Building a drinks brand may be thirsty work but that hasn’t stopped De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate Shaquille Hunter, whose drink company is celebrating surpassing more than 250,000 sales.
The 26-year-old from Birmingham was looking to bring the flavours of the Caribbean to the UK when he founded Sip Shack in 2019. Having started simply experimenting with flavours in his kitchen, Shaquille combined his own initiative with the skills he learnt from his Business Management degree and his Masters of Business Administration MBA to grow his company.
His first flavour, Sky Juice, is a combination of fruit juices including passionfruit and strawberry juice. It proved so popular with his friends that Shaquille went from selling his drink exclusively on Snapchat to going shop to shop to ask owners to stock his brand.
Fast forward two years and his business has grown from a single man operation to a team of five, with Sip Shack stocked in more than 400 wholesalers across the UK.
“Initially I wanted to set up my own restaurant, complete with unique recipes meals, side orders and drinks,” Shaquille said. “I thought what’s the best way of building this, so I started with the drinks and blending a couple of ingredients and it wasn’t until one of my friends one day said ‘hey, I’d buy this’ that the idea truly formed.”
“My family originally comes from the Caribbean, and I loved the food and drink out there. One of my favourite drinks was Sky Juice but it’s not bottled and sold in shops in the UK on a wide-spread scale, so I knew there was a gap in the market for my recipe.”
Following the success of Sky Juice, Shaquille and his team launched a new flavour, Mango Passion, in 2020. It’s already proven a hit with customers online and is set to be joined by two new flavours before too long.
Expanding the product range is just one of the DMU graduate’s key short-term goals. Having recruited a large-scale UK manufacturer for his drinks and upscaled his operations significantly last year, Shaquille is hoping to break Sip Shack into one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets.
Shaquille said: “The past two years have been manic. I’m now working on my pitches to supermarkets, showing them what I believe is a gap in a market and I think that we could be in one of the major supermarkets within the next year if we keep growing at this rate.
“It’s crazy to think how far the company has come in such a short time. It wasn’t too long ago that I was taking orders on social media and now seeing my products distributed to shops all over the country.
“Getting into supermarkets is the ultimate aim. From there we will be competing with some of the biggest drinks brands in the world and it will hopefully introduce more people to the amazing flavours that the Caribbean has to offer.”
Shaquille’s entrepreneurial spirit came to the forefront during his time on campus at DMU. Having participated in a Dragon’s Den-style pitching contest called Foxes Lair during the first year of his degree, Shaquille went on to form his own events company with friends.
No Manners, which organised events for freshers in collaboration with various nightclubs across Leicester, generated a revenue of approximately £20,000 across a three-day freshers event.
“What I loved about DMU was how hands-on the course was, particularly Foxes Lair– that’s where I knew I wanted to own my own business one day. It was such an eye-opening experience to explore all the aspects of running a business, from the first business plan to terms and conditions, upscaling opportunities and logistics – it’s actually set me up really well for Sip Shack.
“Being able to put forward everything I learnt at university and place it in the real world has been really rewarding. Knowing how to harness social media for marketing and growing our brand organically has been the greatest takeaway for me. It’s helped me realise my dream of owning a Caribbean drinks company and grow the business substantially in two years.
“I’d love to see more businesses and owners coming out of DMU. The best advice I can give is just to throw yourself into the business. If you’re confident in your idea, test it out on your friends and ask them to share across social because word of mouth will help it grow.”
Sip Shack is available online at www.sipshack.com, Amazon, and at major wholesalers nationwide.
Posted on Wednesday 15th September 2021