Insurance · 23 August 2016

The entrepreneurial duo who started importing and exporting from day one

Millie Wilson (right)
Sarah Goodwin and Millie WIlson are inspired by Mexican design and heritage

As former university housemates, Sarah Goodwin and Millie Wilson knew there was only one business idea they wanted to combine their talents to realise – bringing Mexico and the UK together over a glass of Mezcal. Business Advice has already sat down with the two for a quick Q&A for our “On the up” section, but wanted to find out exactly how they’d tackled the challenge of founding a business importing and exporting.

For those who aren’t aware of what Mezcal is, it’s a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico – and sometimes contains a worm at the bottom of the bottle.

Goodwin and Wilson channeled a passion for the Latin country into an idea for a business, and have since gone on to move products in both directions and collaborate with some exciting local designers.

Telling Business Advice more, Goodwin said: “Neither of us had any background in this, we just dived in headfirst and thought let’s give it a go. It initially started with me in Mexico and Millie in London, but we now spend about four or five months of the year together.

“We do have more of a virtual business relationship, and it can be a bit lonely working on your own – it’s not like we have a team or anything yet. But we do communicate we each other a lot, and I have meetings daily with artisans while Millie gets together with buyers.”

On the subject of starting a business with your best friend, Goodwin said she never really considered doing it with someone she didn’t know. While people round her have commented there are pros and cons to working with friends, she’s only ever seen the positives. “We both have strengths and weaknesses, but we know which roles each of us are good at. We’re really lucky to have that balance between friendship and work,” she added.

Tea & Tequila Trading
Tea & Tequila Trading have worked with designers to produce bespoke products

While the Tea & Tequila Trading business offering originally started out by dabbling in lots of different products, such as furniture, drinks and jewellery, it has now been honed to focus on Mezcal and its own design products.

“We realised there were limits, we were trying to do so much with so little experience,” Goodwin explained. The “Tea” in the company name is represented by the two British business builders, the “Tequila” part is the Mexican influence and the “Trading” element is what they do with the spirits they are importing and exporting.

Having taken some time to find the right kind of alcohol to introduce to the two markets, they’ve settled on Mezcal Amores and Elephant Gin. Alcohol was always something they wanted to dabble in, but neither had any idea how complicated it would be. In the UK there are a lot of laws relating to the import of alcohol, making things quite expensive due to the duties, taxes and routing of goods through certain warehouses.

“When we started we had no clue, it took a lot of effort and time and work to be able to do what we do now. However, we are now set up as alcohol distributors. It’s the same deal in Mexico, if not even slower. There is such bureaucracy over there, with 100 pieces of paper for everything.”

To make things easier, Goodwin and Wilson have also registered Tea & Tequila Trading as a Mexican company – but still have to use a third-party importer as it’s so difficult in the nation.

Generating a market for their goods has been doubly hard for the entrepreneurs, as it’s a case of finding buyers in both Mexico and the UK. Unperturbed, Goodwin and Wilson have used innovative marketing strategies to introduce people to their offering.

Business Advice was fortunate enough to be invited along to their Mezcal Amores Sunday Sinners Dinner in July. Taking the form of a four-course Anglo-Mexican banquet, devised and cooked by chef Jackson Boxer, the food was paired with Mezcal Amores cocktails. Set in the dramatic Brunswick House, the event provided diners with an introduction to Mexican culture and an understanding of what Goodwin and Wilson are bringing to the UK.

The two have purposely started importing and exporting premium products, but not only for a cost reason. “We started with a couple of other brands, but they just weren’t as good. We’re now really happy with the product.

“It’s helpful having Mezcal and Amores as we are able to work together with them. It’s not just importing, but doing events and other things.”

While traction in the UK market will initially come through getting their products into certain restaurants, eventually the two would like to be wholesale stockists – widely spread around Europe in “great stores”. “It’s not about the size of the department store through,” Goodwin added, “as we’re artisan products made by hand. It doesn’t work being put next to something that is made in China.”

The lessons Goodwin and Wilson have learnt so far inevitably stem from the complexity of running a business in two countries. They’ve often been told that making international trading the thrust of their first company was making it about as difficult as it can come, but it was passion that drove them forward.

“It’s difficult having two companies, two countries, two currencies, two account systems. Then there’s two languages, and doing importing and exporting is not as simple as we’d hoped.” In the first year or so of operation, they’ve both learnt valuable startup lessons. The two have engaged with the right distributing partners, to not only streamline orders but also help with marketing and promotion, as well as investing in on-the-ground accounting assistance in Mexico. They’ve successfully navigated through the hurdles of obtaining an alcohol import licence, and are aware of what kind of lead times certain products come with.

As a source of inspiration for anyone else considering a similar move, Goodwin and Wilson have shown being ambitious and using your passions as a grounding for the business works. While Goodwin admitted growth has not been as fast as they’d hoped (but when is it?) they’ve learnt to be patient. Funding so far has come from them, with not too much money going in and overheads kept down. “We’ve thought about it and we’re not ready to get investors on board yet,” she revealed. “There will have to be at a turning point in the business, something big happening like a huge order that we wouldn’t be able to afford to satisfy without capital.” Right now they enjoy not having anyone to answer to, and are enjoying it being only the two of them to bounce ideas around.

For those who would like to hear more about the Tea & Tequila Trading story, Wilson will be joining Business Advice on stage at The Business Show on Friday 18 November. To sign up and attend The Business Show, visit the website.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.

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