Alex Robson, co-founder of The King of Soho
Alex Robson and her business partner Howard Raymond have seen their King of Soho gin brand grow exponentially since launching in 2013, as Bryce Wilcock reports.
“It was literally a conversation in a bar,” Robson says. “We were sitting there chatting and came up with the idea of launching our own gin brand.”
Premium gin brand The King of Soho was founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Alex Robson and her business partner Howard Raymond.
The name pays homage to Howard’s late father, Paul Raymond, a renowned publisher, club owner, and property developer who was affectionately known as ‘The King of Soho’.
“It wasn’t long after Howard’s father had died,” she adds, “he was a gin drinker and my father was a gin drinker, it was a drink of their generation.
“Howard’s dad was quite a character. He was the king of fun! He had various different entertainment venues and magazines. He was such an unconventional guy.
“We decided to launch a gin to celebrate his life and to pay homage to the creativity of the vibrant Soho district of London, that was the inspiration behind it.”
And the business does just that. The bottles are magnificently screen printed with vibrant colours and designs that capture the joie de vivre of Soho to a tee.
In fact, the gin itself is distilled by Charles Maxwell. His family started distilling in the 1600’s around the same time as the Duke of Monmouth coined the name Soho for that area of London.
“When you pick up the bottle, it’s like touching paint on a glass, it’s sensual and it makes the experience that much better,” she says.
“The design has the wonderful man in his rich red velvet coat and the foxes tail. All of the elements in that character represent what we believe makes Soho unique.
“The coat represents the rich Bohemian fashion of the area, the book and the trumpet are a nod to the creative industries, whether it be the music or the literature.
“Then we have the foxes tail. Foxes are known as the naughty and mischievous creatures of the night and that represents Soho’s vibrant night culture perfectly.
“Soho is also known after a hunting cry ‘So-Ho’ which again links to the fox. A lot of thought has gone into the branding and it’s all very detailed.”
Robson oozes enthusiasm when talking about the quality of her gins and when describing the story behind the brand and its unique, Lewis Carroll-esque designs.
Setting up a premium brand in any sector is a risk, as there are always brands that have been established for years, and can also require a massive capital outlay.
However, bootstrapping the business with their own funds, this was a challenge which never phased Robson and Raymond and they were determined to make it work from the start.
Yet, even they, as confident as they were about their business plan, couldn’t have foreseen the success the brand would have in such a short space of time.
In just four years, The King of Soho is now a national brand. In the past 12 months alone, their gin has been stocked on the shelves of over 500 retailers and premium bars across the country.
This includes the likes of Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Oddbins, Costco, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods, and it doesn’t stop there.
Having already established a firm foothold in the UK, the pair are now exporting to 10 nations across the globe and have ambitious plans to build on this.
“Our first export order was to Portugal. It came about because somebody sent me an email and said, ‘look, I’m over here in Portugal and I’d like to sell your product.’
“The email was sent to our ‘info@’ email address. You know how everyone has an ‘info@’ email? Read them! Don’t ignore them, you never know what’s in there!
“That order was made in 2015, so we started exporting quite early. I don’t know what other people have experienced timeframe wise, it’s not something we’ve discussed with our competitors.”
Their gin is currently distributed in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Japan, and at the end of 2017, they launched in 89 stores across Russia.
Robson is now heading to New York in the spring to meet with American importers and has visits to Japan and Prague confirmed towards the end of the year to meet with distributors.
She believes the quality of their design, their focus on quality and the Made in Britain tag, have all been key to their export success.
“I would say, in our instance, because we have such a stand out design, it helped generate quite a lot of interest early on,” she adds.
“I think the UK is quite global also, we’re international in our outlook and people tend to notice what’s happening here.
“We’re a global nation and I don’t think we can underestimate how valuable that is when we’re talking about the exporting of goods and services.
“We have a good mindset for export and also, we like to travel. We’re an island nation, I suppose we don’t have a choice!
“The Made in Britain brand carries a lot of value also, we have high standards in this country and we have a great reputation.
“I’m going out to the US in May and am looking to expand there as well as visiting Japan later in the year and then Prague.”
The trips to the US and Japan are being facilitated by trade missions being held by the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) and the Department for International Trade (DIT).
Robson is a huge believer of trade missions, which provide so many opportunities for British businesses to showcase their products and services overseas.
She said: “I’m a huge believer of being part of industry groups and member associations, they open up so many doors for you.
“The Japan visit is part of a trade mission with the WSTA, there’s a lot of support out there if you want to export.
“We’ve also had support from the Department for International Trade, which has been a huge help and is a great tool for growing British businesses like us.”
The company’s rapid growth, both in the home markets and overseas, has been boosted by the gin renaissance which has seen sales soar over recent years.
In the UK alone, sales broke the £1bn mark for the first-time last year while overseas, more British gin was sold than ever before, worth almost half a billion pounds.
So, what’s next for The King of Soho? Robson concludes: “Our main focus so far has primarily been the UK market.
“However, now we have a firm foothold in the UK, we’re looking to expand into more overseas markets.
“I believe you have to be pro-active. I visited Russia at the end of March after we started exporting there in January.
“We’re being more pro-active now and where we have routes to market we’re developing those routes and moving forward.
“Where we haven’t got routes, we’re going out and making that preliminary trip and starting business activity in those countries.
“It’s being fuelled by the growth we’ve experienced in the UK. You can’t do everything in one hit, you have got to be measured and you can’t force a business to go faster than it will go.
“It’s a balancing act but with the right plan in place, great things can happen!”
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