Meet Alex Robson, founder of King of Soho

Alex Robson is a northern born gin-founder who entered the gin market almost four years ago with her uniquely authentic ‘King Of Soho’ gin. Chloe Taylor talks to Alex about her passion for branding and the industry, and gives her advice to those starting out in business. Expressing her personal and family-led inspiration, she also discusses why you shouldn’t focus too much on the competition

Discussing plans over a gin martini in a bar one night with an intrepid sense of ‘why not?’, Alex and her business partner sparked the idea to produce their own bespoke gin brand.

Alex, originally from the North-East, feels a great affinity with London’s Soho, as she finds the warm and outspoken nature of northerners is found similarly in the essence of Soho.

Although having moved to London, Alex speaks fondly of her home town and deems herself a profound northern soul. Exuding an infectious passion when discussing the product, Alex explains how and what inspired her to crack the gin industry.

Alex and her business partner, Howard set up the company just over four years ago, following the passing of Howard’s father, Paul Raymond. Paul, a proud northerner, was the original King of Soho. Naming the brand after Howard’s father was a way of celebrating his life and the district of London that he helped revolutionise many years ago.

The emotive motivation for breaking into the industry was prevalent as she explains her father, who was a doctor and quite the character in the local area, was also a gin drinker. Alex explains that the family-orientated and personal side to the brand helps sustain their passion and the King of Soho’s authenticity.

Alex wanted the bottle to represent the past and present of Soho, explaining that a lot of love and creativity went into the branding. The design is screen-printed, eluding a painted-on texture and intricately expresses the brand heritage. The rich velvet coat, top hat, holding of the book and trumpet featured on the design, honours Soho’s roots in the arts and music scenes. The fox’s tail is featured as foxes are an enigmatic creature of the night, representing that fun associated with Urban Soho.

Throughout their business venture, the pair aimed to incorporate their passion and love for life in the product, equally ensuring that it remained representative of that district of London. But Alex has successfully acquired national reach with her brand because the spirit, character and quality of King of Soho gin have been embraced beyond the borders of its namesake London district.

The brand has now gone into over 500 multinational retailers’ outlets and premium bars across the country, online sales have doubled compared to last year and King of Soho has now been snapped up by Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Oddbins, Costco, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods. On the back of its soaring domestic success, Alex is now focusing on the global export market. The brand is currently distributed in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Japan, and at the end of 2017, Alex launched King of Soho in 89 stores across Russia.

Alex explains that it is her passion and authenticity that keeps her inspired in business, alongside her family.

I mostly take inspiration from the outside, from who I am – and this moves as we develop as human beings. Even if the essence of who you are stays the same, you grow as a person and that helps whatever you’re doing in business at that time.

Alex explains that her mother had a printing and publishing business in Durham at a time when women didn’t go into business, and that in itself was a huge inspiration to her. Coming from a business-savvy family, Alex always knew that she wanted to go into business, explaining that from a young age she has always been fueled by a burning entrepreneurial spirit.

Don’t underestimate the power of focus.

When asked what advice she would give to those wanting to start in business, Alex states that a passion and a belief in what you’re doing is integral, affirming the importance of having a big idea and remaining tremendously focused.

“Write down your ideas, do moodboards and spreadsheets – whatever works for you – there are no set rules.”

When explaining how King Of Soho competes in the growing and ferocious gin market, Alex states that it would be naïve to not be aware of competition, but not to get too side-tracked and diluted by what else is out there.

“I am aware of the competition, but I don’t focus on it. Who’s to say they’re right and you’re wrong? The proof of the pudding is in the eating!”

Alex prefers to keep her focus on producing a fabulous quality drink for people to enjoy. The bespoke recipe of King Of Soho is very smooth and its unique flavour profile is built on a combination of classic gin and citrus botanicals, setting it apart from the traditional London dry gin while still staying true to its heritage. Alex explains that the greatest reward for her is when people really enjoy the product.

When progressing from an idea to a product, Alex explains that the execution process is extremely important.

“You’re not going to be able to do everything and if you can’t do something, find somebody who can,” Alex continues.

Alex insists that the first step is having an idea for a business and looking at the skills that you have personally. Then you need to consider what you need to learn and research.

She asserts that it’s not all exciting in business, but if you don’t get the regularities right, it can be a costly derailment to your plans – a business analysis, considering rules and mandatories are essential.

The most important thing at the beginning is having an idea and a hunch, and then you have to back it up.

It is vital that you learn your industry. Alex believes that good investments can be made by networking with associations and groups linked to your industry, where you can gain advice from experts.

“I always respect people who go out of their comfort zone and set up on their own – I think it’s very brave. It takes a lot of guts because you’re essentially saying: “This is who I am.” You may not always get it right but through time and experience you learn to express yourself.”

For King of Soho, 2017 was primarily focused on building on UK growth – something they aim to increase in 2018. Although the brand has always had a global aspiration, it is important to the pair that the brand sustains itself at its own pace.

They believe that now is the right time to focus on exports and grow internationally.

The King of Soho

The King of Soho is available to buy in Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Oddbins, Costco, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, selected independent retailers across the country and on Amazon: