful niche spirits business.
What is your business called?
Where is it based?
What does it produce?
Premium small batch gin.
Whom does it sell to?
UK and Ireland retail and on-trade, with organic growth in international markets, including Belgium and New Zealand.
What is its turnover?
We’re on the cottage industry side of £1 million, with big plans for the coming year.
How many employees?
A core team of six, with additional part-time support for events and trade shows.
When was it formed?
Launched December 2014.
Why did you take the plunge?
I was seventeen when I decided that I one day wanted to have my own drinks company and have really been working towards that ever since.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work across the world learning about the very best distillation process for gin, rum, whisky, brandies and Asian spirits. My eureka moment came five years ago, when I realised there wasn’t a London Dry Gin in the marketplace that I felt was well-balanced and sufficiently complex enough to be enjoyed neat over ice. I saw the opportunity to create a gin that could be savoured like fine single malt, while still make a killer G&T, and got to work.
It took me four years to create the right botanical recipe for Daffy’s and get the branding just right true to our original vision.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
Having originally started my career as a wine-maker in France, I made the move to Scotland after meeting my future wife, Mignonne. I trained as a distiller and qualified as a Chartered Accountant.
I always knew that I’d need the business acumen to run a company well and my time working as a CA with the likes of HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group gave me a solid grounding. In 2008 I joined Diageo and my last role there was managing its Global Manufacturing Excellence programme, where I worked closely with its 96 manufacturing sites across the world. Diageo is an incredibly well run company with a very stimulating work culture, I learned a huge amount and it really reaffirmed my long term ambition.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
A lot of saving and hard work. Launching Daffy’s was a dream for many years and both myself and Mignonne managed to build our personal savings to initially fund the company. It’s been growing organically ever since.
What was your biggest break?
I come from Northern Ireland and my first break was as a teenager when I ambitiously (or naively), wrote to over 200 French vineyards asking for a job as an apprentice winemaker. With zero experience, you can imagine the response. But my luck turned a corner when Peter Sichel, owner of Chateau Palmer in Bordeaux and a hugely respected wine producer, said ‘perhaps’. I started out painting stairs, then was gradually entrusted to work with the vines, do lab work and learn about producing, blending and tasting fine wine.
For Daffy’s it was tracking down one of my all-time favourite artists, New York based Robert McGinnis, and convincing him create the artwork for Daffy’s bottle. Now in his nineties, Robert is famed for his iconic movie posters such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and classic James Bond. He loved he story behind Daffy’s and even used Mignonne as his muse for the final design. He’s really proud of what we’ve created.
What was your worst moment?
We once came incredibly close to leaving an important customer short of stock. Thankfully we managed to pull out of the bag at the last minute, but it was an important lesson. As a small independent business, there is a careful balancing act between stock holding and demand forecasting. There’s no sense having money tied up sitting in a warehouse, but equally as new markets open up, we need to be in a position to quickly react and take advantage.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Getting to work with Team Daffy’s. The people I work with on a daily basis could not be more fun and talented.
What do you least enjoy?
The endless to-do lists and of course the necessary admin. I’m fortunate to have been able to turn my hobby into a full time job, so I can’t complain too much.
Being a small organically growing company gives you an incredible level of freedom and flexibility which is a privilege. The downside is you don’t always have the time or resource to follow up on all the potential good opportunities.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
To continue to grow Daffy’s distribution in the UK and international markets, while never compromising on the quality of our botanical ingredients and long distillation process. We’ve had a lot of overseas interest that we are yet to capitalise on, particularly in North America and Asia.
It won’t be long before the UK’s gin bubble deflates a bit, but I’m not overly concerned. The leave-behind is a more educated customer who will continue to seek out premium quality craft products like Daffy’s. This dip will also be countered by its rising popularity in Western Europe and other markets.
What are your top priorities?
Continue to stabilise the core of the firm and closely manage cash flow.
Support and grow our existing team and build relationships with like-minded partners.
Supply the demand in new overseas markets.
Maintain exceptional customer and consumer service.
Preserve the quality of our product and diversify the product range interest through the likes of our first limited edition launch happening this summer.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
The EU Brexit referendum is of course a big question mark facing the industry. European free trade certainly simplifies the process, keeps the paperwork straightforward for us. The less red tape the better for all, but the case for stronger democracy for economic growth is a strong one. We’re all watching this space.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
Don’t sweat the competition. Do everything as well as you possibly can and learn from others, but do what you do your own way.
If you make something you truly love, people will feed off that energy and appreciate it. Being named as the Best London Dry Gin in the World by the prestigious 2015 International Wine & Spirit Competition, six months after we launched is a testament to that approach.
Empower a capable team. Surround yourself with people who are great at what they do and give them the authority and trust to do a great job. Loosening the reigns with a talented and energetic team brings surprisingly great results.
How do you relax?
Hanging out with Mignonne and our boys. Whether its surfing, camping, hiking, being to enjoy the great outdoors and quality time together is a complete privilege. We also get to travel a lot, heading to places like Morocco and Lebanon to source new botanicals for the gin. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to combine fun with work.