Theo Garcia, co-founder of Antler & Bird, tells the story of how his business went from an idea to selling 1,200 bottles of cold brew coffee a week.
(1) Who are you and what is your business?
My name is Theo Garcia, I’m 22 and a co-founder of Antler & Bird, a cold brew coffee start-up based in the Cotswolds.
I launched the business with my business partner, Alex Foss Sims, in July 2016. After working together as baristas in a local café, we noticed the lack of cold brew coffee available and wanted to create an alternative to shop-bought coffee, which can often be expensive and inconsistent in quality.
(2) How has it grown since foundation?
After launching in July 2016, we were initially selling around 50 bottles each week. One year on, we are now selling around 1,200 bottles each week – a 24x increase on sales in just under a year.
A big part of our growth comes as a result of securing new stockists. Our drinks are sold in local cafés and shops in Stroud and Tetbury, as well as cafés in Bath and Bristol. More recently, we’ve extended into London by securing listings in Pimlico and Marylebone. This brings our stockists to a total of 50, which we’re incredibly proud of.
(3) What do you attribute that growth to?
Before launching the business, we did heaps of market research. We found that the majority of cold coffee drinks were saturated with sugar and that there weren’t many natural, low-sugar alternatives.
As former baristas, we spotted a growing demand for cold brew amongst coffee lovers. And while these brands existed in other countries, there was a gap for a similar product in the UK. Once the idea was borne, we trialed samples on friends and family and spent lots of time perfecting the taste.
(4) What are the challenges of running a company in the Cotswolds?
The biggest challenge is the distance to surrounding cities. Alex and I often have to drive further to get specific resources, as our nearest city is 30 miles away. Sometimes it can also be a difficult winning over traditional coffee lovers to try cold brew. As with any new product, the challenge often lies in winning over new customers, but we’re slowly getting there.
In the initial stages, we gave stockists lots of free samples to try. We dressed these up by giving each buyer a hand-written letter explaining why we thought our drinks would work well in their store. Although feedback is usually positive, we often have to chase for a yes or no answer. In that respect, persistence is key.
Fundamentally though, Alex and I are firm believers that if a product isn’t right, it just won’t sell. Because of this, we spent lots of time perfecting the taste and consistency of the brew before final bottling.
(6) Why did you pitch for funding from the Start Up Loans Company, and why do you think you were successful?
After first launching Antler & Bird using our personal savings, we quickly realised there were plenty of unexpected costs like product testing and branding design in the initial stages. With sales on the up, we were struggling to meet the fast-growing demand of the product.
We approached the Start Up Loans Company to secure the additional capital needed to grow the business. After successfully applying, Alex and I received a £25,000 low-interest loan. We used the funding to upscale production and improve the brand design.
Start Up Loans assigned us a mentor to help create a tailored business plan, which outlined the next steps to help grow the business. Both the funding and mentoring support was instrumental towards helping us take the next step on our start-up journey.
(7) What has been fundamental in achieving profitability?
Understanding our pricing. To do this, we simply worked backwards and we knew we wouldn’t pay through the nose for a cold coffee, so wouldn’t charge our customers that. We worked out what was a realistic price and based our product costs around that.
Our competitors were selling their drinks for up to £4 per bottle, so we also knew we’d have an advantage by selling at a cheaper price.
(8) What have been the biggest learnings of the last year – what would you have liked to have known at the beginning?
We think it’s really important to demonstrate commitment and conviction to your brand. Before launching Antler & Bird, Alex and I often felt intimidated by the experience of bigger retailers. But in hindsight, startups bring something fresh and exciting to a market full of established players; something that bigger retailers may not necessarily have.
(9) What is your advice for building a drinks brand?
If you’re looking to launch any food or drink brand, the proof is always in the pudding. Making it taste good is the recipe for success. Make sure people like your product. Give samples out to the public and ask for feedback. Then, improve on the product further. The rest will all follow.
But before that, make sure you do your research. Learn the market inside out and assess what your competitors are doing. That way, you can see if you have a strong enough USP to set your product apart.
(10) Will you be targeting supermarkets – will it be a different approach to independents?
Definitely – we think it’s important to build a sales strategy with a certain target audience in mind. For independents, we appreciate that owners are often busy focusing on different areas of managing the business.
Supermarkets, on the other hand, will have their own buying team that will invite sales pitches. You need to have the exact figures and a strong sales record to build a case for stocking the product. It’s a much more formal process.
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