Rachel uses a traditional family recipe for sloe gin and all of the fruit grows wild around the family farm. Melton Mowbray Drinks supplies delicatessens, hotels, pubs, restaurants and farm shops, and it is also developing a loyal private customer base through a mail order service.
“Our business is based on the farm so I can give customers a snap shot of what farm life is all about,” she says. “I love getting repeat orders from people. It is so gratifying to see that people are enjoying our products.”
The business has been going from strength to strength. And the thirty-two-year old was nominated Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 and last year, after three rounds of product sampling and inspections, Melton Mowbray Sloe Gin reached the final three companies in the drinks category of the Waitrose Small Producer of the Year Awards.
Also, over the past twelve months her business has had high-profile exposure in publications such as the BBC Good Food and Fresh magazines.
Before setting up her own business Rachel was an animal health officer for Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs). “It was a big leap of faith,” she says. “It is a big thing to do, leaving a paid job. I didn’t want to put all the eggs in one basket, so I remained in full-time employment whilst getting the business started. It was hectic, but it also meant I could finance the business.”
She funded the business herself and all her wages and savings went into the business even before she sold the first bottle. “I appreciate this is not always possible. But if it’s your money you have an even bigger incentive to make it work.”
Taking the leap
So she did. Although she knew about making drinks, the other aspects of the business such as labelling, packaging and shelf life were completely new to her. “It was hard. I worked every night, weekend and holiday building up the liqueur business and going to shows while still working full time.”
Rachel went on several courses such as marketing and business skills. She says that while her previous job had equipped her to deal with the public, running a business is “a different kettle of fish”, and involved other areas she was not familiar with such as accounts and marketing.
The drinks have gone down a treat and Rachel is already expanding her portfolio making chocolate truffles. She is also looking to create another two liqueur flavours to add on to the existing three.
She explains that the chocolates complement the business, as not everybody has license to sell alcohol. “Delicatessens cannot sell liqueur but they do sell chocolates. All of a sudden I have a new market.”
Until now, the only help she gets is at picking time. “We pick all the fruit here at the farm and we are really busy selling in the run up to Christmas so casual pickers come to help me.”
But the business is growing and Rachel says it is time to step up a gear. “I have other plans and ideas for the business so my time is better spent concentrating on marketing. We are getting to a stage when it will be beneficial to get someone to help with the other parts of the business.”
Rachel works long hours and while everyone is slowing down for Christmas, she is frantically getting her orders ready. “But the rewards are great. I spend time with the children and I can do the school run and that was the whole point of becoming self employed.”
Her advice to those thinking about flying solo is to be neither overcautious nor impulsive. “When you start your business things change and you need to be flexible. Opportunities come along from the strangest places and when you are not expecting. And, if you work from home, you need to be motivated and disciplined. It is easier to find something else to do, especially when you have a family.”