In this chapter of Start-Up Stories we spoke to Charlie Gibbs, the founder of Steampunk Spirits. He gives a key insight into establishing brand, entrepreneurship and start-up life…
What is Steampunk Spirits?
Steampunk Spirits is a wholly independent artisan spirits producer based in Gateshead, in the beautiful North East of England. We like to think of ourselves as a little different: we are “Northern, Natural and Naughty”.
The spirits market is in huge growth at the minute, how do you guys stand out from other all brands enticing consumers?
The spirits market is awash with, in particular, gin brands at the moment. Many of these are geographically promoted, which may or may not limit their appeal. Our aim is to produce top quality liquids, packaged imaginatively with a left-field vibe. We specifically worked with the giant retailer B&M to bring out a range of gins under the name “Steampunk Explorer”. We produced these all at 37.5% alcohol to minimise the duty element of the price the consumer pays, coupled with carefully selected packaging enhanced with labels with loads of ’shelf appeal’. These drinks all appeared on the shelf at under £15 per bottle.
“We were looking to entice people to try flavoured gins by giving them a price which wouldn’t break the bank.”
After all, it’s a bit of a punt to spend £30-£40 on a bottle of gin you’ve never tasted before!
How long is the process from concept to execution when creating a new flavour? What does it entail?
We have partnered with some wonderful professionals in terms of lab wizards, packaging experts, graphic designers and manufacturing experts which allows us to conceive the idea for the flavour first (always!). We have the lab produce some samples, then its back-and-forth until what I taste is what I imagined in the first place. Then we brainstorm the ‘look’ of the product; what shape will the bottle be? Printed bottles or paper labels etc? Once these are down we work with the graphic designer to tease out the ideas of the look and get them into something brilliant for the label. Once all the pieces are finalised, we work with the factory to secure a filling slot and begin the process of getting it out to our customers. This can take from as little as eight weeks, to six months to achieve.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I sometimes wish there was a typical day!! Yesterday for example, I was working with our designer on the next generation of Voodoo Spice labels, liaising with the Bond Manager over stock movements and speaking with our partners in Slovenia about our next big delivery to them next week. I always find time to take our dog out for at least a three mile walk. This is my internal office time where I can think without interruption.
Did you always want to start your own business? Was it what you expected?
My grandfather was an entrepreneur owning, amongst other things, a haulage business, a hotel and a petrol station. The gene must’ve skipped a generation because my Dad spent 50 years with one firm! I’ve nearly always had a ’side hustle’ but three years ago I quit my job as a HR Director with a well known German conglomerate to concentrate on what was then just a gin business.
“I can honestly say, I have never been happier and don’t miss the corporate world for one second!”
If you could give one piece of advice to fellow entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Keep at it. Your first, second, third, up to any number you like of attempts at a business may not work. Sometimes you don’t have all the information you need when you decide to start and external forces cause you to fail; that’s not because you had a bad idea or because you are no good. Keep plugging away! I’ve always held the opinion that I’d rather live with the feeling that I’d tried and not succeeded than living with the gnawing feeling of “What if?”
Describe Steampunk spirits in 3 words…
I could repeat “Northern, Natural & Naughty”, but maybe I will go for Quirky, Quality, Bodacious.
Where can people find your awesome spirits?
The Explorer range can be found in B&M stores throughout the UK, 29 stores of Morrisons in the North East, Fenwick of Newcastle, Masters of Malt and Speciality Drinks online, our own website and many independent retailers throughout the UK.
What does the future hold for Steampunk Spirits?
We’ve recently signed a distribution agreement for Bosnia and Slovenia and we are told that our products will be seen in over 600 super and hypermarkets throughout these two countries. We also export to Japan, Australia and Denmark, so I would love to see our exports in more territories going forward.