Steve Dyson raises a glass to Siobhan Holmes, who took her passion for fizzy wine to a whole new level by quitting the rat race and launching her own mobile prosecco bar.
Have you ever noticed the smiles, the “whoop-whoops!” and the sheer fizz of excitement that infects any group of people when someone pops the cork of a bottle of bubbly? Fun-loving Siobhan Holmes has, and those moments of collective joy when everyone wants a glass are what have channelled her entrepreneurial spirit into creating The Vino Van business.
This is a start-up company that does exactly what its name says – a mobile van full of wine, or bubbly wine to be precise, affordable Prosecco to be even more specific.
“Everyone loves fizz,” says Holmes, a single lass aged 30 from Northamptonshire. “Nothing shouts ‘celebration’ more than bubbles. It’s all about being part of someone’s special day – adding and being a part of an important occasion or celebration. So, I pour Prosecco, which adds to the party, and when I’m not doing that I’m dreaming up new Prosecco cocktails to add to my menu.”
It’s a fun hobby that’s turned into a lucrative little business for Holmes, who’s quickly become known among family, friends and customers as the “Prosecco queen”.
She only launched The Vino Van in April 2017 after getting fed up with what she felt had become a rat race in the social care sector. More than ten years ago, she had studied for a diploma in childcare and education and then for a degree in early childhood studies, before working hard in various social care roles. But government funding cuts resulted in redundancy, and while Holmes found a new job as a substance misuse practitioner for young people, this involved a “really tough” commute of 100 miles a day from her home in Corby.
“I loved the job, but it was too hard to juggle the commute,” recalls Holmes, who then describes how her love of bubbly turned into a serious business idea. “I saw a gap in the market and decided to create a mobile prosecco van that could be set up anywhere and everywhere.
“It was a quick decision and turnaround, but it’s a business venture that I am incredibly passionate about and is something that I knew would work.”
Holmes researched what was needed and applied for a business loan to buy and convert what was once a horse box trailer. This was a hard six weeks in the late winter before her spring launch, when she had to battle with some tough weather while she converted the vintage trailer into The Vino Van, using gallons of tasteful pink paint.
She marketed her concept via social media and was soon featured in Stylist Magazine, which led to the organisers of the Cheese & Wine Festival in London spotting her business and asking her to attend. “It was such a great way to launch the business and we proved very popular at the event,” Holmes says.
Things snowballed from there, and The Vino Van spent the rest of the spring and then the summer and autumn touring the country visiting food festivals and shopping centres, getting booked for a variety of cultural events, informal celebrations and weddings.
Holmes markets The Vino Van confidently, telling would-be customers visiting her website that: “If you’re not excited about the words ‘mobile Prosecco bar’ then you probably shouldn’t read any further.”
She explains her direct approach to me: “We have one aim in mind: to bring the fizz to special events. We’re self-contained with our own power, so no location is too remote. In short, if anyone needs bubbles for anything from a wedding celebration to a corporate event then we’ll get them delivered. We’re licensed and fully insured, so customers can rest assured that their fizz is in safe hands.”
What makes Holmes business stand out is this refreshing personal approach – plus her pastel-pink van. But behind that exterior, she insists that it’s the Prosecco itself that tempts people into booking The Vino Van.
“For me, Prosecco has always been about celebrating, being with friends and family and toasting to the good times in life,” she says. “You could say it’s a happy drink. It’s perfect on its own but it’s versatile too, making it an ideal base for so many great cocktails. Also, a small glass has fewer calories than a banana.”
And it’s not just basic Prosecco – there’s a growing list of inventive cocktails that Holmes has created around the product, priced at £6 a glass. The most popular include the “Prosecco Fizz”, which contains raspberries and Chambord, topped with Prosecco, and the “Prosecco Hugo”, which is Prosecco mixed with elderflower cordial and fresh mint. The Vino Van also offers a “Pimp Your Prosecco” service, where people can add fruit and mixers of their choice to the bubbles.
“My Prosecco cocktails accompany different events perfectly,” she says. “The refreshing ‘Prosecco Hugo Cocktail’ works great at summer sporting events such as a day at the races or watching tennis. It’s also superb for a barbecue or for a cocktail day with the girls. And my delicious ‘Prosecco Fizz’ is a classy cocktail that’s popular as a welcome drink at weddings or corporate events.
“I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting ideas that I can incorporate into The Vino Van. For example, I’ve recently discovered pink glitter that you can add to Prosecco for a sparkling drink. This is something that’s perfect for festivals.”
While out and about, Holmes has noticed a few other wine vans at festivals, some of them also offering bubbly. So, she’s worked on keeping The Vino Van branding tight and recognisable, paying close attention to her customers to make sure she gives them exactly what they want.
As well as herself, Holmes employs a regular staff member and two other part-timers who work when extra serving hands are needed. Plus, she says: “I’ve had lots of volunteers too. I’m single and have no children, so the business is very much me. But I do get support from my sister and mum when I need to run ideas by someone.”
In her first season, Holmes mainly used Facebook to promote her business, and has visited various locations as far away as Sheffield and London. Some customers book her presence at their events for several hundreds of pounds. At other times, she attends food festivals to sell her wares.
Still in her early months, she’s reluctant to be drawn on the exact level of revenues and profits, but she insists the business has been a success. And she’s now accessing advice from local business mentors to help develop her plan to increase her touring – and perhaps even expand her brand in 2018 and beyond.
“Prosecco is an extremely popular drink, so I was certain that I had a market,” she adds. “The van is really distinctive and we offer themes to fit in with events. In a nutshell we’re flexible but we maintain a strong image which people seem to love.
“Our customers are a friendly, fun-loving bunch and have been a pleasure to serve. We’ve attracted everyone from wine buffs, who love the idea of a mobile Prosecco van, to groups of friends who just fancy some fizz to get the party started.
“I’ve been incredibly excited to have taken the van around the country, visiting new and exciting places and topping up the nation’s prosecco glasses.
“My hope next year is to grow the brand further. I’d love to expand and have more Vino Vans across the country, providing the whole nation with what I think is the UK’s favourite tipple.”
It’s great to see such a new business woman bouncing with enthusiasm, and to hear her great advice for other would-be entrepreneurs: “Don’t give up. If you’re convinced that you have a great idea, go with it, no matter how difficult it may be in the beginning. Be realistic about the time and effort that you’ll need to dedicate – it will take up all your time, but if you love what you’re doing then you won’t even notice.”