This is the fifth and final instalment of my quest to start a gin brand on a shoe-string budget. And it is also the most exciting as after 9 months of work we have finally launched! You can buy your very own bottle of Pipehouse Earl Grey & Cucmber Gin on Amazon (and if you do and like it, please leave us a 5-star review!).

You can find all the other episodes here and follow along in real-time the whole process, from idea to launch. 

At the end of episode 4 which came out at the beginning of May, we were very close to launch. The recipe was ready, the labels were designed, all legals were in-place, we had sorted our packaging, we registered for some markets and we had been accepted to sell alcohol online on Amazon. All that was left was waiting for the labels to finish printing. Then we could launch!

As you can imagine there was a lot to cover in this post so if there is anything you want more details on then please ask in the comments.

Making Our Gin

We made our first batch of gin in early May, but it took another couple of weeks before the labels were finished. If you have been reading along you will know that getting good quality labels in small batches takes a lot of time and a lot of research. But eventually, on 24 May 2018 our labels arrived and we were finally able to bottle our gin.

Here is a photo from while I was doing the quality control. Checking each duty sticker and label to make sure they had been applied correctly. That was an exciting day! There is something really cool about being able to hold in your hands something that you have worked so hard on.

By the end of the day, our first 250 bottles were ready to be sold. Just in time as we had a lot lined up for June.

Our plan was to focus on our local area, Tunbridge Wells, to begin with. We wanted to try and be everywhere we could so that everyone who lives in Tunbridge Wells would hear about us. We wanted to build a buzz of excitement about Tunbridge Well’s new gin. We lined up three weekends of markets and organised a launch party, and started promoting through the local press and on social media.

Publicity

I have never written a press release or spoken to a newspaper editor before so had no idea how to go about it. So we asked for help.

A few months earlier we had signed up for a group called Tunbridge Wells Together which is a part-council part-business funded not-for-profit which aims to help businesses. They were able to set us up with an introduction or a contact at all of the local papers. We then just badgered those contacts until they started writing about us. Here is a spread from the Times Of Tunbridge Wells:

If you plan to launch your own gin, I really recommend approaching local press and bloggers. I was amazed how many were genuinely interested in our gin and our story.

Our original aim had been to try and get people to buy the gin online. But because we were so delayed by the labels we didn’t have any ready. So instead we used it to promote our launch party and the markets we were planning to be at.

Social Media

Slightly more familiar territory was social media. We tried Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. But real success was Instagram:

I don’t know why, but Instagram seems to work really well for localised businesses. We don’t have that many followers, but I think they are almost all from Tunbridge wells and active. We were contacted by 10-15 different bars asking to stock us. Which I didn’t expect at all!

We didn’t do anything special with Instagram. Just made sure to take good pictures and ask other people to post about us.

Website

We have been working on and off on it for a few months but were holding off launching until we had something to sell. It went live at the end of May. Here is a screenshot of what the front page looks like, click on it to go to the website:

I am very pleased with how it has come out. We made it on WordPress using the Divi Theme and hosted on WP Engine. The same setup I use for this blog, and you can see that it looks a million times better.

The website doesn’t have too much of a purpose yet.  But I do not expect many people to find it by accident. Everyone who is arriving at the site is going because they have heard of the brand. Therefore it we wanted it to look professional and artisan. To reinforce what they already believe.

In the future, we will start adding more content with the aim to start ranking for different gin related search terms on Google.

Launch Party

We held a launch party on 7 June.

The original plan was to try and get people at the launch party to go and buy our gin on Amazon and leave a review but unfortunately we didn’t have enough stock at Amazon. So instead we went for pure publicity. Getting our faces and brand out there.

We held the launch party at a very prominent location in Tunbridge Wells with lots of passing foot traffic. It was purposely quite a small venue so that we had to flow out onto the street, and the four of us all wore our branded aprons so everyone would know we were the founders. We also made the hard decision not to invite all our friends. We wanted to be in ‘meeting new people’ mode and not ‘celebrating with friends’ mode.

We then floated around, giving out samples and talking to people. Getting an idea of what people thought of the gin and just generally telling as many people as possible our story.

Here are a couple of photos from the day:

The party was really popular, but one downside was that we had no way of getting any sales from the people who came. We gave the bar our gin for free, and they made money from selling our cocktails at a discount. I think if I did it again I’d try and find a way to cover the cost of the night. It ended up being quite expensive because of all the free gin we gave away.

