Inspired by toffee vodka tasted on the ski slopes of her holidays, Judith Wren’s natural curiosity led her to create a version of her own. For years, she delighted family and friends by making gifts of the delicious drink, until a request to buy a bottle spurred her on to turn her hobby into something more adventurous.
Judith Wren, Managing Director of the award-winning Kin Toffee Vodka, set up her limited company in October 2014 with the aspiration of becoming the best in the sector. With wide industry acclaim, stockists including Booths Supermarkets and Moonpig.com, as well as a projected turnover of more than £1m in 2017-2018, Judith is certainly at the top of her game.
We asked Judith some key questions on how she created her success and what inspires her as a businesswoman.
Tell us about yourself and your business, how did you get started?
I created Kin Toffee Vodka and set it up as a business in 2014. I had been making the product for about six years before I even considered it to be a business - I tasted a similar drink whilst on holiday skiing and came home to make my own version. For all those years, I gave it to friends and then someone asked if they could buy a bottle. So, I thought I’d give it a go!
I had spent 30 years in financial services at a very senior level but decided to change career paths. At the time I chose to make Kin Toffee Vodka, I was working for a children’s charity and thought I had lots of transferable skills - which have been very well used since.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I had a taste of a product I loved whilst on holiday and when someone asked whether they could buy it, I thought there was something in that. I researched similar products on the market, I looked into the regulatory aspects and saw that it was doable. My idea came from a passion and from something I personally liked, I think this is what makes my product personal but also marketable. It also means it tastes great, because why would I make something for myself that doesn’t taste fantastic - in a taste test we are usually top!
What is your advice for those looking to set their own businesses?
Get good advice from professionals. Do your research into the market, see what competition is out there and establish your USP, as you need to market that to be different to the others. Be proud of what you do and tell the world.
What do you think the biggest barrier is to growing your business?
Cash flow! To grow significantly, you need to invest and to do that you need to have liquidity. New businesses take time to establish and it’s a chicken and egg situation, so understanding from the finance providers is essential. You as a business owner also need to be able to assess the risk, ensure that your business can grow sustainably and ensure that you maintain good relations with the professionals who can assist you.
What is your ideal day away from the day job?
If it's practical I go skiing. The sheer pleasure of being in the mountains, the focus you need to challenge yourself to ski demanding slopes and the adrenaline buzz when you have achieved it safely is wonderful. You have the glory of the great outdoors and the internal satisfaction of being a small part of it.
Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?
My father. He was a farmer, but he didn’t inherit anything, he started his farm from scratch because he was passionate about it. He was ahead of his time with not using chemical stimulates for animal growth, he put the welfare of his animals at the centre of his work and from that he built a profitable business – as well as a fantastic reputation. He worked all the hours needed to succeed but he also valued family time and meeting new people (he wouldn’t have called it networking, but it was!) He took every opportunity to have the best he could afford and to pass on that drive and confidence to his family.
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What’s your favourite book and why?
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It’s a long book but it has everything from determination to love and shows that different people have different motivations but strength of character, overcoming obstacles and sticking to your principles enhances life and your soul.
What’s your motto or favourite quote in life?
Some of us live, some of us live and learn. Never stop learning.
Which person in history inspires you?
Apart from my father, I think the late Dame Anita Roddick was a trail blazer and an amazing woman. Her principles were amazing and she based her whole successful business on goodness, people and knowing what worked.
What’s your mindset anthem – the song that is always guaranteed to pump you up?
Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell has got me through a lot of exams, interviews, presentations and sometimes just out of bed to grab the world and give it a shake!
The mother of all awards #FLNationalAwards & Summit 2018 is coming to your region with events in Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Leeds! It’s an inspirational programme showcasing diversity in business, recognising the doers, trailblazers & inclusive leaders across the UK. Join the conversation and don’t miss out - HERE