Mark Smallwood and Liam Manton are the co-founders of Didsbury Gin, originally from Manchester in England. They secured a £75,000 investment for 33% of their business from Hyde-born businesswoman and TV dragon Jenny Campbell, on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme in 2018. They were kind enough to spare some time to chat with Inside the Cask.
For reference – ‘The Drinks brands in the Dragon’s Den’
Inside the Cask: Hi Mark and Liam, you are the founders of Didsbury Gin and first came to prominence through Dragon’s Den on the BBC. How did it all start for both of you? Where did the interest in drinks initially come from?
We both lived in Didsbury and knew each other from drinking in didsbury bars (note: Didsbury is a suburb of Manchester). We love gin, and we wanted to create something that we loved.
We didn’t ever think it would become the brand it has from making small batches in our living room!
Inside the Cask: What was it like to be part of the Dragon’s Den programme? How did you manage to get involved and what was the preparation required?
“From auditioning for the show to us being stood before the Dragons was only a couple of days,” recalls Smallwood. “It was nerve wracking to say the least, as we didn’t actually film till 5pm and we were there from 6am with a full day ahead. Lots of people were rehearsing their pitches, but we decided to take a more relaxed approach. We knew the numbers, and we knew what we were going to say. We also knew what the challenges were going to be and had a good idea of what the negatives were going to be.”
“We loved having the opportunity to appear on the show, and when Jenny offered to invest, everything just seemed like it was coming together,” says Manton.
“Her no-nonsense northern personality fits really well with the brand we are building, and we really liked how straightforward she was with us. She has some great ideas, and saw the growth opportunities for Didsbury Gin both nationally and internationally. Plus, we know she has a genuine interest in the product because she is a gin drinker herself.”
Inside the Cask: What was the most significant change once ‘Dragon’ Jenny Campbell invested £75,000 in your business? What does the future hold for the business?
It has given us the confidence to believe in ourselves even more, and the strategic advice we get from someone who has been there, done that and worked in a number of different sectors – you can’t put a price on that.
In the future, we’re looking at exporting to the US and Australia, plus there are some great upcoming opportunities with aviation. It’s all very exciting!
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about Didsbury Gin and what makes it so special?
Didsbury Gin is special because we use 100% fresh fruit in all our flavours.
We don’t cut corners, we don’t use additives and we’re vegan friendly. We have unique range of flavour combinations without ever compromising on quality.
Inside the Cask: Gin remains a large and popular drinks category. Any up and coming trends or brands to watch out for in the category?
RTD’s (Gin and Tonics / Cocktails in a can) are becoming ever popular… keep your eyes out to see what we’re bringing next!
Consumers are also drinking less, but drinking better, so we’re remaining committed to producing high quality products and flavours. No gimmicks!
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about your personal background? What else are you passionate about?
We’re both big Manchester United fans which is a great escape from the office for us both!
Mark has spent many years working in hospitality, and Liam within Corporate Social Responsibility and Business Development. We’ve got really different backgrounds but that’s what makes our business work!
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job? Anything that you would like to share that not many people would know about you?
We’re just so happy that we’ve created a product we love and built a great Didsbury Gin team! And of course that other people love too!
We’re gin lovers and enjoy good quality products and we’re really happy that we’ve been able to make it a successful brand!