GBL International: Steven Perez

Steven Perez is leaving his previous business failure behind with new company GBL International

Steven Perez’s previous business, 10 year old Global Beer Company, went into receivership in 1996. So when he started GBL International, the alcoholic drinks company behind Vodka Kick and Vodka Mule, he had no great aspirations. “I didn’t come up with the Vodka Kick idea believing it would make me a millionaire. I just hoped we could sell enough product to keep creditors from the last business off my back.”

He actually went back to them and persuaded them to fund him, saying “it’s a way of funding a business a lot don’t consider. If you speak to creditors, open your books and ask for credit, you’ll be surprised at how helpful they’ll be”. He also learnt that being a wholesaler isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that having such high gearing puts the business at risk if the economy turns.

Perez stuck with the drinks sector, but simply chiselled into a nascent market. “You have to stick to what you know. I won’t get involved in anything outside my sector. We are bloody good at what we do – not the biggest, but the best.” Equally, his attitude extends to outsourcing the making of the drinks. “I’m a sales and marketing specialist,” he says.

In GBL’s sector Perez is wary of the ‘me too’ brands that have tried to move into his company’s slipstream. He points out they’d be foolhardy to think it’s as simple as thinking up a mix and a name. “You’ve got to know who to target, which distribution channels to pursue, price points, customer base, the market requirements, legals, health and safety, labelling and Customs & Excise. It’s not all straightforward.”

He initially established the brand against a backdrop of bad publicity for alcopops, deciding that what was available to consumers was unsophisticated in presentation and flavour. By honing in on the male 18-24 age group and tying in to their interests – sport and clubbing – through sponsorship deals and nightclub advertising he achieved rapid success. “By promoting to men we’ve tapped into the women’s market too. Women want to drink what guys drink, but not vice versa.”

Perez was happy to live with objections from traditional brewers back in the late 1990s and claims that RTDs would be ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. “It’s now normal and accepted for the younger drinker to say they don’t like beer. And now we’re looking to markets that are like the UK was five or six years ago, such as Mexico and South America as well as continuing work in Spain, Greece and Italy where British tourists have helped establish our brands locally.”

New market: Youth market – RTDs (ready to drinks) Company: GBL International Founded: 1996 Focus: Alcoholic drinks Owner-manager: Steven Perez Key factors: Motivated by need to pay creditors; sticking with the sector you know; the right sponsorship deals; targeting men over women; focus on core skills Turnover today: £75m

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