The sweet smell of success
- Credit: Teresa Cunningham
Can there be anything more terrifying than standing in front of five Dragons, surrounded by cameras and sound booms, knowing whatever happens will be played to millions on the BBC, and asking for money? If ever Tolkein’s words “Never laugh at live dragons” made any sense, it’s in this context. For Cheshire’s Drew Cockton, who launched his luxury lifestyle business, Owen Drew, in 2016, it was absolutely as terrifying as it looks.
‘Luckily it went really well,’ he says, ‘The Dragons really liked the product and the brand, and Touker Suleyman agreed to invest. To be honest, I didn’t really go for the cash, what I really wanted was the exposure from the TV show and the connections that they have. It’s just knocking on the doors of the department stores, it’s just impossible to through to anyone, especially in such a crowded marketplace as home fragrance. But for Touker, he has the intro already – Harrods and Selfridges, he’s got those kind of connections. It’s his little black book.’
When Drew and I talk, he is yet to establish with Touker precisely the next steps they shall take as a team, despite the show being filmed six months ago. This is due, of course, to the degree of due diligence that needs to be undertaken before the contracts signed and funds sent.
‘I had to have all the numbers, ready to present, to be able to explain in my pitch, and he was impressed with all the numbers. We made a healthy profit last year, despite the shop having to be closed for much of the year, and he was impressed. Deborah Meaden liked all the fragrances, and was impressed that despite all the candles burning her asthma wasn’t being triggered. That’s due of course to the use of pure soy wax and perfumes, which she was fascinated to learn about.’
Drew’s business, Owen Drew, started life almost by accident, as so many successful brands do.
‘I started making my own scented candles, he says. ‘really as a sort of therapy, I think. I was very unhappy in my job and needed something to take my mind off things. I gifted them to family and friends and got such good feedback I started selling on Facebook and at craft fairs. Candles weren’t so much a thing, back then, and so they got a lot of attention very quickly and the business really took off. I would hold a pop-up shop in my house on a Saturday and it would be packed out. My aim right from the start was to deliver a real sense of luxury, bringing our customers the precious and unusual.’
Home fragrance has become a pretty crowded market in the last few years, even at the sensible-luxe price point of Owen Drew (£35 for a pure soy wax candle with a burn time of around 45 hours). Once he decided to take the always brave step of turning a side-hustle into a full-time job, Drew further developed his business by adding more home fragrances, toiletries, cosmetics, bathrobes, towels...
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‘I even created my own perfume,’ he says. ‘I went to Grasse to learn how, and developed it there. We’re all about sourcing the unusual, super-expensive ingredients. You can just smell when a perfume’s cheap, can’t you? It’s a blend of Rose Otto, oud, agarwood and Arabian spices, very luxurious and smooth.’
It’s quite delicious, a rich, luscious fragrance; a summary in a bottle of Drew’s approach to his business – presenting the precious and unusual, the highest quality and absolute attention to detail.
‘What I want to do is start exporting the brand overseas,’ he says. ‘Particularly in the United States. When I went in, I asked for £50,000 for 10% of the business. We finally agreed on £50,000 for 30%, dropping to 25% when he gets his investment back.
‘He said it takes ten years to build a luxury brand, but I had done it in four. I was really pleased with that. He said the look, the feel, all the packaging, it just feels luxury – and that’s what I have always aimed for, right from the start.
‘I don’t have an agenda written for our first meeting; I have said to him that I shall just look to him for guidance. We have a successful brand, a great reputation, the perfect product, all the organisation, we just need to make the next step. He thinks it’s going to do well in Japan, and the US, as it has that Made in England tag, which is seen to be of the best quality.’
Drew hasn’t sat around for six months, waiting for Touker to turn up. He’s been putting in place his next addition to the Owen Drew brand, a rosé wine. It seems a bit of a leap, from candles to wine...
‘Candles and wine just go together,’ he laughs. ‘I never stop thinking about possible brand extensions, and this just seemed so obvious. I reached out to vineyards in Provence, which is know for its beautiful rosé wines, and have found a gorgeous wine, a really pale blush dry rosé, and have designed some fabulous packaging. A lot of our customers buy the candles as gifts, and this will pair so beautifully with those.’
He’s not stopping at a rosé. Later this summer Drew will release the Owen Drew English sparkling wine, from a vineyard in Hampshire.
‘At the moment English sparkling wines are winning more awards than Champagnes are,’ he says. ‘It’s definitely going to be the next big thing. It’s a gorgeous wine, I much prefer it to champagne.’
I almost don’t dare ask what’s next.
‘We’ve got another perfume coming out this summer,’ he says. ‘A really summery, light, floral scent we’re calling Blush. And the packaging is just gorgeous.’
Touker is going to be blown away; it seems he’s bought into a brand that knows no bounds, just a firm commitment to luxury, in every aspect of everything they do. Just as we like it.