Didsbury Gin - Liam Manton and Mark Smallwood - Bee More Manchester - 009
Better late than never as I think I interviewed these guys when it didn’t go dark at 16.00. I promise I will get quicker at turning these around as I genuinely have some belters lined up that I can’t wait to share.
I still can’t believe that these two guys managed to secure a deal with Harvey Nichols with no product, no manufacturing capability, but with just a brand name, a concept and a passion.
They say never go into business with your friends, but I genuinely think Liam and Mark prove that that’s not always the case. With Amy absolutely crushing the marketing side of the business, I can’t wait to see how far they can take this gin.
For those that aren’t familiar with the series, I’ve decided to do a take on ‘Humans of New York’ but for people who call Manchester home.
Bee more MCR will try and tell the story of this incredible city and all the people of Manchester, #peopleofmcr, who contribute to it being the fastest growing city in Europe.
So how does this work? I will get each person to tell me their story in their own words of how they got to where they are today. I will share that story along with some photos for context.
Each person featured will then be asked the same question – Why Manchester?
Liam is about as Manc as it gets. His last name may as well be Gallagher. Growing up in one of the roughest areas outside of town, he is yet again proof that with hard work, anything is possible. He’s always worked in and around the city, involved in all sorts of projects including helping to get people to contribute to the DIY SOS Veteran’s Village project.
Mark, originally from Middlesbrough, studied in Manchester and qualified in hospitality, staying in the city to work through the ranks in bars and restaurants. He eventually became the manager of a bar in Didsbury, where he eventually bumped into Liam.
Both Man United fans, which we will leave there, they ended up going to games together and spending a lot of time in Mark’s bar talking about gin. Especially as Liam wouldn’t leave Mark alone, even using the bar as a remote working space at the time. I’m not sure if Liam would recommend that to others from a productivity point of view, but amazingly this is where the concept was born.
Liam has always been a big fan of gin, so it’s not surprising that the idea for the business was born out of a gin ‘session’.
Mark admits in the beginning he pretty much humoured Liam with the idea and plans, but knew that as with everything, Liam was full on about the idea and was soon making a batch of gin as an experiment.
Amazingly, their gin ended up coming out better than they had hoped and after a blind tasting session at Marks’ bar, their gin was beating great brands in both gin and tonic and gin cocktails across the board.
Fired up by the feedback, they somehow blagged a meeting with Harvey Nichols. Mainly because each time they rang a high-end retailer, they mentioned that they had a meeting with another high-end retailer already. At the time, they had zero meetings in the diary.
They turned up to the Harvey Nichols meeting with half a bottle of what gin they had left and no business plan.
Unbelievably they landed an exclusive 3 month deal and then worked their arses off on a business plan, branding and getting a start up loan to secure production and get the orders fulfilled.
This was followed by an order from Selfridges and an article in Vogue!
They were both working full time while getting Didsbury Gin off the ground, so when they were approached by Dragon’s Den to go on the program, at first they refused. Fate then stepped in when they were both suddenly made redundant at the same time!
So they decided to go on Dragon’s Den, landing two offers. They of course chose the northerner Jenny Campbell, feeling drawn to her sensible no nonsense approach.
They are both keen to praise the experience, saying the backing of the Dragon has filled in the gaps in their skill sets and ensured they take sensible strategic business decisions, to grow at speed without falling flat as so many start up’s do.
They’ve gone from £40k turnover to £1.5m in a year, selling 15,000 cases from January to July this year alone. I can honestly say this is just the start. The gin market has taken off over the last few years but that hasn’t even started to break into the export market especially to places like Asia, which tends to be a decade behind the West when it comes to alcohol.
The passion that these guys have is insane. Not only for the business, but for life in general. The passion to do their own thing and make their own path. I can’t wait to see where this little bottle of gin will take them.
When asked Why Manchester?
Mark is first to say he came to University here 22 years ago and has “never found a reason to leave. It’s got everything except a decent chippy.” Liam is quick to point out that that’s absolute nonsense.
They both agree this is a brilliant city. Its transformation is phenomenal. “Great vibe, great transport, brilliant bars, restaurants and music.” They believe food and drink in Manchester is now leading the way nationally in the way music and football always has.
They are really proud of local transformation with small businesses like breweries and distilleries pushing each other to be the best. They talk about the willingness to collaborate and help each other out, like bars helping small independent food outlets to open pop ups.
They spoke of their own collaborations as being amazing. A well respected chef like Simon Wood collaborating with them to create the Didsbury Gin Tutti Fruiti dessert. The willingness to help is impressive too like 7 Brothers Brewery giving them loads of help and advice when they first set up, including lending them warehouse space on a friendship basis. They had been helped themselves in the past and wanted to pass it on.
They love the way people get behind their product and really believe it’s because of their local story, local friendship and the local product resonates with people as well as their gin being up there with the best.
Make sure you check out Didsbury Gin and follow them on social media @Didsbury_gin