My Week: Tom Collins of Think Drinks

The founder of the soft drinks provider swears by the cocktail of getting his hands dirty, trying to take Friday afternoons off, and realising that staff can be like kids.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Our company essentially supplies drinks machines and equipment to venues and festivals for free and then makes money selling soft drinks stock to them. I’m not office based anywhere near as much these days. I used to have to be in to get everyone co-ordinated, but you want to be in front of customers because that’s what’s making you the money. 

I do a lot of standard MD-ing on Mondays, meetings with insurance, suppliers, accounts, and discussing the week ahead with our drivers. But then every other day of the week, I’m doing anything from meeting new clients, to new sales reps and new wholesalers, trying to get them on board with our brand. A lot of the time I’m even driving around doing some of the engineering work – I can do light maintenance on the machines, and it saves a lot of money if I get involved in that side as actual engineers and fitters would cost me around £55k per year. It also means I can be on the ground and involved in the company’s various processes and able to see what we need to tweak.

On Fridays, if I can, I try and get off earlier in the afternoon. My partner and I have just had our first baby, so I needed to make sure that everything was sorted for my paternity leave – I was expecting it to be a nightmare, exhausting, dealing with a bundle of crazy love and emotion. But we have a great team and they just got on with what they have to do.

That’s the good thing about the business – everybody works well together. The truth is, as a manager, you have to be frank. We’re a bunch of seven people and when there’s a problem, you’ve just got to sit down and say: ‘What are you moaning about?’ You’ve got to be direct, and get it on the table to sort it out. Staff are like kids sometimes: they test boundaries, they’ve got frustrations at home, and the business simply isn’t their life in the way it is mine. 

The most exciting thing that has happened so far in the development of the business was getting Matthew Clarke, a national wholesaler to sign a deal with us. We travel all around the country all the time with work anyway, so being able to grow up as a company next to such an established firm, be vetted out by them and still get a good price for our product and services, feels really good. 

The most challenging thing about it all is making sure our team can communicate well without having a huge budget for a really slick system. We don’t have £150,000 to spend on centralising all the company data from stock levels to number of available drivers to whether there’s toilet roll left in the loos. So it has to be on a shoestring budget and it forces us to work hard as a team.

If I could do anything differently, it would be to write a business plan at the front end. Knowing what I know now, I think I would have borrowed the right amount of money in one go, rather than doing it bit-part, and if we’d done it that way then we could have got to where we are in two years instead of the six years it has taken. I’m 32 years old now, and it would have been quicker if at 26 I had started with some proper finance. 

The thing I’ve learnt from it all is that you need to be really good on the service side. There’s nothing better than communicating well and sticking to your promises – people really appreciate that and that’s what we try to do.

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