High school rugby mates earning thousands from rum side hustle - ‘we never expected it'

The spiced rums celebrate the history, heritage and people of Salford Docks in Greater Manchester which, in its prime, was the largest port in the UK. With inspiration taking from the Caribbean rums, fruits and spices which landed on the British shore here for the first time. Created by James Harrison and Tommy Gaughan alongside their day jobs, the pairs have made a name for themselves as the founders of a brand that is loved locally, regionally and nationally and Mr Gaughan spoke to Express.co.uk about their journey.

He said: “We created The Salford Rum Company back in 2018. At the time, the gin category was absolutely booming due to buckets of innovation and creativity, so we took inspiration from that sector and set out to make a local premium rum that would rival the luxury gin products on the market – and a product that we ourselves would like to drink.”

Learning the rum making process whilst still fully employed, the pair self-funded their start-up with an £8,000 investment to create their first golden spiced spirit: Salford Spiced Rum.

“Both of us have always loved rum, and we spotted a gap in the market for a craft spiced rum product that people like us would love to drink. Our wives loved gin, and there seemed to be so much creativity in that sector at the time – we wanted to do the same for rum.

“Salford Rum was intended to be a passion project, we never expected it to grow into what it has become!

“We launched with just a small self-funded investment of £4,000 each to buy our first 200 bottles and have been reinvesting the profits ever since,” he added.

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© James Harrison and Tommy Gaughan Salford Rum founders James Harrison and Tommy Gaughan

“The fact this is a side hustle has been a huge help. If we were full-time, we would need to take a salary, but instead we have reinvested that cash in growth. So far, we have been able to grow without external investment or large business loans. While we’re not taking home a salary, because we invest back into the business, we sold 39,000 bottles in the last 12 months which is pretty staggering, and we are forecasting 61,000 in the current financial year.”

He continued: “To date, we have created two key expressions; a golden Salford Spiced Rum and Salford Dark Spice, plus a limited-edition Honey Rum that has recently gone into the range full time.

“Our delicious golden Salford Spiced Rum is produced in small batches, column distilled in the shadows of old Salford Docks, and expertly infused with vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and dried Caribbean fruits.”

Not only do the small batches ensure that the quality of each bottle is above and beyond all expectations, it also helped to greater the demand for the small supply of delicious rum.

Mr Gaughan elaborated on the other two flavours in the range: “Salford Dark Spice Rum blends specially selected rums from Barbados, matured for up to eight years in ex-Bourbon, American white oak casks. We have combined these pot and column distilled rums with a distinct spice blend to deliver an exceptional Dark Spice rum that delights with flavours of vanilla, coconut, burnt caramel and cloves.

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“Lastly, our Honey Rum is blended with locally produced honey to deliver natural sweet and floral notes. It has been created as a tribute to Salford’s dock workers of old, known locally as the worker bees. The floral honey sweetness, coupled with the deep intensity of Salford Rum’s golden spiced liquid, creates a well-balanced flavour with honeycomb, caramel and butterscotch notes on the palate.”

Salford Rum has made its way from being sold to family and friends to being stocked in Co-op and Morrisons around Greater Manchester with its first supermarket listings being made this year for the Dark Spice rum.

However, the journey to side hustle success has not been easy for the founding duo, with Mr Gaughan noting that balancing a thriving business as well as a day job is incredibly difficult.

“It can be tough! We spend many evenings and weekends working on Salford Rum; developing new products and limited edition bottles, liaising with designers and attending craft markets and festivals.

© Salford Rum Salford Rum range

“We have set up the business in such a way that we can manage it mostly from a laptop. We outsource operations, legal, PR and sales and, most recently, we outsourced distribution to another Greater Manchester firm, Ten Locks, which manages a portfolio of progressive, conscious drinks brands.”

Mr Gaughan continued to say that having an ecommerce platform was vital to ensuring Salford Rum stayed afloat during the pandemic, alongside a shift of perspective on priorities of the business.

“A lot of inspiration was taken from the book The Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris. Shopify has been key to our ecommerce growth, particularly during lockdown last year as we quickly pivoted our model to focus on digital and social.

“This worked well, and we saw an incredible 1,500 percent uplift in online orders in the months after the pandemic hit in March 2020. Overall, we shipped over 10,000 bottles via the website alone in 2020, compared to around 1000 in 2019. A 1,000 percent sales increase for 2020 is incredible.”

These are generally numbers expected for a full-time business venture, but for a side hustle these profits are astronomical and Mr Gaughan noted that they don’t intend to stop here.

“Excitingly, we are opening our first bar, distillery and rum garden in Greater Manchester in early 2022. We got the keys to the property just this month for premises in an old railway arch in Salford. We’re calling it The Dirty Old Town Distillery after the song ‘Dirty Old Town’ on The Pogues’ 1985 album Rum Sodomy & the Lash. Work to transform the space into a fully functioning distillery and bar is starting now and we can’t wait to see how it will look.

“The support we’ve had locally for Salford Rum is nothing short of incredible. When looking for somewhere to take the brand to the next level, it was always going to be in Salford, and always going to be a place whereby our supporters can come and feel like they’re part of the Salford Rum family.

“We also have some exciting new products in the pipeline, and hopefully more supermarket listings on the horizon. Exciting times ahead,” he concluded.

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