‘I traded in my season ticket to set up my own events company’

'I traded in my season ticket to set up my own events company'
Jo Smith

It’s fair to say Jo Smith has done plenty of interesting things in her sales and marketing career. She started out working in trade exhibitions specialising mainly in wine but also lingerie, the emergency services and local government too.

Then she established her own marketing agency in the early 2000s before the recession hit. Shortly afterwards the married mother of three from Tunbridge Wells joined the charity sector, working in the role of commercial manager at Carroty Wood adventure centre in Tonbridge for a number of years.

After that finished and in between raising her three young children Jo says she ‘bounced around’, trying a few different jobs until recently when she found herself back where she started: on a large wine trade exhibition.

“I was reticent to start another business after the last time when the recession put paid to it,” explains Jo. “But as I slowly immersed myself back into the wine industry I could see how far we’ve come here in the UK over the last 20 years.

“I wanted to support the UK wine industry through the huge trade show I was working on, but I realised that many of our English vineyards don’t yet have enough wine to service large trade accounts, and actually what they want now is to be in front of local people.

“I’d met a number of local distillers during my time on the trade show in London, and discovered that most of them also happened to be local. I went to see some of the distilleries and was excited by the opportunity of bringing all local drinks producers together under one roof for the benefit of local people.”

Jo made a few cursory calls to venues and producers and within 48 hours she had a small local tasting organised. “I traded in my season ticket, stopped commuting and set up my own events company, The Eventsmith, last October.” A month later she was hosting Discover Local Wines, her first event, at the Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells.

“We had 11 local vineyards represented, showcasing a fantastic selection of award-winning sparkling and still wines. Visitors said they were overwhelmed with the quality of the wines produced on their doorstep and I was really proud to have brought everyone together.”

Hot on the heels of this inaugural success Jo is now busy organising another specialist drinks event next month: “I’m really excited about the forthcoming Discover Local Heroes, which takes place on Sunday February 23 at the Camden Centre.

“It’ll run from midday until 6pm and there will be three two-hour sessions; tickets for each one cost £15. Visitors get a free G&T on arrival from Bathtub Gin and then they can sample wine, gins, ciders, beers as well as some local food. People can also buy drinks and bottles to take home. It’ll be quite a party!”

Choosing to focus on drinks bodes well for Jo as Tunbridge Wells is blessed with a huge number of independent bars and specialist emporia. What benefits does Jo think these give a town?

“They are the beating heart of it and without them we would have much less identity. I love the fact that we have bars run by local people who have a true passion for what they do, which adds to the excitement of visiting them. As a punter, you feel like you’re sharing in something really special, and it adds to the pride we all feel about the town we live in.

Jo Smith’s first event at Hotel du Vin

“Chapel Place Bar, which has a ludicrous range of gins and other spirits, is a great place to find new drinks. Andy and Jack stock every local tipple! I’m also a fan of The Wine Rooms: Dan Hatton has realised his dream in the form of this very sophisticated wine bar, and he stocks some phenomenal local wines. Try Herbert Hall Sparkling (drunk by Buck Palace, don’t you know) or Hidden Spring’s Bacchus.”

So what else is in store for The Eventsmith in 2020? “I’ve got three more events planned so far, in Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Brighton,” continues Jo. “I’m also working with a few Sussex producers to see if we can put an event together specifically for Sussex winegrowers.

“I’m also talking to specialist shops about local events we can run together. I’m always looking for opportunities to promote our local drinks producers, so I expect lots more to happen over the next 12 months that I haven’t even thought of yet!”

The Eventsmith’s USP

“I am a local event organiser with international experience. I’m in business to support local producers and I am agile enough to respond to what my customers want very quickly.

“I am truly focused on giving local producers a great platform to raise awareness amongst the lovely people in our area.”

Pros and cons of running your own business

The benefits:

The only decision maker is me
Being able to get out to the gym or for a walk to clear my head
Success is all the sweeter when it’s your idea. (But conversely, the failures can’t be blamed on anyone else!)

The challenges:

Learning to live with erratic income
Finding out what works and what doesn’t in terms of marketing and promotion is sometimes quite a painful process
I’m hoping that as the business develops, I’ll know what to prioritise


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