We continue our Onwards & Upwards series featuring key figures in the drinks and hospitality sectors that are now embarking on new roles and opportunities in the industry with the highly experienced sales director, Tom Surgey. Most recently at Ridgeview and with live presenting gigs for BBC Good Food and Three Wine Men coming out of his ears, Tom’s work came to a crashing halt with the pandemic. Here he talks about how he coped and then hooked up with Tristram Coates –devising a new style agency called Glass Half Full, that aims to bring an innovative approach to the industry.
After six and a half years as sales director of Ridgeview, Tom Surgey is launching a new style of drinks agency as one of five partners in Glass Half Full. It works across five over-lapping areas of: on and off-trade sales, marketing, partnerships, PR & communications. If you would like to share your Onwards & Upwards story then contact Richard Siddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2020 was a shocker. Let’s leave the finer details there. There are better and more thorough analyses of that whole thing available for your displeasure in every trade nook and cranny. I want to put my own personal experience across here and talk about my journey to what I’m doing now, in the hope it chimes with others in this brilliant industry and sets us out on firm footing for a more positive 2021. We’re not out of the woods yet, to say the least, but looking ahead there’s a glimmer of better times a-coming and we’re all in this together. I want to think about that.
I was on a fast trajectory in 2019, having the time of my life. Sales director for Ridgeview, for whom I’d steered the sales for six and a half years. We were singing! Separately, I had live presenting gigs coming out of my ears with BBC Good Food and Three Wine Men and more to come. Rooms full of tipsy, happy, chatty people! Live TV work coming in. Pingza, our wicked new consumer-focussed wine app was about to launch – arguably the only area of my work that hasn’t been negatively impacted by this. It was rosy and 2020 was going to be a total banger.
Around March all of the live events fell from the diary. At the same time the radio and TV prospects. Later in the year Ridgeview stopped for me. We finished our time together amicably but the situation with Covid made my role suddenly redundant.
Like so many in our industry, I found myself unexpectedly cut loose. It felt like freefall.
Driven, hard-working professionals in sudden jeopardy littered my WhatsApp and we kept each other buoyant with a strong line of humour and industry-standard camaraderie. But it was tough. I could not have got through that without Olivia my amazing wife and Bea our young daughter either – they deserve a mention. And a million medals. And a return to some semblance of financial security and a partner who is present. As do yours.
I was determined that 2020 wouldn’t get the better of me and as someone who has worked in hospitality since the age of fourteen, with no deviation, I didn’t for a moment consider an alternative. I only know one thing, I love it to the marrow in my bones and I wanted to get back in the ring as quickly as humanly possible. I needed to…
I made calls, spoke to everyone I could, and the outpouring of support and kindness was incredible. When I needed it most, the cast and crew of a decade treading the boards of this industry really stepped up. I was proud to be able to pass the strength that gave me on to others too. Our passionate, sociable, caring, tough-as-guts industry is every bit as honest and true and kind in challenging times as I had hoped it might be.
With hiring for suitable new roles looking unlikely and no option but to get back to work quickly, I decided to bring together a portfolio of premium independent wine brands and establish a business myself. I’d represent each in the UK and support them in navigating the trade during this time.
As I began bringing the plan together, a number of people I spoke with suggested I speak to Tristram Coates. We’d been friendly competitors in the English wine scene for years. I gave him a call. Turns out Tristram had a similar idea, but to do it across category; to bring the best premium, independent wines, beers, spirits and softs together into one small, dynamic portfolio.
We met in a park in Pimlico, as was de rigueur in 2020. Tristram was way ahead of me in development of this business idea, he already had two co-founders onboard and was about to interview a promising third to complete the quartet. Each partner had specific specialisms in PR, brand partnerships or channel-specific sales. Each was young, but with an incredible track record in their field.
Tristram and I met up a few more times. I met Immy (Coates) and Archie (Wright), the other founders. We got on brilliantly. We shared an outlook and ambition. We felt it was better to do this together rather than as competitors. They kindly invited me to join them. Helen (Forward) completed the famous five the month after. We called it Glass Half Full.
A new agency is born
So, Glass Half Full is born, or GHF as it’s already snappily referred to. We officially launch on Blue Monday (January 18), intentionally and with the purpose of kicking the blues away and stepping out into a bright future. What we have created is already bigger than any of us knew it could be. Infinitely greater than the sum of its parts and totally unique in its space.
We have a carefully-selected portfolio of best-in-class brands, each leading the way in their category. We work with each in a fully integrated way, not as a traditional agency but as an extension of their own teams. We underpin their sales via existing routes to market. We develop their marketing, partnerships and PR and give them a world-class platform to navigate the disrupted market we find ourselves in.
We are already supporting and being supported-by many of our friends and colleagues in the trade. We give them access to these premium, exciting, experiential drinks that are the backbone of a great hospitality offering and ever more important to attract customers. Crucially though, we bring the commercial nous and support structure required to make it stack up commercially.
By bringing this diverse range of products together and combining our team’s skill sets, GHF pushes back against the challenges of inevitable consolidation in our industry. We will support every segment of the trade from producer, through wholesaler, through to individual on and off trade operators. We respect and love every part of this brilliant process and want to see it thriving again.
Plans for 2021
We’re kicking down the fourth wall and bringing consumers in too. In addition to our trade work, GHF is becoming synonymous with great drinks in the eyes of consumers themselves. In 2021 we will put on events for our growing GHF community of eager food and drink lovers and host engaging activations with our partner trade accounts on their behalf.
The lines between consumer-focussed and trade-focussed activity will be blurred like never before. Drinks with a synergy of quality, authenticity and passion in diverse categories will sit side by side and engaged consumers will be able to take a journey across each.
While it’s been a lot of hard graft, I am very strongly of the belief that GHF couldn’t have happened without a supportive network and as such, I am keen to support others in the same boat. To that end, I am proud to be a founding steering-committee member of the Drinks Trust’s Drinks Community, a platform launched in December 2020 to give access to industry mentors, insight and advice on developing careers in hospitality and the drinks trade. It is here to support everyone, through the good and bad, at all stages of their career and I would invite you to join. It is an opportunity to share knowledge, experience and give a leg-up to each of us pushing forward in our industry to help it move forward.
I wish everyone a strong and positive 2021 ahead. Please reach out if you want to talk about Glass Half Full or how The Drinks Community can support you or your team in the road ahead. Let’s keep chatting and looking out for one another.
- If you would like to contact Tom Surgey then you can email him at email@example.com.