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Female power in spirits distribution

The all-female senior team at new spirits distribution company Ten Locks share their insights into this side of the spirits industry

Becky Davies, Sinéad Lowe, Penelope McMylor Ten Locks

Ten Locks is a new spirits distribution and marketing company, based in Manchester and run by a female-only senior team. We chat with Becky Davies (founder), Sinéad Lowe (brand development manager) and Penelope McMylor (sales manager) about how the company came to be and the external and internal dynamics of a female team. 

Becky, what is your career background, and how did you come to launch Ten Locks?

Becky Davies: I’ve worked in all areas of drinks, hospitality and spirits throughout my career, having started out at a number of cocktail bars in Leeds and Manchester before making the move into sales and management. I worked as on-trade sales director at Mangrove Global, nurturing a portfolio of more than 40 premium spirit brands, before launching Ten Locks in October 2020. 

Spirits have been my passion for over a decade and I was really keen to bring something new and different to the category. The idea for Ten Locks came as I was aware of an emerging group of producers and brands who were driving positive change, leading with sustainability credentials and production processes, and offering conscious brands with an inspiring story to tell to the trade and consumers – and I wanted to be a part of that and give them a stage.

We launched Ten Locks, supported by Kingsland Drinks, during lockdown after drawing up numerous different business plans as the world was changing at such a rapid pace, but we’ve managed to secure some fantastic products, bring them into the UK and are now distributing them and building up our customer base and product portfolio.  

We want to champion spirits brands that are forward-thinking and ethically-minded in their approach to sustainable packaging, sourcing, production, distribution, and ways of working and how they give back to their local community or support the overlooked or marginalised. Lastly, we want to share the stories and know-how of the producers we work with and promote the skills and knowledge of the Ten Locks team. 

Sinéad and Penelope, what are your career backgrounds and how did you come to be at Ten Locks?

Sinéad Lowe: My career has been focused on hospitality and the wider drinks industry, most recently as marketing manager at Signature Brands, part of LWC Drinks. My love for premium and craft spirits was confirmed during my time working at Love Drinks in national and retail sales roles, where I was responsible for import, distribution and marketing, and I realised I loved this industry.  

At Ten Locks, I lead the development of multi-channel marketing strategies for the company’s portfolio. Since we launched in October 2020, we have brought together a brilliant collection of purpose-led brands with serious quality credentials, and it’s my job to bring their stories to life for the UK drinks trade and consumers.    

I have known Becky for some time as we worked side by side in competing sales roles across the North West. I knew then that our paths would cross and we would work together and, here we are. 

Penelope McMylor: I was appointed as sales manager to showcase Ten Locks’ portfolio to bars, restaurants and premium and specialist retailers, asserting the company as a go-to for premium, purposeful and conscious brands.  

With 10 years’ experience in sales and hospitality, from award-winning cocktail bars to key account management, I understand what success looks like from both sides of the bar. 

The ethos and energy of Ten Locks drew me in and I knew I had to be part of the team. I love building relationships with bartenders, drinks development gurus and bar operators, and now have the opportunity to show them how we identify untapped trends, inspiring the ever-eager trade and leading consumers to new drinks and flavours. 

How do you find the team dynamic, being in a group of women? How does it compare to mixed-gender workplaces? 

We have all previously worked in mixed gender companies, so this is the first time we are working in an all-female team. Our working styles complement each other and allow us to work effectively to get results and to hit the targets we set ourselves.

The bubble we are operating in as a core team of three women is somewhat unique, great fun and certainly not exclusive as we grow the team. 

One positive we have all experienced by being an all-female team is that we are all great communicators. The fast pace that our industry operates in and the speed of changes we are having to cope with during the pandemic has meant that good communication is key.  

Working remotely, we are used to using instinct and being intuitive to what the team is working on. We are immensely proud of our achievements to date, despite the pandemic meaning we have yet to be in the same soon together!  

What is the gender balance like in the drinks industry, particularly in your area of distribution and brand promotion? 

We work in an industry that has people at its heart and while it is heavily male dominated, we have been welcomed warmly by our peers, ex-colleagues, customers and bartenders. The industry is changing and is open to new players and we are proud to be an all-female team, bringing these brilliant products to the UK market.  

Looking back to 10 years ago and the emerging cocktail scene there were far fewer females behind the bar – but that has dramatically changed and this has led to natural career development that happens in our industry, moving onto brand ambassador and sales roles and ultimately leading the business. There are some great trailblazers in the industry that have inspired with or worked with us and we’re delighted to be working with one of the UK’s first female rum distillers – Cleo Farman, founder of Diablesse rums.  

Has your gender brought up any real advantages or disadvantages in your work in the drinks industry?

Not really, we’ve received positive feedback on our team and what we are bringing to the industry. Being an all-female team has certainly got us noticed in a traditionally male-dominated sector - so it may be to our advantage that we are all female.  

What advice would you give to young women looking to enter the drinks industry, particularly areas that are traditionally more male dominated? 

There are issues and challenges affecting everyone in the drinks industry, such as mental health, harassment, abuse, low pay, stereotyping, but we know strides are being made to address these.  

Getting into the drinks industry can be easy, but we’d advise women starting out in their careers to be aware of the support network around them and build relationships at all levels of the industry. 

Women are already challenging the stereotypes in the drinks world and while more can always be done to improve, we applaud the efforts that have been made and the successes of so many of our female counterparts.  

We’d love to see more women reaching senior positions in the drinks industry and being more visible to act as a role model for younger women coming into the sector. We’d love more female representation on national and international discussion panels, judging panels, mixology contests, and to be given a seat at the table, as we all know when women are involved in decision-making processes meaningful change can happen! It is happening, but it could happen at a faster pace if we all push in the same direction.  

Our advice to younger women: make yourself present, get involved, turn up to events, push for training and competitions, and learn from as many people around you as you can – both female and male. There are some brilliant employers and colleagues out there who will give you all the support and pointers you need so watch and learn from them and always work to improve yourself and if you want to be the boss – go for it! There are many career paths within drinks so find what excites you and do it, and do it well!  

What is next on the agenda for Ten Locks? 

We’re constantly scouring the world (from our home offices!) for products that fit our requirement of conscious brands with a story to tell and a purpose to their product. We’re in talks with some brilliant brands offering vodka, whisky, gin, and Bourbon so we have some exciting products in the pipeline. And we’ll be looking to expand our team this year – who knows if another female will join us? – but we definitely encourage diversity and inclusion and want to welcome team members from all backgrounds and walks of life.

As lockdown restrictions ease, we’re looking forward to meeting up in real life for a cocktail in some of our favourite venues, and to reigniting the passion for hospitality and getting out on the road again to see our wonderful customers.  

Ten Locks offers a portfolio of premium global spirits brands including Nusa Caña, West Cork Irish Whiskey, Applewood Gin, Salford Rum, Banhez Mezcal, Diablesse Rum and El Tequileño. All brands are available to the UK on and off trade.

Picture, l-r: Penelope McMylor, Sinéad Lowe, Becky Davies

5 March 2021