Imagine getting beer delivered, right to your doorstep. Well, with Flightcase Bars, a freshly poured pint is never far off, with their innovative portable and customizable bar units.
Flightcase Bars is a unique concept in the bar industry, and has become a popular choice for events, festivals, and private parties across the UK. Founded in late 2019 by musician and beer-enthusiast Jack Doolan, the company has quickly gained a reputation for delivering high-quality and professional bar services to a diverse range of clients.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Jack, who shared with us his journey in starting the company, the challenges he faced, and how he has managed to grow and expand the business over the years. From the initial idea to the current success of Flightcase Bars, Jack provided us with valuable insights into what it takes to build a thriving business in the events industry.
Before we begin discussing Flightcase, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in business?
"Some people reading this might be aware that that I play in a band called Cypher16, which has been established for some years. Aside from that, I used to teach music privately, something which I don’t have much time to do anymore. Covid turned things upside down for me, like for so many others.
Personally, I guess music and beer are my two main interests, but in terms of formal business skills, I don’t have any. I tend to get an idea (usually a bad one), and learn what I need to pursue it as I go along."
What inspired the idea to start a portable bar rental company?
"Most people who know me also know that I’m a self-confessed Guinness fanatic. Cypher16 are lucky enough to have travelled all over the world, and I always found myself being disappointed at the quality of the beer. I never bought into the old adage that ‘Guinness doesn’t travel’, but I was equally tired of sub-par pints from London to Los Angeles, Beijing to Bangalore.
One day, I decided with a dear friend of mine to build our very own draught Guinness bar so that we could get great Guinness, anywhere. To achieve this, we custom designed the draught system with some genius friends of mine at Castle Cases and put it in a Flightcase on wheels. As it turned out, what we built produces truly excellent Guinness, and the legend that is ‘Alfred the Guinness Bar’, was born.
Guinness came down and were also impressed, and showed us how to pour great Guinness - it’s not difficult! If you come to a Cypher16 show, you might well find Alfred sitting in our dressing room, dishing out pints to anyone interested. Backstage tends to fill up pretty quickly, haha!"
"We started a very small mobile bar company in late 2019, which had the makings of something interesting. However, in 2020 Covid hit, and I suddenly found myself in a unique situation. When the pubs were closed in London, and we were given permission to deliver beer (something that few pubs could actually do), I decided one day to put ‘Alfred’ in the back of a hire van, and see if I could help London out with a few fresh draught pints of Guinness. After all, cans just don’t cut it.
Less than a year later, we delivered almost 7,000 pints in 6 days across London out of ten vans, and by that point, 20 bars. It got to the point where Guinness had to send us a special shipment from Dublin, to keep London’s thirst quenched.
I think that I was probably pushed to start a bar company by people seeing the original bar and also tasting the quality of the beer. The Flightcase bars are incredibly visual, so they fit well into almost any situation, and the idea that they are totally mobile and can provide draught beer anywhere is something that has always appealed to me. I love transience and travel, and flightcases perfectly encapsulate both of those for me. I guess sticking a bar inside a box with wheels was always something that felt obvious to me."
Can you tell us a little bit about the journey of Flightcase – where you started vs. where you are now?
"Covid was an absolutely ridiculous time for us. We rapidly became the biggest supplier of draught Guinness (and other beers) in the UK, but always knew that when the pubs reopened and the world started to return to whatever our new normal is, we would rapidly need to change the business model. We started looking at events, festivals, parties, etc. and we’re lucky enough to have built up an incredibly loyal customer base who kept us going throughout the second half of 2021 and 2022, as we became a ‘part of the industry’.
We are now more focused on bigger events, as well as the hire of the bar units themselves, and are lucky enough to be starting to work with some of the biggest companies in the world who apparently also seem to like what we are doing.
We are also fortunate to now own the IP rights to the ‘Flightcase Bar’ in the UK and Europe, as well as having the brand registered. I had to learn a lot very quickly, but with a good team of investors, accountants and lawyers, we got a lot done in a short amount of time."
