GABRIEL DAVID – Make Mine A Luscombe
Deep in the heart of the Devonshire countryside, about 30 mins south of Exeter, lies one of the UK’s most successful soft drinks producers.
Originally a small, family run business, Luscombe Drinks now employ over 50 staff, boast the talents of some of the industries most knowledgeable names and ship to over 25 countries.
It’s certainly not been a straightforward ride though and the past 35 years have seen more than a few changes. Despite adapting and reinventing along the way, this market leading enterprise has never once deviated from their quality and core values.
Pip and I met up with Gabriel David; the man at the helm, to find out exactly what it takes to move a brand from kitchen table to global success and to hear of the challenges he’s overcome along the way.
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
Face the challenge
When we started Luscombe, we were working from a table, probably not much bigger than this boardroom table we’re sat at now and bottling by hand.
Our greatest challenge, as a growing business, was always to retain the quality of those early, small batches, whilst scaling the business; something that proved to be a very tricky thing.
Very recently, we brought in a great management team to do just that though; to grow a family business and take it to its full potential. The problem with doing that, I’ve found, is that they are naturally going to be geared towards profit margins. When this happens, as a founder you find yourself in a bit of a tussle; you want to retain the values and quality of the product and the team want to see the bank balance grow. However, the quality of Luscombe is non-negotiable and this will always remain the case.
Don’t chase the money
It may sound completely wrong, but I’m not in this for the money. However, I do know that if I do something right what will drop out of the bottom if you like, is the money. In twenty years, that mindset hasn’t failed me. When you start doing things for money, when you start chasing the money, you come away from the quality aspect. If you stick to your core values, then the money will follow in time.
If you’re going to bother doing something, make sure you do it well.
You can spend 80% of your effort creating something mediocre, but it’s the last 20% that counts. You may be exhausted getting to the 80% but if you can go that extra 20%, that’s the difference; that’s where the magic lies. Those last steps are the ones that matter; they are the ones that pay off and differentiate you in the food and drink world. Yes, you can settle for an 80% effort but what’s the point in that? I’m all about going those extra steps – even if some of them are unsuccessful.
Your time will come
Back in the very early days of Luscombe, probably around 35 years ago, we started out making cider. The family owned a small farm but we weren’t making any money; my father, who was running the farm, wasn’t a farmer. He was actually a philosopher and a psychoanalyst. He liked the idea of farming, but he just couldn’t monetise it so we diversified into making cider. One of our good friends Johnny Nance; a very talented carpenter shipwright joined the business and became the cider master. He made an extremely good cider and built a name for Luscombe.
He then left the business, as people do, and someone else came in to run things.
For about 10 years, my father was bailing out a failing business; pumping in around £10,000 a year of his own money. I felt that was wrong and we needed to change things, but it was his enterprise.
At that time, I guess I was around my mid 20’s, I had never been employed. I preferred my own enterprises. I was keen to prove myself but despite asking to be involved in the business, things didn’t evolve. After seven or eight years, at 28, I moved away to Sicily; spending four years there. When I came back to England in 97’, Luscombe was on its knees and they were about to wind things up.
A little smarter, a little wiser and with nothing to lose, I decided to take the business on, but without the attached debt. I took the equipment and the name and I started again. I was full of Sicilian passion and ready for the challenge.
Never. Ever. Compromise
My time in Sicily taught me a lot about compromising; simply put, don’t do it. Don’t compromise and never settle, don’t settle for ‘mediocrity’. That doesn’t mean you’re hard and not flexible, but if you know something has to be done a certain way, the right way, don’t go off the track.
In Sicily you’d never compromise and eat something out of season; you’d never eat a tomato that’s grown in a greenhouse, it just won’t happen. You’d have dried tomato or pureed tomato, but you won’t eat a fresh one that’s been grown in a greenhouse.
Be undeterrable. Be passionate
Luscombe is built on a passion; on a desire to create something that people can really enjoy. When you take a business, that started around the farm kitchen table and you want to recreate the processes that went into those first batches, on a grander scale, you have to be passionate about it. Achieve growth in all the varied aspects, not least the specialist equipment to conserve all those flavours fruit has. You have to take that passion and obsession with taste and employ people just as passionate.
Address your weaknesses
As a business, communication was always one of our weak points. At one point we weren’t really communicating within the team, let alone the customer; we were really quite backward in coming forward with marketing our story to the outer world. It’s been a long road but we’ve now addressed this and brought a Communications Director on board to manage things with fantastic enthusiasm. She is my right hand.
Get out of your own way
If I’m honest, one of the biggest hindrances to our growth, was me. Like many founders, they are likely to hold a business back because of control issues.
Anyone who has set up their own business will have elements of being a control freak and so the difficult bit will always be in the letting go. But to see growth, I know you have to let go.
I now know that every single day is a continual learning process; the older I get, the more I realise that and I’m more aware than I’ve ever been of what I don’t know.
The UK soft drinks market has evolved so much in the last 15 years, to the point that almost 25% of millennials now choose not to drink alcohol. In general, they are changing their attitude towards drinking and Luscombe are catering for them.
As a business, you have to respond to the market around you. For Luscombe that means responding to the way food and drink are moving forward; especially with regard to the reduction in sugar consumption. Again, millennials are making a conscious move towards being more aware of their sugar intake in general and our new range of sugar-free drinks address this move; adding another element to our product range.
A final word….
Never make a decision based on fear. It’s absolutely bonkers to do so and will always prove to have been a bad decision.
When you want something badly, you want it for the wrong reasons; be prepared for the long game. Aim to be the best, as you are unlikely to be the biggest and don’t do it solely for the money; unless you are in financial services!
Follow Gabriel and his team @luscombedrinks or visit www.luscombe.co.uk/