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Pop-up bars, fabulous cocktails, and the “growth mind-set”

In 2011 Murdo McLeod had the idea for an events company offering pop-up bars for people hosting Come Dine With Me-style dinner parties that would offer the standards of a top cocktail bar without the need for them to dash around serving drinks to their guests.
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When McLeod started Zest Mixology in 2011, there was very little competition – there were some pop-up bars in London, but nothing up in the North of England. Hardly surprising then that the company saw huge success pretty much immediately, hosting 500 events in the first year of launching.

Fast forward to 2016, and Zest has the resources to serve groups of 500 in a marquee at a wedding, or 1,000 people at a business conference – it supplies everything needed, from the bar to the glassware.

The clients can choose from a whole range of pop up bars. Talking me through Zest’s offering, McLeod listed: “LED bars that light up to suit party environments and warehouse parties, very elegant mirror bars that reflect the beauty of their surrounding for glamorous weddings, rustic wooden bars that we use when we’re doing VIP enclosures in festivals.

“We pride ourselves on creating bespoke, themed bars for individual event. If a client wants a bar entwined with ivy, we can make that happen. If they want a bar painted red and white to match their football colours, then we can do that for them.”

Nowadays there is a larger appetite for pop-up bars, which is great for a growing business but brings challenges of its own: “In the last five years there’s been a vast increase in companies offering pop up bar services, from Inverness to Portsmouth.”

Every city has suppliers at some level, but McLeod positions his company as a leader in the sector, offering a truly national service. Zest regularly operates across the UK, from central Scotland to London, and as of January 2017 he claims it will be the only pop-up bar business with physical warehouses in both the north and south of the country.

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According to McLeod, Zest’s reach and level of resources is what makes it unique. Citing some previous examples of jobs the company has performed, McLeod said: “We do a lot of national campaigns, so for example Nokia Lumia wanted to do a pop-up bar in 13 different locations around the UK, and we were perfectly placed to deliver that campaign for them.

“Yorkshire Bank was having a 150-year birthday celebration, and wanted us to pop-up in ten of its branches on the same day all around the UK – we could comfortably do that for them.”

Another point of pride for McLeod is Zest’s ability to offer a personalised, individual service. “The ethos of the business is top quality cocktails served in nearly any location.” Indeed, over the years the company has worked jobs at rooftop events in London, castle grounds, yachts and villas in Ibiza – but sadly due to Zest’s celebrity clientele’s insistence on non-disclosure agreements this was about all he could share.

The company has gone from strength to strength; in the last five years of trading it has seen 30 per cent year-on-year growth, and currently there is an ambitious plan in place to grow 60 per cent year-on-year for the next three years.

In order to help him develop his business plan, McLeod joined Entrepreneurial Spark’s business accelerator programme, run in partnership with NatWest.“ I had a hunger for growth accelerator programmes to see what impact they could make,” he said.

“It’s all about growth mind-set, so what they’ve done is helped me to focus on maybe three key growth goals. Prior to Entrepreneurial Spark I had about ten growth ideas, and they’ve honed my thinking.”

McLeod believes that for a small business to succeed, you have to be really excited about what you do. It’s also important, he believes, to know when to ask for help.

“Seek out collaboration,” he advised. “Work with people, feed off their energy, ask for all the help you can get from growth accelerator programmes. The help is out there, and it’s a great deal better than sitting at your kitchen table staring in to space.”

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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