My start up story: Summerhouse Drinks

Claire Rennie

My start up story: Summerhouse Drinks

Frequently a designated driver on nights out, Claire Rennie founded Summerhouse Drinks to give adults a better, more natural soft drink option. Also, she plays with a giant soda stream! She tells us how it’s been to get started, and her future plans.

What did you do before you started this business?

Before starting Summerhouse Drinks, I had started Berry Scrumptious, a chocolate company which specialised in fresh chocolate covered strawberries using, where possible, fruit grown on our family farm. I have always been involved in the Scottish food industry, being a farmer’s daughter then working in the Scottish seed potato sector after graduating from Glasgow University.

What inspired you to start up?

My inspiration for starting Summerhouse Drinks came from the fact that as we live in a rural area, I am frequently the designated driver on nights out. I am quite passionate about not using artificial sweeteners, colours or flavours and there were no Scottish soft drink options that didn’t include these that I could enjoy on a night out without feeling that I was ‘missing out’ on not having an alcoholic drink. 

Tell us about your business in 100 words

Summerhouse Drinks makes great tasting soft drinks with natural ingredients often using herbs from our walled garden. We are based on our family farm where we make all our drinks ourselves from scratch in our SALSA accredited unit. Our current range includes four lemonades under the Summerhouse Drinks brand and Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water, Scotland’s first tonic water.

As we are half a mile from the sea, it pairs particularly well with coastal and island gins. We also collaborate on bespoke projects with customers and have the ability to take a concept from NPD right through to commercial production.

How would you describe your business to your grandma?

We get to play about with a giant Soda Stream every day!

Where do you get advice, support or help?

I have a very entrepreneurial family who are a great support, particularly my husband Ross who is a Chartered Accountant and is absolutely on the button when it comes to finance and strategy.  I also greatly benefit from the food and drink support network in place in Grampian, fostered by the Grampian Food Forum and now carried on by Opportunity North East.

Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?

I sold the chocolate business, Berry Scrumptious, to new owners and also ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to purchase a (new to us) van, raising approximately £5000. 

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Much as I appreciate the awards and accolades we have won, I always feel we have achieved something important when a customer re-orders.  Getting the first order is often gratifying, but delivering your promise and a product that has sold well so that a customer comes back for more, I always feel is a great achievement. And we won the North East Scotland Food & Drink Awards 2017 Most Successful Product from 2016, which is an amazing achievement. 

How do you differentiate your business from others?

We make all our drinks from scratch ourselves which gives us complete control over the product, from quality to delivery schedules.  We are one of the few tonic water brands which make their product themselves, most are contracted out to a third-party bottler which means we are not just about marketing ‘spiel’, we have provenance. 

What’s it like to be your own boss?

Fantastic! I love the flexibility of setting my own diary, although that diary is mostly filled with work – but when you love what you do, it doesn't really feel like work.

Where do you see your business in 5 years time?

We will continue to be committed to producing products with quality, natural ingredients without artificial preservatives, colours, flavours or sweeteners from the base on our farm.  We will have improved our production efficiency so that I can spend greater time in the garden, actually sitting in our Summerhouse.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Have grit – keep going through the tough times as opportunities often come from what seems to be a failure.