(l-r) Mark Roberts and Chris France of Beer Hawk
Chris France and Mark Roberts quit their jobs to launch online beer retailer Beer Hawk in 2012, shortly after their wives had given birth to two young babies. Today, it is a rapidly growing e-commerce business
Fast-growing online beer retailer Beer Hawk is expecting to turn over more than £10m this year, just five years since its launch.
The company, which delivers a carefully curated selection of over 1,000 of the world’s finest beers to homes throughout the UK, was launched back in 2012 by Chris France and Mark Roberts.
The pair met whilst working at Procter & Gamble and decided to launch the business after tiring of the corporate lifestyle. And like many great business ideas, it started with a conversation in the pub…
“It all started in a pub,” Chris said. “We wanted to launch our own business and were toying with ideas when we realised that when we’d be going home we’d end up drinking wine, which made us think: ‘why go home and drink wine when we like beer?’ the lightbulb moment was exactly that.
“We couldn’t get the beer at home that we liked to drink in the pub, exciting beers just weren’t available through supermarkets and corner shops. This was in 2012, it has got better since then and we’d like to think we’ve played a big part in that.”
This brain wave led to them launching Beer Hawk, an online platform allowing people to order rare beers from around the world from the comfort of their own home and have them delivered directly to their door.
“Beer Hawk hunts out the best beers from around the world and delivers them direct to beer lovers doors across the UK and Ireland”, he added.
“We have over 1,000 beers and people can either come on and find something completely new through our tailored recommendations, buy gifts for beer lovers or join our beer club, which is a regular delivery of the best beers that we’ve found in any given month. We also do free delivery over £50 and you can get beers delivered within 24-48 hours.
“We’re now making brilliant beers from around the world more accessible to people who may not live in the centre of London where the fabulous beer bottle shops are, but who want to enjoy nice beers from the comfort of their own home.”
Starting up a business is always a challenge no matter who you are and what experience in business you have. However, for Chris and Mark, they had the challenge of balancing their family-work life after both of their wives had recently given birth to young children.
“We both had young kids around the same time as we launched the business,” said Chris. “Mark’s was due in June and mine was in October and we launched the business the following May. I am constantly surprised that my wife agreed to me saying ‘I really want to quit my job and go and sell some beer with my mate as a business!’
“I was keen to start something new, I could see that craft beer was kicking off but when you start a business it has all sorts of inherent risks, you just need to break them. I really felt it was a great idea as did Mark and we’ve been proven right luckily.
“My wife was convinced if I was convinced, it wasn’t an argument or anything like that. It was ‘If you feel that’s the right thing to do then go and do it.’ It’s all about doing something you love. As much as I admire and respect Procter & Gamble it was just time for me to go and do something else, I wanted to do something entrepreneurial instead of working in a huge corporate machine.
“I wanted to get into running my own business, starting it up and worrying about the £50 spent here and £40 spent there. I remember when we hired our first employee, it was a very scary moment, liberating moment, great moment, call it what you will. If you talk to anyone who starts their own business who are taking on staff for the first time, that’s always a huge moment.
“There are 42 of us working here now. We took our first staff member on in the Spring of 2013 and in five years it has grown rapidly!”
This rapid growth has seen the company move premises four times in five years having more than doubled in size every year since its launch.
After turning over £150,000 in their first year, the company is now forecast to turnover around £10m this year and Chris believes working as a partnership with Mark has been pivotal to the company’s exponential growth.
“Starting a business on my own would’ve been exceptionally hard but having someone else there and working as a partnership just made it so much easier,” he said.
“You have someone to celebrate the highs with and to help with the downs. You can bounce ideas off each other and it’s great to have someone who gets what you’re doing.
“I don’t know if I’d have been able to start up on my own, I’m in awe of people who do that. My advice would be that if you can setup a business with someone you can trust and have a great working relationship with then try and do it, all of the challenges become much, much easier.
“We’ve now moved premises four times in five years and are now looking for another warehouse. We moved into our newest premises in October and have already filled it - we now need extra space!
“This time last year we were in a unit which was 2,500 sq ft, we’re now in a unit which is 12,500 sq ft and are looking for a unit which is 60,000 sq ft.”
Beer Hawk’s expansion has also helped it break into the B2B market. The company is now servicing the trade sector enabling independents in both the on and off trades access to its vast selection of bottled beers.
Their unique proposition offers pubs, bars, restaurants, independent stores, the freedom to buy small quantities of beer, pick ‘n mix style, with a free and speedy delivery option.
“We have also recently launched our new trade arm,” Chris said. “The idea behind that is that there are tons of brewers out there that aren’t served by the big distributors.
“They have to order in cases and deal with larger quantities, if you’re a small independent you don’t want to have 10 cases of craft beer just sitting out the back.
“We will deliver as little as one bottle to trade customers. So if people are starting in craft or going to have a range which changes regularly, we’ll do that. We don’t force people to buy into cases, we also do free delivery for people ordering in over £100 worth of stock.”
Having more than doubled in size year-on-year the challenges of scaling the business and keeping customers happy is one they have relished and met every time.
The company has a 4.33/5 rating on reviews.co.uk from 4,476 reviews and is continuing to increase its customer base with every week that passes.
Now, looking to the future, Chris has ambitious plans for the business. He concluded: “I want to get into more beer. There are breweries I haven’t managed to bring across to the UK yet so I definitely want to do that.
“We’ll also be looking at how we upgrade our courier experience, whether that’s cold beer delivered to your desk for leaving work or something a little more bespoke.
“Could people book an hour slot when they’ll be delivered rather than next day or a rough estimate? ‘I will be at this place between 1-2pm and I want my beer to arrive then.’
“We’ll be trying to do that as well as bringing over new and interesting breweries as and when we find them.
“I’d love to get more from Spain and Italy as well as South America. You just don’t see South American beer over here, the only stuff you do see is fairly mass produced and it isn’t a fair reputation of the brewing scene down there.”
Having attracted over 40,000 customers in just five years, the pair are now on target to boast 80,000 by the end of the year and see turnover surpass £10m.
From a basis of self-investment in 2012, they have created and scaled one of the nation’s fastest-growing food and drink e-commerce businesses and it is showing no signs of slowing down…