Vantrepreneurs: Chris and Simon Ross, The Slow Gin Van
For this month’s Vantrepreneur series, we spoke to Chris and Simon Ross, owners of The Slow Gin Van, about charting their van’s history, getting clever with internal storage and creating a stir when they’re out on the road.
- Tell us about yourself and your business?
We’re two brothers who sourced an old Citroen HY van and restored it to its former glory externally, and into a mobile bar internally with a focus on craft gins.
We’re fully licensed and insured, meaning we can bring a novel drinks element to weddings of any size, parties and corporate events.
- What has been your experience of working through Covid?
It’s been tough, after two years of renovation we officially launched on Valentine’s day this year, and of course, had to quickly stop.
We’ve been quiet since then but have been keeping busy behind the scenes working on the van, our packages and improving the website.
But at the end of the day, so many people are in the same situation, so you’ve just got to keep your head down and do your best.
- What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge we faced (aside from the renovation itself!) was getting the van registered with the DVLA. We got the van with no V5 or ‘Carte Gris’ so we didn’t know the full history of the vehicle.
We got the chassis number verified by the Citroen Owners Club who told us it was manufactured in September 1971 in Paris. We then had to make a report on the van for the DVLA, the purpose of which was to prove the history of the van and that the chassis number is the legitimate one for the vehicle.
This was when we discovered that the van had had its chassis number cloned at some point in the past. So, in order to get the V5 issued which would allow us to tax, insure the van and get a historic number plate, we had to get it inspected by an independent inspection agency for this purpose.
They corroborated the chassis number with the engine number and their investigation found that the chassis number we had stamped on our chassis was the correct one.
Eventually, after all this and the many many phone calls to the DVLA, we were issued our V5C and got our shiny new, historic number plate and were finally able to get the van on the open road.
- What do you find most rewarding?
We get a lot of people coming up to us to talk about the van when we’re out and about. It’s really satisfying to have people appreciate the vehicle as it now is. Plenty of people will take photos of it or stop to watch it potter past down the high street.
It’s also really rewarding when we receive enquiries – it shows our work has paid off and we’re at the point we were dreaming of when we were working into the small hours in the cold winter months, sanding, welding and hand painting the van.
- What can you tell us about your van/how did you have to adapt it to suit your business needs?
Historically, Citroen H series vans were made for a variety of day-to-day uses. From fire engines, police cars and tow trucks to delivery vans. We reckon ours was a delivery van of some kind originally.
When we bought the van, it had no electrical or mechanical parts that you need to make it run. We sent the van to experts in Wales called Dragon Classics who specialise in these vehicles. They sourced an original Citroen H van engine and transmission and basically got it into a state where it can actually drive.
Once we got it back, we hand sanded all the paint back, as blasting it could potentially blow holes in the bodywork creating more issues further down the line. Once it was stripped back, we welded and repaired any bad panels and set about painting the vehicle.
Internally, we got help from a company local to us called Custom Solutions Inverurie and together we made bespoke work surfaces and other solutions including our hidden sink trough and tap, storage cupboard with the internal power system, all the backup lights and vanity lights.
We ordered copper sheets which were used for the work surfaces (which were stolen in transit initially!). The styling was finished on the back walls with a lightweight and flexible alternative to metro tiles. The floor of the van is Portuguese tile style vinyl, another hygienic and weight-saving solution.
In these tiny vans, space is at a premium, so our focus was to maintain as large a work area as possible. To achieve this, many of our utilities are hidden, such as our sink, water system and tap. This allows us a large, undisturbed bar area for creating the drinks. To maintain our bar area-focused ethos, our beer taps are one single tower unit which we can move about to other locations in, and even out-with the van if needed. Our fridge is an under-counter bar fridge with a good capacity and alongside this, we have a large storage cupboard for stock.
- What advice would you give to people considering launching a mobile business like yours?
Do plenty of research, but don’t be discouraged when a problem comes along! We researched and planned for weeks before we bought the van and throughout the renovation and problems would always crop up, when they do you just need to take it on the chin and work through them.
People say starting a business can be a risk, it can be one of the most stressful things you can do. I think starting a mobile business is no exception. Each mobile business will have its own unique challenges. One of ours is, and will always be, alcohol licensing for events. Of course, businesses such as mobile food vans won’t necessarily have this issue, but they will have their own issues that we don’t.
- Any plans to develop the business further?
We’re always looking at ways we can improve our offerings. One idea we have is to work with local gin distilleries in helping them get their spirits out there, and we’re looking at ways we can do this.
Up here in Scotland alone, there are over ninety gin distilleries – there are gins that many that people may never try, we want to change that.
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