United Kingdom

Belgrove rum: How I created a brand with £100k of savings

Edmund Wood had no idea what kind of a business he wanted to create – he just knew that he wanted to leave his managerial role at a noodle factory and launch a start-up.

It was during a trip to Bordeaux, when he tried a vanilla infused rum, that he was inspired to make his own hazelnut creation.

Edmund says: 'My inspiration came from flavours I loved as a child such as Florentines, Snickers and Dairy Milk Whole Nut and more recent ones like a Kinder Bueno.'

Noodles to nuts: Edmund ditched his job as a manager of a noodle factory to create his own hazelnut rum

He believed the hype around the gin industry had passed its peak, so he was certain he didn't want to enter it. 

He felt that with rum, he'd found a gap in the market and started his business aged 29.

'I homed in on spirits and I'd seen what had happened with the gin boom. Rum was the only one of the four major spirit groups that hadn't become premium yet.'

He also felt he could create something as appealing as some of the more popular spirits. 'I thought why can't rum look as beautiful as a craft gin, and taste as delicious as a single malt whisky? I want to open up the world of rum to people like me.'

It was from these ideas and musings that Belgrove rum was created. Edmund says he named the rum after William Belgrove – an 18th century pioneer in rum making. 

'He wasn't afraid to try something new in the pursuit of quality, and in doing so, became prolific for his time. I'm doing something similar, so a homage to the man himself seemed somehow fitting.'

While Edmund is based in London and the rum comes from the only remaining rum distillery in Guyana - the Diamond Distillery. 

He says: 'I wanted a rum that was well recognised and well respected, and most importantly smooth and paired perfectly with the flavours I was introducing. 

'So I focussed on Guyana and Barbados initially as opposed to the more fiery Jamaican rum styles; and after several tastings, a pure Demerara rum from Guyana was the clear winner.'

Belgrove can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. It can be drunk neat, with Coke or used to create cocktails like the Martini or Old Fashioned

I said no to investors...

Edmund says he shunned the idea of getting investors on board and instead started the business with £100,000 of his own savings that he had accumulated over six and a half years.

He says: 'I knew in order to do it properly, to create a product and a brand that could seriously compete in the spirits industry, I’d need to invest a significant sum. Especially in year one where you have to invest heavily in PR, digital assets and trade shows in order to get your brand name out there and meet buyers.'

There are already signs that he wants to sell the business but he's not quite there yet. 

He says: 'When I started my business my goal was to create a saleable company with significant value by the time I was 35 (I’m 31 currently), not with the sole intention of selling though, but I figured if you design a company and it’s products with this in mind, you make far more incisive decisions and create a more valuable company. 

What is Belgrove? 

Even though Belgrove is a hazelnut flavoured rum, it's allergen free. Edmund Wood, founder of Belgrove says: 'We use natural flavours which don't have any of the allergenic proteins in them. 

'I used to run a cooking oil factory which produced groundnut oil - that's where I learnt the science behind it.' 

Edmund also cut sugar out as an ingredient to create a dry drink that was not to 'sickly sweet'. 

The rum can be enjoyed in many different ways. Edmund says: 'It makes the most amazing Espresso Martini, Pina Colada and Old Fashioned - also amazing with Coke or just neat.' 

'This boils down to a relentless pursuit of delighting our customers, and giving them the drinks I’d love to drink with my friends.'

He maintains investors would have held him back. He explains: 'I didn't want investors who were after a short-term payoff that wanted me to be stocked in Aldi but then never progress to Waitrose and John Lewis. 

'A lot of people I know take investment. It sounds good but they spend half their time just updating investors on what they are doing.

'They get pushed down certain routes as that is what the shareholders want. I wanted autonomy and to take the direction I wanted. 

'I knew I wouldn't be doing what I wanted to do if I gave a chunk of the business away.'

The strategy appears to have paid off. 

The business celebrated its two-year anniversary in January. 

