We all come up with some crazy ideas in the pub after a drink too many. Solution to world poverty? Flawless! Text that ex? Great idea! New business venture? Guaranteed to succeed.
But the thought of setting up a micro-brewery, brain-child of 22-year-old Sam Ward, was one of those rare schemes conceived in a pub that has turned out to have proven incredibly successful. Its first brew launched just three months ago, the top of its game Tweed Brewing Company has tippled the tastebuds of many a parched Mancunian mouth.
Having come so far from the early days of selling teas and coffees at horse shows and with a successful sweet shop already under his belt, Sam has since turned his mind to beer.
Through to the interview stages of The Apprentice, keen entrepreneur Sam is determined not to let his age defy his ambition.
Aubrey Allegretti caught up with the brewer, and heard from Sam his dreams for global expansion, advice for other aspiring tycoon-types, and attempts to stem the stigma of business being a privately-educated boy’s game.
How did you come up with the idea to start a brewery company?
It all started with a conversation over a pint last summer that really got the ball rolling. We were discussing how drinking trends have changed and how people are paying more and more attention to the ingredients used in what they drink and the processes involved. The conversation should have ended there, but as always, I couldn’t just leave it open-ended - so I went and did a fair bit of research.
I soon found out that it was relatively easy to start a micro-brewery. The only real thing stopping me was money. That and knowing how to brew, of course... I was confident in my ability to deliver a strong brand so approached the bank and asked for a loan. It didn’t really phase me - I mean, if it all went wrong the only thing they could take off me was my iPhone.
I approached a close friend, who luckily already worked for another brewery at the time, told him my plans and he jumped straight on board.
Why did you decide to set up the brewing company when it was something so far removed from your previous business ventures?
The Tuck Shops was a massive learning curve and I learnt a lot through being able to take the company from a market stall to a high street shop, along with a successful e-commerce side to it! I was able to experience ‘business’ from almost every angle and appreciate how hard it was to climb the ladder and continue to climb when it’s so easy to be distracted.
How has your history helped you achieve what you've achieved over the years?
The best thing about working at markets and local horse shows is that you witness first-hand what to business newbies can seem like abject business jargon; things like ‘supply & demand’ and ‘target market’. You can sell out of all of your products - tea, coffee, sweets, the lots - at a horse show event, but take the same products to the highstreet and you won’t sell anywhere near half as much, because tof a lack of demand. At the end of the day, you’re relying on your customers to walk past the shop or park their car up and come in store. It really forces you to think innovatively about what you sell, and more importantly, how you sell it.
What effect has social media and a strong digital presence had on your brand’s success?
Social media has played a massive part in the success of both of my brands. It’s allowed me to keep customers up to date with new products, show them the processes involved, where they can grab a quick pint and even lets us take orders direct through the platforms - to the point where our very first orders (162 gallons of beer) were sold through pre-orders on Twitter.
It also allows the customers to see a more intimate side of the brand, which I think really works well when it comes to first-time buyers. It’s actually quite shocking to see so many business’s completely overlooking a vital social media stratergy.
Do young people really have much of a pallet for high-quality drinks? Are they the ‘jäegerbomb’ more than the ‘gin and tonic’ generation?
I wouldn’t say what we brew is a refined taste. I would agree traditional ‘real ale’ is a horrendously refined taste, but the craft beer we are currently producing see’s us use fresh ingredients such as Lime Leaves, Pineapple, Chocolate malts etc. Which allows us to produce an easy drinking, crisp, refreshing, sought after pint. To the point where we have actually had reports of lager drinkers opting for our newest brew HOPSTER. Which takes a lot of its inspirations from the American craft beer scene.
Why the name ‘Tweed’?
The reason behind the branding and the name of the brewery is a simple one really. I wanted something that would instantly be interpreted as a high quality, hand made, quintessentially British product - a crystal clear message no matter who or where you are on the planet. The name Tweed screams that in an instant.
What's the success been like in Manchester and the rest of the country?
It’s taken off in Manchester a lot better than I ever thought it would, even against the likes of ‘Dry January’ and pubs having a beer backlog from the new year period. However the growing consensus from my Liverpool and Chester outlets is that it’s been the branding that got them intrigued in the product - that and the high quality of the beer that’s brought them back for their second order. We even had 2 of our beers, The Winter Tweed & The Black Shire Stout feature in the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival.
Has your age proven a barrier in getting where you have today?
When I first started out in business people were sceptical about working with such a ‘young lad’. But once they spend two minutes with me they quickly realise that it’s all professional. As long as you know your stuff it doesn’t matter how old you are. I think a lot of them leave feeling quite shocked and impressed - especially some of the more traditional business men and women out there.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’ve had a few letters recently asking me for advice. My response is always the same: Know what you want and know how to get it. As long as you’re dynamic and keen, you can’t go far wrong.
Finally, what led you to apply to The Apprentice and what are you going on to try and achieve?
I applied for The Apprentice to try to break this stigma that is associated with business being primarily a privately educated realm of suits and ties. I wanted to show that young, driven people can in fact accomplish a lot in a very short space of time. But most of all, the journey and the learning to be done on the way is invaluable for any serious young entrepreneur.