It’s really hard to believe that this Covid thing was taking hold of the UK and the world in March - that’s 6 months (half a year!) ago. A lot has changed since then, so much has changed.
The last few weeks it felt a little like things were getting back to normal (the new normal, obviously) but this week has felt like a step backwards. At the best it might just have been a step sideways.
We’ve had a couple of weeks of having the whole (small) Swannay team back to work on a flexible basis (thank furlough for that) and the builders have been back on site for about 2 months now.
Pubs were mostly open and our deliveries to them were settling into a rhythm, albeit a rhythm that was about half as fast as the one pre-covid, to continue the music analogy. Translation: our overall business is about 50% down on what it was.
It’s been great to have the team back together (so to speak, Kev is with us via iMessage when he’s not driving) and it’s great to see some of the finishing touches on the most progressed aspects of the building project.
Things are still uncertain though and the last week certainly reminded me of that dull feeling I now associate with the middle of March 2020. The feeling of not knowing and being a bit powerless, seemingly having to react to the circumstances rather than plan for them.
We have to plan though, and that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s tricky when things keep changing but we appreciate that this is unavoidable and a lot of people are doing the best they can.
What we can do - we think - is focus more on the bits of our business that are still within our control, and look to control more where we can. To this end - and to mitigate the changing rules hospitality faces - we have been putting a much larger percentage of our beer into bottle and can.
We’re still filling just enough cask and keg to supply regular customers but looking to not overstock in case of any sudden drops in demand (e.g. if the pubs have to close!).
Keeping a wide range of bottle and can products in stock on the website has been managed well so far but we will look to rotate in different old and new beers more. As many breweries face the same predicament as we do getting packaging slots has become increasingly difficult unless we can forecast weeks and months in advance, which is difficult due to all of the above. We will look to control more in this area.
Our much social media’d construction project was getting close to completion at the start of 2020 and indeed this year was going to see our grand opening. In a lot of ways if we had managed to get the job finished in time for March 2020 I’d say we’d be in a much worse position than we are now.
We would have stretched everything to achieve completion and then had pretty much a full 12 months (hopefully!) with limited to no trade through the new visitor centre, so we don’t regret being behind schedule too much in that context.
The added Covid issue does compound certain construction project issues, the main one being our financials were based on strong sales growth - as we have experienced most years since Rob started in 2006 - you can re-read the above if you don’t know what % sales drop we are experiencing.
So we are looking to secure further funding to complete the project to the standard we feel the buildings and our brewery and hard work deserve. We’ll write more on this when we know the outcome. Or when you see us in a finished building you’ll know it’s gone OK.
We’re very lucky to have been in receipt of C-19 support over the last 6 months - this, combined with the massive increase in website orders (against our regular trade falling to nearly zero) - has literally keep Swannay going.
Supporting the website - and doing even more to look after our customers - are key aspects to our plans.
So there are no revelations at the end of this long read but I hope it’s an overview of the last 6 months that have flown by and felt like an eternity at the same time.
We’ll come back to some of the points mentioned above on future blogs - we'll have some pretty exciting announcements and things to show you shortly.