Tails Cocktails: Nick Wall

The founder on securing funding and innovating the drinks trade

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Company name: Tails Ltd
Website: www.tailscocktails.com
Founders: Nick Wall
Age: 31
Based: Birmingham & London
Staff numbers: 4
Date started: September 2008

Tell us what your business does:

Tails are authentic bar quality cocktails packaged in real cocktail shakers. Just add ice, shake and pour great cocktails anytime, anywhere.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

A simple question: ‘As a consumer can I buy quality ready made cocktails to drink at home?’ Simple answer: ‘No’, so I decided to make that very product.

How did you know there was a market for it?

When I first conceived the idea I determined some key trends that suggested a strong potential. Cocktails were becoming very fashionable again and the decline of alcopops and the negative association with cheap alcohol for binge drinking implied there was a gap in the market for premium, more sophisticated alternatives. The number of people drinking at home has increased significantly over past few years, especially during the recession. Also there have been many big success stories in food and drink providers, although the drinks market was lacking innovation.

What’s your USP (unique selling point)?

Tails use quality ingredients sourced from around the world and spirits, thus creating well balanced cocktails at 18% alcohol by volume (ABV). Tails ABV is higher than other products in the market and more in line with actual bar cocktails. In terms of packaging, we designed as a real shaker to provide consumers with the proper cocktail experience. The shaker is also totally recyclable.

How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?

Tails unlike other cocktail products are not sold in bottles. We are the first brand to sell in real shakers and replicate bar cocktails at 18% ABV. As a start-up company we do not have the huge marketing budgets global drinks firms benefit from so we must be far more savvy and targeted.

What were you doing before starting up?

I worked for a global real estate consultancy. I was part of an investment team advising on international development projects.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I have always wanted to be in charge of my own destiny, so yes. I love the control of my own time and the reward of taking an idea and turning it into a reality.

What planning did you do before you started up? What advice did you seek?

In the twelve months before I left my previous job to work on Tails full time, I worked with Business Link and their Early Growth Fund to analyse the idea in more detail. They supported me with a marketing expert with drinks experience to help assess the market, and through MAS (Manufacturing Advisory Services) assisted me with supply chain options.

How did you raise the money?

In October 2008 I was accepted by the MAS Product Innovation Consortium, a panel of mixed industry experts, that not only supported Tails with advice and introducing relevant consultants but also match funding. I have also been supported through financial grants by Advantage West Midlands (AWM) in the form of an index innovation voucher and also through their APOC (advantage proof of concept) fund. I have also benefitted from a capital grant from Coventry University Innovations Network. In total I have managed to raise over £100,000 from government funded support schemes. It has been a testing and a highly administrative process, but without it Tails would not exist. Other capital invested in Tails has come from myself and loans from family members.

How did you find suppliers?

I sourced suppliers through MAS and recommendations from consultants or suppliers already on board. The product employs a complicated supply chain, which is hard to manage but fortunately we chose to keep manufacturing within the UK, so can be on hand whenever and wherever.

What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?

The greatest challenges faced have occurred within the supply chain. Anything that can go wrong will! We have overcome issues by fast identification, finding a solution and implementation. Dealing with constant issues requires patience, initiative and hard work. In some cases, I have had to spend unplanned money to fix problems, but I believe in dealing with them quickly before they scale out of control. This has also made me realise the dangers of trying to expand too quickly.

How have you promoted your business?

To date we have not done much promotion, however a six-month campaign is about to start. Tails does not have large marketing budgets so we have been very careful in our approach. We are concentrating heavily on PR and digital social marketing. We are working with an agency who have a great reputation at dealing with premium drinks brands.

How much do you charge? How did you decide this?

Tails retail in Selfridges at £11.99. Each shaker contains 500ml of cocktail, which once shaken with ice provides four servings. The price is primarily based on consumer research and a premium point that reflects the 18% alcohol by volume and quality but recyclable packaging.

What has your growth been like? What is your turnover? Are you profitable?

Turnover has been £15,000 in the first 8 weeks of trading. We were slightly behind our forecast launch date due to manufacturing delays, but we have outperformed expectations in revenues. We expect to profitable mid 2011.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?

Although I find Tails very rewarding the stress levels are persistently high and this can be extremely exhausting and can affect others close to me. I try my hardest to remember there is more to life than what is happening in mine.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?

The greatest difficulty has been self-discipline. When you have so much time to yourself it is really hard to remain focused and keep progressing. I believe persistency is the greatest characteristic required to turn a good idea into a reality.

What was your first big breakthrough?

When the MAS Product Innovation Consortium decided to back Tails. For the first time I felt like I had real support and some influence to gain traction with suppliers. Following that, the day I agreed a contract with Selfridges was fairly special.

What would you do differently?

I am still learning lessons daily and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but above all I would allow more time, particularly for manufacturing issues pre-trading, which is not always easy as sometimes you have to hit seasonal sales targets. Manufacturing, however frustrating, requires patience and immense planning.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Be different, be diligent, be passionate, be persistent.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?

In my opinion it is key to start any business with an exit plan, so yes I have one. In five years time I want to be the guy that started Tails, the successful, relevant, innovative and global drinks brand.

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