Belfast Telegraph

‘I sold my Xbox to fund my dream of a hip flask business’

Small Business Can

David Galbraith had been heading towards a career in a bank, after completing his studies in computing and information technology at Queen's University.

However, he stumbled across an article in a newspaper giving details of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, which prompted a whole new career path.

He is now the founding director of SWIG - a luxury hip flask brand based on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast.

Established less than three years ago, SWIG exports around the world and has sold more than 10,700 flasks, turning over around £500,000.

Despite the company's incredible success and David's plans to make it the world's number one hip flask retailer, it had humble beginnings. David (27) said: "I was working in IT when I read in the newspaper about the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, which basically gives you an opportunity to shadow a millionaire for a year.

"You go to all their meetings, follow them around, watch what they do and learn as much as possible.

"Companies like Tesco come in and talk to you, you try to get the best education that you can.

"You can't do that without having a few ideas and picking up bits and pieces and when I finished that I immediately went out and started up my own business.

"I have always loved hip flasks and thought this was something I could do, and two and half years on, we are selling in 40 countries. I was all set to go into the corporate world, into trade banking, but reading that article in the newspaper I was set on a whole different trajectory. From that moment I went in a completely different direction."

David made an immense leap of faith in setting up SWIG, selling everything he owned just to scrape together enough money to get the business off the ground.

"I always knew at some point that I was going to run my own company but I assumed I would work in business for 10 years at least and make my own money first.

"At the time, I had started up a few small businesses, they were more things on the side, nothing I would shout about.

"I knew about web design and marketing, but I had no idea about product development.

"I was living in Belfast at the time and sold everything, as I had to move to London and get the business started. I sold my Xbox, the television went, and I had about £3,500 or £4,000 to get started.

"I put everything I had into this vision, I was so sure it would work.

"Looking back now, some of the sacrifices I made were ridiculous. I couldn't afford a taxi or any transport, so I remember hiring a bike and cycling for two hours across London just to get to a supplier.

"At the time it didn't seem so bad and I am really proud now when I think of all the stressful situations I got through, like going to an exhibition without a van."

It is clear that David is passionate about his product. His interest in hip flasks began as a child, when he watched his uncle using one.

As a student, he wanted one of his own but found it was difficult to find one he liked.

This is where the idea for the company began and he has worked hard to spread his passion for his product. He began selling the hip flasks from a pop-up shop in London.

"It was four doors down from Piccadilly Circus, so you can't really have better footfall and it was an amazing opportunity," said David.

"That was the first time that I was selling to strangers; before then I had sold about 100 to family and friends.

"If anyone had a birthday or important occasion coming up, I would talk family and friends into buying a flask.

"We sold out in the first few days and then we were just giving out cards the rest of the time and the fact we were selling to strangers and not people I knew was amazing.

"From there, we really grew from word of mouth."

David said customer satisfaction and interaction with customers has been crucial in the success of the business.

"Our return rate is less than half a per cent, which is practically unheard of," he said.

Every hip flask is assigned a unique code, which allows the user to order replacement parts when required.

Customers are also invited to keep SWIG up to date on the unique and interesting locations where the flasks are taken. "My favourite has to be Kilimanjaro or space camp," said David.

"It's fantastic, I get so excited to see the amazing places they are taken. It blows my mind how far they go.

"Keeping customers happy is key, I think, because we rely so much on word of mouth.

"We have a chat facility on the website and people can contact us at any time.

"We will always do our best to fulfil a customer's order, we have next day delivery to America."

In future, David hopes to expand further into the US and would like it to make up 35% of sales in the next few years, before targeting the market in the likes of China and Japan.

In order to achieve this goal, David plans to increase the number of employees from three to six in the next year, to allow him to concentrate on search engine optimisation.

"I would like my product to be something that is in families for generations to come," he continued.

"I would say to anyone starting out to make sure they talk to as many business people as possible.

"Always make sure you speak to people who are a few steps ahead of where you are; when I was in the pop-up shop in London I shared the space with other people and got a lot of inspiration from them. I always knew at some point that I was going to run my own company but I assumed I would work in business for 10 years at least and make my own money first.

"At the time, I had started up a few small businesses, they were more things on the side, nothing I would shout about."

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.