In what is undoubtedly an extraordinarily challenging time for the beer industry as a whole, we have moved fast to shape and diversify our business to face the challenges presented by COVID-19.
Following the announcement on the 20th March that all pubs, bars, cafes and restaurant businesses were to close, we stood to lose 60% of our revenue overnight. The previous week had also had a huge impact on revenue, as people were told to stay away from the on-trade sector, yet no closure notices were issued.
We began to implement a range of measures in order to face these challenges. In order to protect our staff and to reduce customer contact, on Wednesday 18th March, all our pubs were repurposed as local bottle shops, selling take-out beer at brewery tap room prices. The pubs implemented call and collect options and a drive-thru beer collection available at their venues with car parks. Staff also distributed leaflets to their local areas offering a local delivery service to those self-isolating and checked on local elderly regulars. The commitment, dedication and efforts of all our staff as well as the support of our loyal customers at such an uncertain time for all has not gone unnoticed.
Not content focussing solely on our own business, we took the opportunity to help those a little more in need and launched our ‘Spread a little Sunshine’ campaign. We designated their taproom and pubs as drop off points for local foodbanks, exchanging a can of California Sun beer for two or more items donated. In just a matter of days, over 400 items of food were donated, helping the foodbanks at a time of great uncertainty. The kindness and generosity of our customers was truly shown in the face of adversity.
Following the closure notice, we have also focussed our efforts on our online shop and packaged products, whilst ensuring staff health and safety is of utmost importance. With research by SIBA showing that beer sales at independent breweries had dropped by 82%, we are seeing a buck in that trend. Online sales are up over 2,500% following a direct focus to attract new and existing customers and diversifying our beer options to fit with the ‘at home’ drinking market.
At this point, we must reflect upon the people who make up our team and the roles in which they all have played in supporting our business in such unprecedented times. Everyone within the business has taken it upon themselves to not only accept, but embrace the necessary, and for many, difficult changes. Many staff have changed the ways in which they work, where and how they carry out their jobs and who they work with, as well as for some accepting with grace and dignity, furlough, to help reduce costs so we can come back with strength and spirit.
Beers destined for cask, such as Brother Rabbit, Lord Marples and our collaboration brew with Salopian – Myddle, have instead been produced as bottle conditioned beers. New beers destined mainly for keg have again been diverted to packaged product and have been snapped up as quickly as they are brewed. An entire batch of Pondera, our latest collaboration with Firestone Walker, sold out in under two weeks with new products such as North Bridge and The River Knows looking as though they will follow a similar path.
Without our online business and retail supply chains, we recognise things would be so much harder. We are beyond grateful for the unwavering support of our retail contacts for keeping supply chains open as well as the individual consumers, both old and new, and their commitment to buying online, even with initial teething problems as our online business was scaled up dramatically.
Whilst we are bucking the trend, we can see that the industry as a whole may not be in the same position. We are working alongside JKS restaurants to donate a percentage of profits from our collaboration beer 4TH Rifles to Hospitality Action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to give back to the industry which we know and love. We have also run a number of events at our Virtual Pub ‘The Jaipur Arms’ and have asked people partaking in our virtual quiz to donate what would be their quiz entry fee to Hospitality Action.
Giuliana Vittiglio, Fundraising and Marketing Manager from Hospitality Action says:
“We’re indebted to Thornbridge Brewery and JKS Restaurants for their support at this uncertain time. We’ve been inundated with heart-breaking pleas for support since the outbreak of COVID19 and can only help so many thanks to the support of others. By ordering a case of 4th Rifles you’ll be making a direct difference to the lives of so many UK hospitality workers in crisis, huge thanks on behalf of them all.”
We also wanted to find a way to support healthcare workers helping us all at this difficult time. Having launched a 25% discount for all NHS workers (which at the time of writing, had been used by over 400 NHS workers) for beer ordered via our online shop we decided to go a step further and brew a beer to support NHS Charities Together. The idea for ‘Florence’ was born and all profits raised from sales of Florence will be donated to NHS Charities Together, to support the incredible work that NHS heroes do.
We are all facing unprecedented challenges just now, but we couldn’t be prouder of The Thornbridge team. Everyone has worked extremely hard to ensure the business continues. We have had the opportunity to drive sales in certain areas in order to achieve some quite incredible figures.
We must extend our utmost gratitude to customers, both new and old, for supporting our online business, our trade and retail contacts for keeping supply chains open and our own suppliers for supporting us in so many ways.
Whilst we are working through it, we are acutely aware that some are in a more difficult position and therefore have chosen to implement a number of charitable initiatives to give a little something back. Local foodbanks and Hospitality Action do fantastic work and the NHS undeniably deserves our support at this time.
We hope that when the wider industry returns we will be here to stand alongside fellow organisations and help strengthen business together.”
Once our pubs re-open, we also have plans to put on a number of parties for NHS workers, to thank them for the work they have undertaken during the pandemic. Whilst the tide may not yet have turned, we are hopeful we will be a figure to stand tall amongst an industry which will undoubtedly need to support each other in the near future.
Simon Webster & Jim Harrison, Co – Founders and Owners.