10 years of bbb drinks

Last year was the 10 year anniversary of bbb drinks. It’s a milestone that I’m hugely proud of. To mark the occasion, I have decided to share my story and what I have learnt in 10 years as a start-up business owner and spirits distributor. 

The start

Taking the plunge into business 10 years ago was probably more mad than brave. Very little money in the bank, not much of a business plan and no experience of running my own business. But I saw an opportunity to provide ‘new to market’ brands with support, over and above what wholesalers provided and went for it. 

It all started with a lucky break landing a consultancy job with SABMiller launching St Stefanus beer, then forging a partnership with my long-time business partner Don. Trading off our industry knowledge and contacts, we scrapped, scraped and fought for the first few years and almost went under a good few times. But, we had a burning passion to keep going against the odds and a bloody-minded belief in the business which was essential to get us through the tough early years. Afterall, if you don’t believe in yourself and the product that you’re selling, then who else will?  

We started as what you’d best describe as a sales agency, specialising in the beer side of the drinks industry. Our timing was at the beginning of the “craft beer wave” and we had some early successes working with Fullers’ Frontier lager and prestigious Belgian breweries. 

But we quickly realised that working with beer alone would not get enough margin to build a business, so we diversified and became a spirits distributor. Also, moving into importing and distributing ourselves gave us more control over other vital aspects of growing a brand, such as pricing.

Growing the team

At this point, the time was right to bring more skills into the core team with a Sales Director (Lee) who had a wealth of spirits knowledge and a Marketing Director with campaign management skills. It was a big risk, but turned out to be the best thing we have ever done. 

Having a rounded, experienced team who can shape where you want to go as a company is so important. I’ve always been a great believer that while you might have the vision as a business person, you need to have people who have the skills and belief to execute that plan.  

Broadening the offer

Since we got the right team in place and started importing and distributing ourselves, we have seen consistent growth. It’s not been without sleepless nights and further stresses that come with a fast growing business, but looking back over the past few years it’s been amazing to see how far we have come.

We can now deliver fully holistic services to our spirits brand partners from around the world. It’s not just about logistics and sales, it’s about planning and delivering marketing activations, events, social media, Amazon, commissioning and managing PR. 

Setting up bbb drinks in France as well as the UK has given us the flexibility in a post Brexit world, to fulfil e-commerce for our brands in mainland Europe. I think that this part of the business will see some significant expansion over the next few years and it’s exciting to see us going international! 

The Brands

All of this progression would be nothing without the people that have put their trust in us and let us grow their brands in the UK. Looking back over the past 10 years, we’ve launched around 70 brands – most of which are spirits. I’m grateful to all of them for showing faith in us at some point along our journey.

In the early days we worked with SABMiller Brands to launch St Stefanus and I’m still in contact with some of the people I worked with. Launching Frontier Lager was another big step for us and again it’s been a pleasure working on other projects with the likes of Simon Treanor since then.  

Another, more recent, highlight for me was discovering Manly Spirits when I was on a trip to Sydney to see family. I’ll never forget that distillery trip, meeting the founders, David and Vanessa and the tentative offer by David that bbb could launch and represent Manly Spirits in the UK. 

That was four years ago and now we’ve just launched their whisky, Coastal Stone. It’s been a fantastic journey so far and one that we hope will continue for a long time.

I’m very proud of our portfolio at the moment and we have some great additions coming up in the next few months. Whether they are start-ups like Ahascragh or established brands like Inverroche, they’re all fantastic brands with their own personalities and stories. We are lucky to be in the position to be working with companies that we can be proud to represent and feel passionate about.

The future

The drinks industry is a dynamic and constantly innovating sector, one which I’ve dedicated my whole professional life to. To have founded and helped drive bbb drinks to where it is today makes me feel not only proud, but incredibly fortunate. To be part of a company that has world class spirits in its portfolio, fantastic clients and some of the most discerning customers in the UK, is something really special.

Often over the past ten years there have been moments where it has felt all too much of a strain, people have said that there are easier ways of making a living and why not join the corporate world? Those are the moments that test you, but, in my case at least, push you on to redouble your efforts to build something special.

The prospect of the next few years excites me more than anything now. Adding more experience to our team, working with ambitious clients, collaborating and forming international partnerships and striving to offer a better service than ever makes the future look really fun.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s been on the journey with us: clients, customers and colleagues. It’s been an experience so far and the next ten years are going to be another adventure. We hope you’ll be able to join us for some or all of it!