Dragons’ Den: Manchester rum brand wins backing of two business giants

An expanding Greater Manchester-based independent rum brand received investment from two business giants during tonight’s episode of Dragons’ Den.

Tom Hurst and his award-winning Rockstar Spirits won the backing of both Touker Suleyman and Tej Lalvani – who will both receive 4% of the premium spiced rum business in exchange for £12,500 each.

It came after Mr Hurst received bids from every Dragon aside from Sara Davies for the business, including one for double the money and five times the equity on offer from Theo Paphitis – a legend of the BBC One show, standing in for the self-isolating Peter Jones.

Mr Hurst, 45, launched the brand in November 2018 when he waved goodbye to a 20-year corporate career in the drinks industry, working for the likes of William Grants and Majestic Wine.

Following the death of his mother two years earlier, it caused Mr Hurst, who is originally from Stoke-on-Trent, to re-evaluate his life, deciding it was time to do something for himself.

Sign up for your free BusinessLive North West newsletter

BusinessLive is your home for business news from around the North West- and you can stay in touch with all the latest news from Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria through our email alerts.

You can sign up to receive daily morning news bulletins from every region we cover and to weekly email bulletins covering key economic sectors from manufacturing to technology and enterprise. And we’ll send out breaking news alerts for any stories we think you can’t miss.

By bringing together North West coverage with that from across Reach’s titles in England and Wales, BusinessLive will shine a spotlight on the entrepreneurs, the stars of the future and the small firms that are the backbone of our economy.

Visit our email preference centre to sign up to all the latest news from BusinessLive.

He made his first batch of rum at his home in Worsley. The drink has since gone on to be stocked in Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Amazon, Selfridges, and is currently in the process of launching across Australia and France.

To date, it has sold around 87,000 bottles, and during the show, Mr Hurst served up a specially-made ‘Dragons’ Daiquiri’.

He told the Den his business follows the “premiumisation” trend seen in craft beer and gin – using “incredibly high-quality spirit”.

He said this year, the business will record a turnover of £720,000 with net profit of £250,000 – with those figures predicted to double next year.

Some of the Rockstar Spirits range

The entrepreneur received positive feedback from the Dragons, including from Deborah Meaden, who described the product as “lovely”, adding: “They look very good-quality so I’m expecting the drink in it to be lovely.

“You clearly know what you’re doing which is quite refreshing and a joy to listen to.”

The only issue that arose in the Den was the question of why he needed a Dragon at all.

With the firm’s future seemingly mapped out and plans to record profits of £12.5m within a matter of years, he said while “money is nice”, he had come to seek endorsement and the high profile that comes with having a Dragon on board.

He asked the Dragons for £25,000 in return for a 2% equity stake, with offers flying in from all but one of the assembled business heavyweights.

One Dragon that wasn't convinced by their pitch was Touker Suleyman
The entrepreneur won investment from Touker Suleyman (pictured) and Tej Lalvani
(Image: BBC)

That included an offer from Mr Paphitis for £50,000 – double the equity asked for, but for 10% of the business, with the chairman of Ryman promising to make him “a hell of a lot more” than his £12.5m profit target.

In the end, Mr Hurst negotiated a deal meaning both Mr Suleyman and Mr Lalvani will now join the business.

“I don’t think I’ve been as nervous since I had to do a reading in assembly when I was 11,” Mr Hurst said about appearing on the show.

“I had to take a few really big deep breaths in the lift to calm down before stepping out to do the pitch.

“It was a fantastic experience to take part in the show and a great rite of passage for any entrepreneur to test their mettle against some of the best business brains in the UK.”

The father-of-two credits his “big break” as when the brand’s first release – 65% Pineapple Grenade Rum – was featured on This Morning.

Presenters Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield sampled the drink and loved it, resulting in the product selling out on Amazon within an hour.

He said he was always inspired by the legacy of his great uncle Matthew Webb – who was the first man to swim the English Channel in 1875.

“His epitaph was ‘nothing great ever comes easy’ so I always refer back to that,” he added.

Also featured in Thursday’s show was Wilmslow-based Elizabeth Morana with her Mumba Bra for breastfeeding mums.

She didn’t win investment after concerns were raised about the firm’s turnover and profit figures.

Dragons’ Den continues next Thursday at 8pm on BBC One.

BusinessLive – West Midlands