A packed panel session at SubscriptionX this May will see founders of subscription businesses come together to share the critical inflection points for their brands, with speakers from Beer52, Hunter & Gather and JOMO Club taking to the stage.
Ahead of this Founders Forum & Roundtable, Gemma Mills, CEO & founder of Jomo Club, sat down with Katie Searles to share her experiences.
Q: What was your journey to launching JOMO? How did you become an entrepreneur with an alcohol-free spirit subscription company?
Taking it back to childhood – I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family. My Mum ran her own business, as did my Dad and my Granddad. Being around business was at the core of my growing up. I think this really put business at my core.
My Mum worked from home, looking after me, while running her business at the same time. I was always around those conversations – she would drive me to school with her sales calls on loudspeaker. I’d be taking her notes on her work notepad when I was around seven.
When I was working up to finishing school, I knew that I just wanted to get stuck straight into the working world. I moved into the events space, within sales and marketing, but during lockdown was the real pivotal moment of wanting to start my business, JOMO Club.
I was actually a member of Craft Gin Club at the time. My partner, Richard, and I had gone from commuting to London to working and living at home, like so many people. We would use Gin and Tonics to divide the working day from relaxing in the evening. I must say, it worked well.
The novelty soon wore off when we realised lockdown wasn’t going anywhere. The drinking at home, which we’d never really done before, was starting to have an impact on our workouts and mental wellbeing, and that’s when I started exploring the alternatives to alcohol.
At the time, I only really knew of one alcohol free spirit and it didn’t appeal to my personal taste. When I started looking at other options there were over 500 alcohol free spirits available on the market, but pretty much all of them were undiscovered.
The journey started from a self discovery, and evolved to really wanting to make the best tasting, best quality, alternatives more accessible to everybody.
Q: On the point that there are limited well known alcohol alternatives, has that been a barrier for you?
People’s perceptions around what was available and also the quality was and I suppose still can be a barrier for people trying different alcohol free spirits. When the category started around six-seven years ago, the quality was fairly poor but the changes in that time has been exceptional and we are finding there really isn’t room for poor quality when it comes to alcohol free now.
It originally was about having an option, now it’s about having the best option. The big brands are usually the ones that are listed in the supermarkets, which is great for people to at least start trying them, but there are so many artisan brands that have done such a great job on their spirit that are undiscovered.
We have found, especially with physical events when we meet people in person, they almost don’t even want to try because they’ve tried a few in the past and didn’t like them. When we encourage them to come to our stand bar and understand the types of drinks they like, they’re pretty mind blown when they take a sip. Another point is everyone is different. One person loves tequila and one person loves gin, this is the same for alcohol-free spirits. It isn’t a case of trying one, not liking it and being done with alcohol-free, there are so many different varying flavour profiles out there and you can only find what you like best from discovery.
Q: On the event side of things, do you find going to physical events is really helpful for growing both your business and your subscription offering?
It’s been really interesting. It’s always great to see people face to face just to get direct feedback and for people to meet and support a small business.
From when we first launched to now, the changing perceptions around alcohol free has been really important for us to understand – both the industry and consumers. At the beginning, people would often walk past our stand scoffing: “I’m going to go straight to the gin stand, what’s the point in that?”
Then last November, at BBC Good Food, people were going straight past gin stands to us, we had the biggest queue – 20 people deep waiting for a drink. It’s been really interesting to see such a shift in behaviour.
Q: When growing your business, what other lessons have you learnt in launching Jomo Club?
There have been too many to mention. It’s definitely been a roller coaster.
One thing that I’ve really learnt is to look at the small things when growing a business. So easily, especially in our lives currently, there is a focus on the now – someone has made millions with this business, or someone’s changed someone’s world from doing this. Sometimes when you’re in the business day in and day out, it feels like things aren’t moving quick enough.
But I found if you really look at focusing on the small things and doing them really well, you are edging in the right direction bit at a time. Just slow it down a tiny bit and focus on the small things. Great things can take time.
The other thing is customer experience. Obviously something that’s really, really important for subscription businesses or any business.
I have learnt you don’t have to be perfect all the time. As a small business, you make mistakes and people understand that. As long as you handle their experience quickly and put it right then a negative can absolutely be turned into a positive.
Q: How do you balance your subscription model, bottle shop and gift box service? Do you think offering more than simply a subscription service has been critical to the success of Jomo?
We’re still primarily focusing on subscriptions as our core model, but it made sense for us to expand out into gifting and the JOMO bottle store.
The gifting side was a natural fit, especially around Christmas time and people’s sober birthdays. Then the bottle shop was to make JOMO a one stop shop but also due to artisan brands being harder to find. We wanted to make this really easy for our members to buy the drinks they knew and loved, again. It’s a no-brainer.
Having bottles and one-off boxes can also be a key entry point for someone to try JOMO out. Many people have bought our ‘try before you subscribe box’ and gone on to become a JOMO monthly member.
Hear more from Mills during the Founders Forum & Roundtable at SubscriptionX on 14 May 2024. The second edition of the groundbreaking conference is set to continue its exploration of the latest and greatest in digitally-driven DTC subscription models.