Andy Arnold-Bennett - Professional Actor to Gin Maker

“The way the job market is going, there is no stable employment anymore.  If you have an idea or a passion and think you could either make a living or bring something valuable into your life, you’ve just got to try!  

Zoe and I love the sense of having control. We love being able to make decisions on what happens in our lives.”  

Overview of earlier career.

After redundancy in his early 20s, Andy took the opportunity to fulfil a life-time ambition and began training as a professional actor. His acting career has spanned more than two decades and comprised theatre work in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and other theatres all over the world including in South Korea – where he met his wife, Zoe.

Andy has also appeared in one-off tv dramas and made several appearances on Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

The trigger for change?

Typically, theatre contracts last between 2 months and 18-months so Andy had spent a large part of his career being away from the stunning part of the world he calls home. 

“I just felt like I was dipping in and out of life in Cumbria and I found myself just wanting to be at home more.”

Andy and Zoe Shed 1 1a.jpg

First steps?

“A few years ago, on the last night of a play in the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, I got talking to the father of another cast member. He asked what I was going to do for work next.  After discovering that I was off to find a part-time job in between acting contracts, he offered me a job driving for his beer bottling business.  I accepted and over the months I spent driving around Scotland, Northern England and the Midlands I got to meet lots of micro-brewers.  I got to chatting with them all and learned how they had started their businesses from very little.

At the same time, Zoe had been making sloe and damson gins at home for years and one evening, on tour, when I was quarantined in my dressing room with a heavy cold, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself so I decided that we should give Gin-making a go.

Zoe was up for it.  We started researching and very soon we bought the distillery equipment and the correct licences and set up our micro-distillery in our 7ft square shed.

We opened the doors of Shed1Gin in October 2016.”

What Andy learned:   

·         “By starting small, we risked little. 

We are moving into new premises soon, more than 2 years after setting up the business so we are now taking on more risk.  But in the beginning, we started very small and we felt completely reassured that if all else failed, we’d never have to buy gin ever again!  There were no downsides.

·         The process of creating something is fun.   

Figuring out how to make compound gin, working out which ingredients we liked and in which quantities was really good fun.  We spread the fun around and became very popular with neighbours and friends who all became our dedicated, personal and loyal tasting team!

·         You need to enjoy learning and researching to get involved in something like this. 

Even something as simple as sourcing bottles can get very complicated for a small batch producer.  Lots of suppliers have minimum order levels which are often way beyond the resources of a young business. Even that one decision took quite some research, but the process was interesting and we got the result we wanted.

·         Differentiation is key.  Small batch, big flavour is our motto.

Everyone likes there to be a story behind your business but in the end, if they don’t like the taste of what’s in their glass you have no hope.  Our motto is small batch, big flavour.  It’s our differentiator.  Our flavour is much more intense than many gins in the current market.

·         Growing organically has worked for us. 

We had the idea that it might work on our first night when we invited local businesses to come and taste our products. We thought we’d need to do loads of promotional work just to get our first orders but that night we got orders. 

Within a couple of weeks, word of mouth spread and we were off!  We now sell in specialist delis and spirit retailers across all of Cumbria and into the Yorkshire dales as well as having our own on-line shop.

·         Get involved in local business networks

We came across Cumbria Growth Hub whose advice and knowledge has been invaluable to us at every stage of our development.  They couldn’t have helped us more.  

·         Minimise risk where you can.  

We set up a PLC from the beginning as we’re not the sort of people to risk our home. 

·         It’s possible to minimise risk but at some stage you need to jump.

I guess I was kind of lucky - the career of a professional actor is economically unstable, so I’ve been used to that level of financial instability.  

I’ve always had the attitude that if I need to just get a part-time job to keep money coming in, I will.  Zoe and I always said that if, at any point along the way, we needed to get out and get another job to keep doing this, we would.  It’s great if you have money behind you but if you don’t it’s not the end of the world.

·         It takes time. 

We’ve been going since October 2016 and we’re still developing the business to the point where it will give us a decent level of income and while we are getting closer all the time, we’re not there yet.

How it feels on the days when Andy knows he has made the right decision?

Zoe and I love the sense of having control. We love being able to make decisions on what happens in our lives.  We’re enjoying feeling like we have control over our future – the ideas, the drive and the determination.  

Of course, we can’t control the external environment – suppliers, customers, regulations etc but no one can.

The way the job market is going, there is no stable employment anymore.  If you have an idea or a passion and think you could either make a living or bring something valuable into your life, you’ve just got to try!  

Regrets?

None!

Find out more about Shed1Gin at:

Website: https://www.shed1distillery.com/

Twitter: @Shed1Gin

Instagram: shed_1_gin

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