Can you share any specific challenges or obstacles you faced when starting out, and how you overcame them?
"Getting hold of Guinness when it wasn’t being brewed for keg was challenging, but through the pub community in London we were able to just about stay on top of it. Pubs were having to throw away their beer, so we helped with some of their cash flow issues by taking it off their hands. The sheer quantities we were shifting in 2021 however became pretty problematic, and we had some very tense days when we were literally within an hour of running out completely.
2022 was a challenging year (really our ‘first proper year in business’), with the various world events affecting people’s spending in real time. It was a reality check for me personally as to how best to run a new small business, and how quickly things can change. We’re extremely humbled that 2023 is already looking to be the biggest year for us yet.
Aside from that, the usual issues facing the industry with staff shortages and ever rising prices are difficult. I spoke to Rishi Sunak and tried to get him to lower the VAT on alcohol, and will take some tiny credit for him and the chancellor suspending the duty on alcohol, for now. We’ll keep trying, because it’s extremely tough for the industry right now, and honestly, if you can go and spend some money in the pubs, do. Most of them desperately need it right now."
How do you hope to grow and expand the business in the near future?
"We’re in a unique position to be able to provide everything from dry-hire bar units, to a fully staffed bar solution for 1-15,000 people. There are some incredible avenues opening up for the business that we hadn’t realised existed previously, and have the potential to become massive revenue streams extremely quickly. The feeling at the moment is that we are on to something very special, and so for now we need to keep going, and keep growing."
What has been one of your biggest highlights since starting Flightcase?
"Being recognised by Guinness and Diageo (their owners) as being a major force during lockdown, and really changing the game in London will always be special. I get recognised in the city and elsewhere much more for being ‘The Guinness Guy’ than for being in a band, which is quite funny!
Serving Stephen Fry was also an amusing moment. I blocked his Tesla from getting into his flat one day when we were out, and he was a total gentleman about it. He’s a lovely man. We get to work with a great range of interesting people from Fred Again, to Jeremy Clarkson (we’re one of their distributors for Hawkstone). I’m told Stephen Spielberg thought our bars were cool too. It’s funny how people react in the same way when they see them."
What skills or qualities do you think are most important for entrepreneurs who are looking to start up a new and innovative business?
"If people tell you that you’re on to something, then you most likely are. Learn to listen, and learn to deal with problems without falling apart.
We had an amazing run in 2021 until a terrible incident hit us out of the blue, involving a massive theft. I told one of our investors and he said ‘Well, you had a great run, and you were up for some bad luck eventually. Get back up and get on with the job.’
Also, you better live and breathe what you are doing, as there’s no such thing as a holiday.
Finally, as Clarkson told me once - ‘If someone tells you that you can’t do something, go away and figure out how to do it anyway.'"
How do you balance your role as business owner with your personal life?
"I don’t. I work all the time and am on call 24/7. If you want to build something from the ground upwards, you need to have that drive to work whenever necessary."
Can you share any insights or lessons learned from working with clients in different industries?
"We’ve worked with a single person, right up to multi-billion pound corporations, and have been lucky that ‘most’ of the time, everyone is always really cool and receptive to what we do.
I guess that we offer something that people don’t immediately understand, and therefore we go in and do what we do, and the results usually amaze. I think it’s important to be able to take a breath when things get tricky for whatever reason, and roll with it. That’s something I’m still learning personally, but I’m getting better at it!"
Any upcoming collaborations, partnerships or projects that you are looking forward to this year?
"We’re hoping to announce a couple soon, very much in the music world. I’m excited to bring our company into an industry that I understand, and am a part of. It’ll be like coming full circle, so I really hope they go for it. Let’s see what happens.
Most of the people reading this will know if it works out, as you’ll start seeing the bars in some very familiar spaces, and that goes with our mission statement - ‘Draught beer for all!'"
To learn more about Flightcase Bars, visit their website here.
You can follow them on Instagram here.