Here are the cocktails we designed for the launch party:

We did manage to collect some emails and get people to come and see us at the market the following weekend, which quite a few did.

Markets & Our First Sale!

June started with a bang as we scheduled in our first market on Saturday 2nd June.

Deciding to do markets was a bit of risk. They can get pretty expensive. You need to staff it, pay for the stand, decorations and samples, pay for the pitch and pay for a temporary alcohol license. This is hopefully offset by the higher margin you make from selling directly the customer without having to pay the distributors cut or the shipping costs. But you need to sell enough bottles for it to be worthwhile.

But there was also a second, harder to quantify benefit. Like the launch party, the market also allowed us to get our brand out there. The better well known Pipehouse Gin is in Tunbridge Wells, the more bars will want to stock us.

We did three different markets in June, and they all did really well. Two were standard farmers markets where we just sold bottles. And one was a gin & jazz festival where we sold both bottles and gin & tonics. In total we sold 266 bottles of gin over the five days we were running a market stall. We were meant to do a sixth day but sold out and had to cancel.

The Gin & Jazz Festival was particularly interesting because we were up against 20 other gin producers. People would have a sample at each stand and then come back to buy from their favourite. I think we did really well partly because we were the most local gin, and partly because we were the most unique gin. There is no other Earl Grey & Cucumber Gin on the market and it would definitely have stood out the most when tasting.

But I also think that we have made a really exceptional gin. It is delicious.

Award Winning Gin

In fact we think so much of it that we entered Pipehouse Gin for one of the most-prestigious gin prizes. The Gin Guide’s yearly awards. We managed to get a bottle to them just before applications closed and entered the flavoured gin category.

Well we didn’t win. But we did receive a special mention and were a finalist. Meaning that we are in the top 5 flavoured gins in the world! (well of all those that applied). A pretty fantastic achievement for our first gin.

So How Did The Launch Month Go?

The first month was great, but for none of the reasons I expected. I thought that we would sell really well online and there would be tepid interest locally.

What actually happened was that we sold so well locally and had such interest that we didn’t really have any time or stock to get going online.

In batch 1 & 2 we had 500 bottles in total and knew we wouldn’t have batch 3 ready until closer to the end of the month. Here is roughly where those 500 bottles went.We knew we were going to sell out after week two and so were unable to really push trade or online sales. We even had to turn down quite a few orders. The first half of the month was so good that we sold out and lost momentum for the second half. Momentum we are now going to have to regenerate.

But that’s a really good problem to have.

We are now finally back stocked everywhere and ready to take orders from wherever they may come. Which is partly why I have delayed writing this post! I didn’t want to write it when there was no way for you to buy and try the gin.

The Plan Now

We have finally got our stock levels sorted and are ready to start another marketing push. We need to counteract our stalled momentum and keep growing. There is a lot to do.

Short Term:

  1. Start meeting and selling to bars and smaller shops. So far we are in a few shops, but all of them are from people contacting us. We have initiated no sales ourselves, that needs to change.
  2. Find a distributor to help us push out to a lot more places nationwide. There is only so many trade orders we can manage.
  3. Get some online sales and start working our way up the bestseller lists. My plan has always been to conquer the online market and that hasn’t changed.
  4. Do some more markets.

Long Term:

  1. Look at international sales. What are the laws and difficulties in shipping alcohol abroad? Our warehouse can ship abroad, but I don’t want it to until I am 100% sure we aren’t breaking any laws.
  2. Look at international distribution. See if there are people we could sell to in bulk who could roll out our gin in another country.
  3. Get our bonded goods license. This will mean we don’t have to pay alcohol duty when we make the gin, but only once we sell it. At £10 a bottle that would save us a lot of money.

It always surprises me how much work goes into starting and running a business. And I have been doubly surprised by this business. I have so far been used to working in quite small niches where there is only a select few who want the product. Like my table tennis businesses which is only of interest to table tennis players. Or my coffee shop which is only of interest to people in the area. You have to work quite hard to find those interested customers.

Gin is different. Almost everyone is a potential customer! There are thousands of bars in the UK and millions of gin drinkers. The potential scale is quite staggering and I have a million and one ideas I want to try out. Wish me luck with my future gin adventures. And thanks for reading! If you started in September then thank you for your support and kind words along the way.

If you want to support us please consider buying a bottle on Amazon and if you like it leave us a good review.