Millions of people all over the country annually part with their hard-earned money to celebrate the Christmas holidays. With the inevitable consumer surge in spending at this time of year comes the opportunity for small businesses to plan ahead months in advance. Darren Rook, Founder of The London Distillery Company, shares his experiences crafting fine London gin and gives his advice on preparing for the festive period.
The run up to Christmas is a great time for the gin trade. Its reputation as mother’s ruin dissolves as the most creative bartenders and mixologists add delicious new flavours to capture festive spirits.Satsuma and cranberry infused gin make the basis for great December cocktails.
This means the gin makers are busy fulfilling orders and need to be ready months in advance to capture the lion’s share of the Christmas market. This is the story of how The London Distillery Company (TLDC), which was established in 2010, plans and delivers high volumes during their peak season.
Darren and his business partner Nick Taylor began with the ambition of producing genuine British gin of the highest quality. The rise to success was a tough one. Darren’s ambition was realised when Fortnum & Mason’s stocked The London Distillery Company’s very own Dodd’s Gin. It was created using an innovative production technique involving both traditional pot and vacuum distilling. It immediately became the best selling spirit in store. Based on that, Fortnum & Mason’s asked The London Distillery Company to start producing its own-brand gin which was faltering in sales. But fast-paced success does have a downside. TLDC needed to work extra hard to stay on top of its planning and preparation, especially for the particularly boozy Christmas period.
Christmas falls in September if you’re delivering stock
As Darren and Nick have experienced, it’s extremely difficult to take a product from concept to supermarket shelf. They quickly learned that it was not the highest quality juniper berries or the best recipe that kept their business ticking over. Keeping an eye on finances was the lynchpin of success, as it is in any business. Successful entrepreneurialism means planning ahead, and letting your passion drive you forward.
“The problem with running a distillery is managing stockist expectations. Xero’s simple interface and range of useful tools helped us plan for all the extra costs at Christmas including extra bottles, storage space and base ingredients. Fortnum & Mason’s, for example, want their Christmas stock delivered in September. We have to work months ahead of Christmas to be ready for the trade orders. We use the financial control system on Xero because it’s perfect for collecting, storing, analysing and monitoring stock figures.”
“Making time for the family is my no.1 priority. My wife actually works in the sales team at TLDC so it’s even more in my interests to have everything wrapped up by Christmas. It’s strictly phones down on Christmas and Boxing Day. The kids, 4 and 2, are old enough to get super excited about the occasion now, so I will be all theirs on the 25th.”
Darren Rook explains what helped him keep his cool and how Xero helped
“Initially, TLDC was limited to an accountant using desk based software. After some trial and error on different software platforms we settled on Xero. It keeps our cash flow in check so we can plan for downtime and slow sales periods. Ironically, by December most of the work is done, which means more time to relax with family.
“Most of our stock is sent out in the months leading up to December. Looking back at figures from previous years on the Xero software has helped us plan for these busy times. It also keeps us updated with popular products and sizes.
“Excitement for the product and initial success mustn’t go to your head. You have to balance the excitement with cool, hard headed practicality to keep your business in order. As a start-up, the main challenge we have faced was all the incomings and outgoings in the run up to Christmas as we raced to meet our targets. We needed a robust inventory system to help us to keep an eye on stock and invoices and manage our cash flow.
“Xero helps keep our shareholders in a festive spirit. They have unlimited access to our status and reports, which can be tracked on the go. Time is precious for everyone so anything we can do to make the company more visible and accessible is much appreciated.
“It’s also really important to keep up with the niche community of spirits producers and stockists. This means we’re often out and about. The team and I are often at trade shows like Tales of the Cocktail, 50 Best Bars in the World or Imbibe Live, not just for the jolly, but also to stay ahead of trends in the spirit business.
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