Growth, How I did it

Soul Virgins

Michelle Hammond /

start-up-profile-soul-virginsSoul Virgins has set itself the task of making non-alcoholic drinks sophisticated, launching several non-alcoholic beverages made with fruit concentrates and natural flavours.

 

The Soul Virgins concept is simple – ready-made, single-serve bottles of popular cocktails such as cosmopolitans and mojitos, minus the alcohol.

 

Originally from New Zealand, the company launched its products in Australia earlier this year.

 

“Soul Virgins is an ideal non-alcohol option for mums-to-be, a healthy night out with friends or for designated drivers,” managing director Geoff Hunt says.

 

Hunt talks to StartupSmart about how he and his wife are redefining what it takes to have a good time.

 

When was the business founded?

 

The business was started in December 2008 when a family acquaintance, who was already in the trade, approached me and said that if I came up with a concept that he liked, then he would make an investment and, in return, give my wife and I “sweat equity”, which now stands at 50%.

 

My wife and I founded the company and the concept after many trials in our kitchen at home. The original investor is also still involved.

 

What prompted you to launch it – what’s your background? What niche did you identify?

 

My background is heavily grocery-based over the last decade. I had a previous business before Soul, selling fresh yoghurt smoothies to supermarkets around Auckland.

 

We were in approximately 15 supermarkets. The business struggled to make a profit though, and compete with the large players, so after 18 months we decided to stop trading.

 

It was an incredible launch pad, with some huge lessons learnt.

 

Soul would not be succeeding now without that experience under my belt, even though it was a tough period watching your business struggle so much.

 

What were your start-up costs?

 

Start-up costs were approximately $100,000, with additional advertising dollars of approximately $100,000 spent since its inception

 

How many staff do you have?

 

Currently, I am the only employee, with my wife helping out where she can, and all the other tasks are done by contractors such as freight, brokers and manufacturing. All administration is done by me.

 

How do you promote the business?

 

We are starting to get a lot out of Facebook as a great tool for building a brand through having your own group of loyal consumers, general advertising and the chance to give back, with competitions that are easy and cheap to run.

 

We have recently signed on as the official drink sponsor of Hello Sunday Morning, which is an online movement that is trying to change people’s relationship with alcohol by making pledges about how long you will abstain for, and being supported by other members.

 

They have about 5,500 members on Facebook and we will be doing giveaways, etc, with them over the next year.

 

We are currently considering doing an extensive in-store demo campaign pre-summer, which is a fantastic way to spread the word.

 

There is nothing more tried and tested than getting people to try your products before buying them. In addition to all this, we are doing extensive PR with Polkadot PR in Sydney.

 

How do you stand out in the market? What’s your point/s of difference?

 

Soul has positioned itself as a genuine alcohol alternative, and we want to make it cool not to drink.

 

We bring a new concept to the carbonated soft drink industry by basing our combinations on the world’s most popular cocktails in a sparkling non-alcoholic format.

 

This also allows us to clearly distance ourselves from the larger brands, with a clearly defined concept and clearly defined unique flavours.

 

What are your revenue projections for 2011-2012?

 

We plan to crack $1 million this year in turnover.

 

What’s the biggest risk you face?

 

You’re always a bit vulnerable when all your competitors are so huge, and you are at the premium end of the market, but I think our main aim is to really try to diversify into other channels, get new international markets going and put our eggs into more baskets.

 

We are looking at options around new investment and partnerships to make this happen.

 

Is there anything you would have done differently?

 

There are loads of things I would have done differently, but if I’d done them correctly I would never have learnt how to run a good business!

 

Although the saying “Don’t bite off more than you can chew” certainly resonates with me.

 

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

 

Three Ps. Persistence – keep going even when the chips are down. Patience – good things take time. Perseverance – it’s a test of attrition sometimes.

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