TUNBRIDGE Wells is a great place to start businesses and change careers, according to a local businessman hoping to prove his case in the Times Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year and Best Business 1-25 Employees categories.
From being disillusioned with dentistry to having a portfolio of two businesses in the course of less than three years, Ed Willshire has come a long way, but he offers a lot of the credit to his location and the connections he has made here.
Ed and his wife have lived in Tunbridge Wells for over 10 years, but it was not until the lockdown period of summer 2020 that Ed and his friend Tom Fantom started The Rum Company.
“I was always trying new and different rums from smaller distillers, and Tom is gluten-free (yes, rum is gluten-free) so we would drink rum together on nights out, but we were bored of the same old limited selection of rums in bars and supermarkets,” he explained.
“There are lots of new distillers across the UK, so we created a platform specifically to sell and showcase these great brands.”
The town proved an excellent place to start the business, thanks to initiatives already in place such as the TN Card loyalty scheme, Ed told the Times.
“We are TN Card partners, and as such we reward local shoppers, in addition to having provided free cocktails at a TN Card event at the Zero Waste Co.”
The events and hospitality sector are also a major factor in helping The Rum Company to get its small rum labels into customers’ hands.
“We have done a number of events locally over the last few years – Pantiles Markets, Pantiles Gin Fest, Tonbridge Markets, Tonbridge Gin Festival, Pub in the Park in Tunbridge Wells and so on.”
Meanwhile, a wealth of local connections has driven Ed’s other business, the Tunbridge Wells Driving School.
Local demand for his service has given him the flexibility and support to leave dentistry and build The Rum Company.
“I teach or have taught pupils from every school in the local area, and also have pupils from the Hockey Club – that I teach at a club discount,” he said.
Both businesses have plans for expansion which could mean taking on partners and staff, Ed said.
“Hopefully I can be considered for Entrepreneur of the Year, and The Rum Company will be considered for the small business award. I am proud to say both businesses are thriving, so I must be doing something right, and there are so many more ideas in the bank.”