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Highland gin producer has become toast of industry in only seven years

Martin Murray, co-founder and co-director with wife, Claire of Dunnet Bay Distillers Ltd
Martin Murray, co-founder and co-director with wife, Claire of Dunnet Bay Distillers Ltd

Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Martin Murray, who runs Dunnet Bay Distillers, near Thurso, together with his wife, Claire

How and why did you start in business?

Born in Thurso, I gained a masters degree in chemical engineering in 2004, and then worked in the nuclear industry for a short period before going into oil and gas.

While enjoying the work, I increasingly found myself spending more time away from my family and decided to give it up and join my wife, Claire, in striking out on our own.

Using money from a short-term contract, we opened the new-build Dunnet Bay Distillery in December 2013.

The first batch of Rock Rose gin, launched in August 2014, sold out in under 40 hours. A second batch sold out in less than 24 hours and there was a waiting list.

How did you get to where you are today?

Optimism, determination, hard work and keeping a smile on my face, plus the good luck to be supported by family and some great friends.

In 2013 our goal was to create two jobs and pay the bills with a product that would make our local community proud.

Calculating how many bottles we would need to sell per day made the task appear daunting, but hard work and some great decisions meant we achieved our first full year’s sales forecast within 12 weeks. This really boosted our confidence and led to our first German exports.

Today we’ve doubled the number of stills, built a five-star VisitScotland attraction, have a team of 13 and sell in more than 20 countries, including Hawaii.

Who helped you?

First and foremost Claire. We’ve been friends since we were 17 and have spent more than half our lives together. She’s a level-headed, calming influence and we complement each other beautifully.

Jim Knowles, a fount of good advice, became our mentor in year one through a chamber of commerce-run scheme; it’s the best investment we have ever made. Stephen Rankin, of Gordon & MacPhail, took us under his wing and is another massive influence, while Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Federation of Small Businesses, Scotland Food & Drink and the local chamber of commerce have all helped in different ways.

What has been your biggest mistake?

Not believing in myself sooner. I had always had good performance reviews in my time in oil and gas, but for years I lacked the confidence to start my own business.

What is your greatest achievement?

I’m not one for blowing my own trumpet, especially in difficult times, but earlier this month I won the Institute of Directors Scotland director of the year award for innovation.

I’m really proud as this was related to our fully-recyclable refill pouches – a first for a gin company. Winning the Scottish Gin Awards’ distillery of the year title for 2019 was really special for the team too.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

I would scrap nuclear weapons.

What do you still hope to achieve?

I’ve got my eye on a lovely old building and one day I will convert it.

What do you do to relax?

I get outdoors with our three young children and miniature schnauzer, and tell stories and laugh with friends. I climbed Ben Hope and Ben Loyal recently and we’ve more trips planned, and Claire booked me some surfing lessons with North Coast Water Sports, which I loved.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?

Podcasts. I love Swindled, which explores con artists and corporate greed, and also Sam Harris’s Making Sense. For something lighter it’s old episodes of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

What do you waste your money on?

I love technology, robots and the future, and recently bought a robot vacuum to understand how they work and what they can do. Valerie the vacuum is a winner, and she can be sent instructions from the top of Ben Hope.

How would your friends describe you?

Fun, happy and helpful, with a can-do attitude, I hope.

What would your enemies say about you?

I don’t think I have enemies and I want to keep it that way.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I drive a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV hybrid. Using a solar system to charge it at home and work, it averages 130mpg over its 35 mile range. My dream? Driving a train on the Kyle line or over the Bernina Pass in Switzerland.

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