After a busy year of getting the company off the ground, we caught up with the couple to discuss what they’ve learnt along the way and why it’s so important to adapt to change when setting up in the industry.
Hi Tim, thanks for chatting with us today. First things first, what inspired you to set up De-Canter?
It all started two years ago when myself and Michelle were planning our big day. We wanted something quirky for the wedding reception but found it difficult to source bars that were bespoke – that’s when we realised there was a gap in the market, particularly in the Lincolnshire area. We both love our booze, especially gin and rum, and so that’s when the idea of De-Canter was born. We essentially used the money we got from our wedding and some savings to source a fully equipped horsebox and the rest is history!
What a great time to realise a shared dream! Are weddings your primary market?
We thought they would be but we actually have a nice mix of events that we provide our services to. Our peak time is spring and summer during the main wedding season and we’re already taking bookings for 2020, but we’ve also been doing a great number of private bookings such as parties through to festivals and country fayres. We’ve also started doing gin tasting classes so our diaries feature a range of different events. We’ve diversified a lot since our launch; in fact we’ve invested in a commercial coffee machine so we can offer Baileys hot chocolates, liquors and other drinks during the winter months and pitch up at Christmas markets.
That’s great that you’ve learnt so early on in your venture that diversity is key to success. Do you think it’s essential for businesses to expand their offerings as they grow?
You have to be adaptable; you have to evolve. In the beginning we sometimes used to spend five hours waiting for trade until we started doing the coffee. We would set up at an event at 7am for example and lose business just waiting for the “appropriate time for alcohol.” We also don’t mind spending a little bit more on nice looking bottles – one of our top sellers recently has been a beautiful bottle of Mermaid gin; people want to sample something they’ve never tried before and we definitely believe that people look at the aesthetics when buying.
Aesthetics is always key isn’t it when trying to entice people to your business. How do you go about sourcing new drinks and business on that note?
We’re very keen on supporting local businesses and our Pin Gin and Lincoln Gin are two of our customers favourites. We test every single gin ourselves and we also ask people to vote on our social media channels for which products they’d like to see us stocking. A lot of our work now comes via social media or word of mouth and I send out brochures and emails featuring nice pictures of De-Canter to obtain new opportunities. The look of our horsebox is definitely in keeping with the type of events we go to. It’s all about appearances and driving home the fact that we’re compliant with regulations. NCASS’ Outdoor Events Directory and text alerts have also been really useful – we love the fact that one day we can be out in the field and the next day giving people a gin tasting class.
You started De-Canter with no direct experience of the catering industry; how has NCASS membership helped you to get the business off the ground?
In the beginning it all came down to research; we used the NCASS website to learn a lot about the industry and then joined up easily online for membership. The information is incredibly helpful when starting up, especially when we were looking to obtain a 5 hygiene rating as we couldn’t find help anywhere else. The membership fee is well worth all the advice we got over risk assessments, compliancy and preparing for environmental health inspections. The little things we learned from NCASS were instrumental.
What have been your biggest challenges so far and what have you taken from it?
Getting into certain events has been an issue; it can be difficult to get event organisers to move away from regular traders and take a chance on us and we’ve also had a few event organisers who just weren’t willing to negotiate. Using NCASS have been instrumental to our success and I’m not saying this just to pay lip service, but it really did help us to navigate events and provided guidance on what constitutes a good and bad event and when not to take risks. We’ve learnt from past mistakes and now have a clearer understanding of which events to focus on; in fact, we now ask for exclusivity at events where we think that’s reasonable. Most importantly, we’ve learnt to say no!
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting out in the catering business?
Persevere and do your research. Make sure you spend enough time working on compliance; get this sorted ahead of time so you don’t need to rush. It can be demoralising when you go to an event and you’re not making a lot of money, it’s raining and footfall is low, so perseverance is definitely key to success. Learn from your mistakes and tweak things for next time. Work hard, adapt and evolve!