In good spirits.
5 March 2021
When Olly Walker was made redundant during the first lockdown he and his partner, Naomi Flaherty decided to launch a Crowdfunder with the aim of raising £10,000 that would allow them to start their own rum brand.
After smashing their target within the first week they launched The Public Spirit, a purpose-led drinks startup with local community spirit at its heart.
During the first lockdown I was placed on furlough and then made redundant. Naomi and I had mused before about setting up a spirits business but it never really went anywhere, when you’re both working full time it’s hard to find time for other things but when that happened to me we decided to do something.
Lockdown gives you the time to step back and think about what’s important and we came back with two themes; that we missed spending time with people, friends and family and the other theme was the importance of helping other people out. At the start of the pandemic we saw how the community pulled together; whether getting an elderly person’s shopping for them or volunteering at a food bank, the community aspect really did come through, especially at the start. We wanted to combine those two things somehow and when we had the idea of ‘public spirit’ we just thought that’s the perfect name for it.
We launched our Crowdfunder in October 2020 and hoped to launch by December but there were so many issues, everything that could go against us, did. Our Crowdfunder was reward based so essentially people pay it forward with pre-orders on bottles and we threw in other bits like tote bags. We were hoping the raise £10,000 (they went on to raise £15,053). They say that the most important time in a crowdfunder is the first few days, that’s when the majority of your funding is going to come, then there’s a bit of a lull in the middle and then it finishes with a bit of a flurry. We hit our target within four or five days.
We decided to launch with rum first and we donate a quarter of our profits to great causes, starting with those in Manchester. The number of people using food banks has gone up by a crazy amount over the past year. We want to support causes like that and we’ll be making our first donation this week to Manchester Central Foodbank.
Most brands use a dirt cheap, base rum and then flood it with sugar and spices, which ultimately taste nice but they’re not a quality liquid and we wanted ours to be different, really good quality. We’ve blended English and Spanish style rums because English is a heavier, bolder flavour and Spanish is slightly lighter and blending them isn’t a very common thing to do.
We received a whole selection of blends that arrived at 65% proof, to get them to the typical 40% - 45% you basically just add water. Naomi and I had one evening when we tried about eight blends and by the end of it we were on the floor! That part was really good fun.
As with the process of creating the branding or getting the blend right, there have been times where it was drifting one way, the easier way to go but that’s not we want to do so we pulled it back and we’re really glad we did that, we stuck to our guns. My background isn’t in sales but the quality of our product speaks for itself and that’s going to make our lives a lot easier in the long run, it’s a product that we truly believe in.
So far it’s going well, we had our issues before Christmas which were difficult but we had a big backlog of about 300 orders to send out so when the bottles finally came through at the beginning of February it was absolute chaos! Now we’re focused on getting into shops and then bars when they reopen. There’s a shop in Altrincham that’s stocking us and we had a big order the other day from a shop in Glasgow which was great, we’re starting to get a bit more reach. We’re also focusing on selling through our own website and hopefully we’ll be on Amazon in a week or so.
The spirits market is getting a bit saturated, with gin it seemed to really blow up; how many gin brands are there now? It’s crazy. Now people are seeing that opportunity with rum and more brands are popping up every week. We don’t just want to be a rum brand though, we have big ambitions, we want to expand into other spirits. We’d love a proper place to be able to do that from in a few years too, hopefully in Ancoats. As we experienced with the first lockdown, Ancoats really embodies the community spirit aspect of the brand.
Interview and photography by Christian at Blossom.
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