This milestone wasn't achieved without its challenges though. In the first year, Belgrove made a loss.

Wood says: '2019 was the first year – turnover was £50,000 because I was doing a lot of trade shows that cost a lot. I hired brand ambassadors and a PR team, so it was a heavy cost. Year one was a £30,000 loss. 

'But I knew that would happen. Year two, in 2020, the turnover was lower at £22,000 and profit was £4,000 – so my business was a lot leaner than year one.'

His business had also been impacted by the pandemic. 

I’ve got orders due for export within the next two weeks, but a lot of producers are struggling to export stock currently as lots of hauliers are refusing to transport goods to the EU because of long delays at the border 

Edmund Wood, founder of Belgrove

He says: 'I had one year to set up before the pandemic hit. It was a shame – I got some nice listings with Fenwick. 

'I was all ready to go and wanted to capitalise on it, but the rug was pulled out from underneath. The new listings weren't going to happen as no one was selling anything. I had to switch to online.'

It's only now, in year three, that he's starting to see the fruits of his labour. Edmund says of the milestone: 'I haven't taken a salary so far. I've just lived off savings but making it to year three was most important.'

But with the expansion of the business, drawing a salary from it for the first time could soon be a reality. This month, Belgrove stock is being sent to Germany, France and the Maldives.  

For year three he expects the business to generate around £150,000 in turnover and £50,000 profit – but he's still tentative to commit to this figure as it is still in its early days of year three and there are lots of risks.

Brexit hasn't caused him problems yet, but it's about to as he predicts he'll struggle to get the rum across to Europe. 

He says: 'I've got orders due for export within the next two weeks, but a lot of producers are struggling to export stock currently as lots of hauliers are refusing to transport goods to the EU because of long delays at the border.'

Even though Belgrove is a hazelnut flavoured rum, it's allergen free. It's also zero sugar

Online selling challenges

The rum can be bought online from Amazon (£32.95), Master of Malt (£28.75) and Selfridges online and in store. 

Edmund chose to sell through Amazon and Master of Malt instead of his own website as he felt everyone is familiar with the multinational e-commerce website.

'I encountered roughly as many issues as you have flying to the moon - Amazon Prime is such a beast. 

Edmund Wood, founder of Belgrove

He says: 'A lot of people prefer to just buy from somewhere they know instead of signing up to yet another individual site and input their payment details yet again. 

'Plus, you already have a captive audience to advertise to on Amazon, where people are already in the buying mood versus having to make ads on social media.'

Getting onto Amazon was, however, a challenge. 'I encountered roughly as many issues as you have flying to the moon - Amazon Prime is such a beast. 

'Once, they dispatched an entire case when someone ordered a single bottle. It took four months to sort it out as it was so complex. Now it's up and running and it's wonderful and a great place to sell and advertise.'

Edmund says getting onto Amazon was difficult initially, but that getting his product in Selfridges was as simple as speaking to the people working on the shop floor

While he applied to stock his product on Amazon online, Edmund adopted a different strategy when approaching Selfridges to stock his brand. 

'A lot of people - when they give advice on getting into shops – say that you should get on LinkedIn and contact the buyer.

'Instead, I went into the store and started chatting to staff on the floor and told them about my rum. 

'Through them, I met the boss and eventually the buyer. It was a longer way to get in touch with the buyer but with internal referrals I believe I got further. The guy on the floor knows me now. That just made sense to me.'

While Edmund initially spent a fortune hiring a PR team in the first year, his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to try and manage the social media side of the business themselves.

He says: 'There is a tendency in new, young founders to feel that you have to employ other people to do social media or to do the testing of the product.

'You may think you need to outsource, but only you know what you want to create and how you want the brand to feel. You're probably the best person for that. 

'There's a tendency to think "I need an agency to work on this," and it can help, of course, but when people want to connect online they don't want a hollow conversation.'

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