Saturday, 08 May 2021
SUZY HOBBS is the co-founder of Mr Hobbs Gin, which takes its name from Harry Hobbs, founder of Hobbs of Henley, the town’s pleasure boating company. She was born and raised in Marlow where she went to St Peter’s School followed by Piper’s Corner in Great Missenden. She then went to The Henley College where she studied English literature, English language and French. While at college, she had a part-time job at the Angel pub where she met Jonathan (Jonnie) Hobbs, whom she married a few years later. They live in Stoke Row with their three daughters Lily, 21, Bella, 18, and Evie, 15.
Describe your business
We developed our own brand of gin in order to celebrate the heritage of the founder of Hobbs of Henley, Harry Hobbs, a bon viveur and entrepreneur. He was a publican and a boat builder who began hiring out his boats in 1870. He was well known for his liking for gin. The gin uses our recipe of botanicals similar to that developed five generations ago. In September we are launching Mr Hobbs 150, a new, luxurious and distinctive premium gin to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the boat business.
How many people does it employ?
There are four of us. Myself and Jonnie, Fern, who is involved in our marketing and administration, and Chantel, who has just joined us in sales.
What did you do before you started this business?
I was just 19 when Jonnie and I decided to get married. I became a mum to our first daughter when I was 21 and then we had our other two girls. So for several years I was a full-time mother. As the children stared school, I took some courses on marketing and joined the boat business where I’ve worked ever since.
When did you start your business?
We launched Mr Hobbs Gin in May 2017.
What was your objective?
For some time I’d had the feeling that we should do more to celebrate the wonderful heritage of the family business. Both Jonnie and I have a liking of gin and it was beginning to come back into fashion. Since Harry Hobbs was often seen drinking his gin while on the river, often at 11am, it appealed to us to see if we could launch a brand that could complement our boating business.
Who or what influenced you?
At Hobbs we have always looked to diversify and launching a new business that complements our current one and celebrates our heritage was very exciting to us.
What would you do differently if you could start again?
We possibly took on too many events in the first couple of years and spread ourselves a bit too thinly.
What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had?
At the start of the year we were doing really well and had worked hard to develop the brand. Waitrose had agreed to stock our gin almost from the start so we knew the business was viable even though the market had become very crowded. We were excited about the launch of Mr Hobbs 150 but we’ve had to put that on hold. Our online business increased substantially as a result of the lockdown but other outlets, pubs and restaurants, closed.
Do you compare on a regular basis?
Every six months I take a really good look at what’s working and what perhaps isn’t.
How do you market your business?
Social media and our website are a big part of our marketing strategy. Our events have been a crucial contributor to our growth.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
Diversifying and having the opportunity to grow your business and learn a whole new industry and overcoming the inevitable challenges.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Competing and trying to stand out in a market that has become crowded since the renaissance in British gin.
Do you have a five-year plan?
Our plan now is to develop the potential export opportunities.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
To set and follow budgets.
What advice would you give someone starting a business?
Have a very good plan for what you want to achieve. Know your market and be realistic.
What three qualities are important to success?
Having a friendly personality, being able to work to a plan and being prepared to take risks.
What’s the secret of your success?
I’m not a quitter. I’m really very passionate and I’m a hard worker. I also think it is important to be yourself.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
At the start we wanted to do everything we could to make it a success and as a result spent too much money.
How organised are you?
I’m pretty organised as I’m effectively juggling two businesses, which can be very demanding.
What can’t you do without every day?
A good cup of coffee around mid-morning.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
I find it hard to break up my day but it’s important to take some time out and get some fresh air.
What do you read?
I like non-fiction, crime and thrillers, all publications relating to the drinks industry and the Henley Standard.
27 July 2020
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