Our next TGI game changer – Kathy Caton – tells us about setting up and growing Brighton Gin. As founder and CEO of the company, she’s the first to admit that it’s been a challenging journey at times but that the highs have been incredible. Kathy shares the story of her fiercely independent, ethically-driven company.
When did you start Brighton Gin? And how do you sell?
Brighton Gin is now in its 10th year which we’re immensely proud of, especially as we’re still a tiny team. Every part of what we do, we do by hand, ourselves!
We have multiple routes to market including selling to consumers directly through our website and shipping gin out to them. For local deliveries we go round in person on our amazing e-cargo bike – you never get a bad reception when you rock up to someone’s house with gin!
The majority of the gin we send out, however, is to wholesalers, who then sell to the on-and off-trade.
The on-trade is made up of hospitality venues like restaurants, pubs and bars where guests drink Brighton Gin on-site. While the off-trade is all about bottle shops – aka off-licences – who sell to people to drink at home. The latter was especially strong in lockdown when there were no bars open at all and at home cocktail-making soared.
We have some big direct accounts such as with Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, as part of their regional supplier offering. We’re crossing our fingers that we can expand that to the rest of the country too!
How did you go about turning your idea into a business?
One thing I’ve always maintained is that ideas are the easy part and it’s the execution that’s hard. Go into any local pub, in any town in the country on any night of the week, and you’ll hear brilliant ideas being discussed.
Turning moments of inspiration into reality takes a lot of hard graft and effort. I had the idea for Brighton Gin while on a run down the seafront the morning after a very late night. I’d been on the gins and I was aware that if I’d been drinking anything else I wouldn’t have made it off the sofa, let alone being out for a jog!
For me, gin is, and always has been, the one drink that lets me get away with it. Brighton is a city infamous for its love of a good time (read: a bit of a booze-up!) but also a super creative, hardworking place. That is to say, Brightonians quite often need to ‘get away with it’ the next morning.
That gave me the epiphany that Brighton needed its own gin! I pegged it home to start researching and started the process from scratch. I thought that if anyone else was trying to make a Brighton Gin I’d take my hat off to them and wait to try it but it turned out that nobody was, and at that time there’d never even been a distillery here, not one on the books at least!
So, it was starting from base zero. It’s an understandably very legislated industry so there was tonnes of technical and legal stuff to get my head round… and that’s before you even start thinking about recipes! It’s been a long road. I’ve learnt a heck of a lot!
Brighton Gin has some strong values – can tell us a bit about the business and what you stand for?
A decision I took from day one is to always follow the better way. That includes sourcing things as locally as possible, using British made bottles for example, which contain a high proportion of recycled glass sourced from the Brighton area. We use locally grown coriander seed, a base botanical which we are lucky enough to be able to source nearby. We try to do the best and right thing wherever we can.
Our mission is to take the spirit of Brighton to the world. It’s a place typified by free-thinking, fun-loving people and a strong community in which people really care about where they live. There’s an amazing arts and culture scene and a huge. LGBTQ community. It’s a place where people can be themselves and I love the fact that you have to work hard to shock people here! It’s a place with many layers.
These are challenging times, but we still continue to support our community partners and charities. Every year we produce a limited edition Pride bottle design in collaboration with a local queer artist in support of The Rainbow Fund, the grant giving organisation for LGBTQ and HIV organisations in the UK. It’s very important to us.
What have been the highlights?
Starting and running an SME will bring the highest highs and the lowest lows possible, often in the same day, if not the same hour! I cried (happy tears) the first time I went into Waitrose and saw Brighton Gin on the shelf. I love it when I’m in a pub and hear someone I don’t know ask for it by name. Our gin is now available in 15 countries around the world and that makes me incredibly proud.
Most of all, we’re the real deal, we are what we say we are. Brighton Gin is handmade by a friends and family team who seek to do every aspect of gin making as ethically as possible.
What have been your biggest challenges?
We are talking at a very cluttered time in terms of challenges… Like most people I hope things change soon. Almost all food and drink manufacturers are in a tricky spot at the moment especially when we combine soaring energy prices, spiking inflation and the cost of living crisis. There’s been a huge change in consumer behaviour (understandably!) and our government has de-stabilised things considerably. It might be quicker to ask what isn’t a challenge at the moment!
What one piece of advice would you give female founders?
I have conflicting advice. One is to talk to your friends and family and sound out your ideas. Get them on side as you will need a strong support network. Conversely, it’s essential to have the courage of your own convictions. Go for it! But do it with your eyes open, and make sure you eat lots of greens and try and have an early night every now and again!
Talk to other founders and tap into networks. This isn’t always about selling, but about helping others on their journeys too!
How do you think The Gender Index will help female company leaders?
I think it’s important to know what’s going on on the ground. If we know where we are, we can work on improving things and making positive changes. Data is imperative in creating change.