Latest Update – Time for a Rethink – 06/06/2020
Dear friends of Good Chemistry Brewing and The Good Measure,
Back at the start of the year we had a plan. We had laid out what our strategy was for the year, what steps we were going to take to achieve it, how we were going to reinvest in the company, and at what point that would happen. And then the world turned upside down! With the lockdown beginning to be eased, we thought it was a good time to reflect on how the pandemic has affected our business and explain a bit about our plans for the future. There is a lot that we still don’t know, so please take all this as “correct at time of writing”.
It was back in the middle of March that it became clear some pretty drastic things were going to have to happen. I (Bob) had attended the annual trade show BeerX in Liverpool, where the first changes in behaviour were evident. Bumping elbows was the new thing, hand sanitiser was being widely used, the bar only served into single-use plastic glasses, and tasting another person’s beer was forbidden. While there wasn’t yet the feeling of how serious this was going to get, it was clear that the organisers were having to change how the event was run and attendees needed to change their behaviour. This was put into stark contrast on the train journey home when we pulled into Cheltenham Spa and the train was swamped with people from the Cheltenham Festival. With people crammed into every available space the whole length of the train, it was obvious that the social distancing message had not been widely accepted yet.
In the following week it became clear that stricter measures were necessary and greater care needed to be taken. As people started avoiding busy places, our orders from pub customers started to fall dramatically. Thanks to some quick work by Dan, we were able to repurpose our wholesale portal to launch retail sales direct from our website. Deliveries to pubs morphed into deliveries to homes and Liam did a great job getting cans out to you all across Bristol. It was around this time that the Prime Minister advised everyone to avoid pubs but held back from telling the pubs that they had to shut. This had the effect of killing off all our remaining sales to trade, the pubs were left in limbo, and there was very little guidance as to what would happen next.
This was without a doubt the most stressful time for us as we tried to work out how we were going to adapt, how to keep ourselves and our team safe, and whether this could spell the end for Good Chemistry Brewing. So, thank you to everyone who bought cans from us during that time. Having your support meant a lot to us and gave us confidence in what we were doing. Having some money coming in and being able to reduce our stock levels also took a bit of pressure off.
We also want to say a big thank you to our trade customers. With only a few exceptions, they have continued to pay their invoices on time throughout lockdown and where they have had understandable difficulties they have spoken to us so we can work something out. We have heard some horror stories from other breweries, so we are thankful to our customers for being so decent and acting so professionally. Yes Bristol!
That weekend we worked on how we could operate the business safely for our team and customers. We had already told our brewer Fergus to stay home as he has a newly born daughter, so we thought it better to keep him as isolated as possible. We had also told our sales manager Sam to stay at home so he didn’t need to get the train in from Cheltenham. We reconfigured our brewery shop to allow customers to keep their distance when collecting beer and reorganised the warehouse to allow our remaining team to move around each other in plenty of space. But by this time we were also running low on cans due to the volume of orders we were getting.
On the 31st March we had a canning day booked with the mobile canners that we use. We had a tank full of Kokomo Weekday and a tank of red IPA all ready to be packaged. With stocks running low, having two fresh beers in can would’ve been fantastic. Unfortunately, we felt we had to cancel the canning day as we just couldn’t justify the risk of bringing in a team of canners when their job involves travelling all across the country and working in close quarters with new teams in different breweries every day. We felt we could potentially control the environment in our brewery to maintain social distances, but there was no way of us controlling what had happened at other sites in the preceding 14 days. A difficult decision to face but in the end it seemed a clear answer.
By this time the Government advice had changed: pubs were instructed to close for drinking in, and we decided that it was better for all our staff to stay at home. Kelly and I kept the brewery shop open for can sales for the next couple of days, we did the final deliveries into Bristol and then decided it was time to close the doors. The Government furlough scheme was a game changer here and without it we would not have been able to afford to pay our team through the crisis. I have no doubt this is true for most other businesses too.
In the following weeks after lockdown, we spent the time getting our accounts in order. We settled all our outstanding invoices and started looking at the remaining packaged beer we had in the warehouse. We had intentionally been running our stock levels quite lean as we were anticipating changing our beer line-up as we came into Spring and Summer, so thankfully we didn’t have a huge volume of stock left. However, we had just packaged beers for a wholesaler we were about to start working with, and we always have to keep a healthy amount of Kokomo Weekday on hand, so there was still a substantial amount of money tied up in stock.
It was clear that we needed to find a way to repackage at least some of this beer in order to sell it and minimise our losses. The priority was the cask beer as that has the shorter shelf life. There are many options for packaging, but we feel Bag In Box suits cask beer best. It maintains the quality of the beer by keeping air out, has a decent shelf life especially if kept in the fridge, and allows you to pour yourself a proper pint – something we know a lot of people have missed! The response was even better than we had imagined and the sales in the first week covered the production costs of all the cask beer we had in stock! This meant that even if we had to throw away all the remaining cask beer in the cold room, we wouldn’t lose money on it. The sales that we’ve made in the weeks since then have gone towards covering off the cost of the keg beer and our ongoing overheads.
The beer that most people have asked us about through all this is, of course, Kokomo Weekday. So, we are very happy to say that, from 6th June, we will have Kokomo Weekday available to buy in 5 litre mini-kegs! We decided on mini-kegs for Kokomo Weekday due to the extra carbonation in the beer. We need something that can hold the extra pressure, hence the mini keg, but we’ll still be offering our cask beer as Bag In Box.
Head over to our webshop here, and order now! We’ll be doing limited deliveries into Bristol for now, but if you’d rather get out of the house you can also pick up your order from GCHQ or The Good Measure every Thursday.
Beyond the work involved with selling beer we have also been planning for the future. This is no easy task when the world seems to change on a daily basis, but what is certain is that the brewery is going to have to adapt to survive. We need to make our business lean and efficient because the country (if not the world) is heading for a recession and that’ll be a whole new challenge to face.
- Making the most of direct sales is likely to be key for breweries if people don’t, or aren’t allowed to, return to pubs. With this in mind we have put in more work to improve our brewery tap. We’d been smartening up the space in preparation for our planned opening back in Easter. Obviously that didn’t happen, but we’ve continued working on it – we are currently in the process of painting the floor. We are hoping to reopen the tap for take-away beers and increased webshop collections before too long. Following that we hope to be able to run as a bar again as those rules are relaxed. Given our high ceilings and open space we should be able to accommodate social distances between customers without too much of a problem.
- We have brought forward our plan to purchase a canning machine. With the help of a Bounce Back Loan, we have ordered a canning machine from Innovus Engineering in West Sussex. They have been working closely with our friends at UnBarred Brewery in Brighton to develop their canning machines and we’ve been really impressed with what they’ve produced. They are building our machine at the moment and delivery is scheduled for 16th July. This is a big investment for us, and the first time we have taken on debt since we started the business, but it seems clear that packaged beer that people can drink at home is going to be a vital product area for any brewery.
- We intend to continue growing sales through our webshop. We have been delighted by the sales that have come in through our webshop so far, and the feedback has been great too. It feels like people really value buying direct from the producer, having that direct link to the product you buy. For us it is great to be able to build relationships with our consumers this way, especially with pick-ups where we get to see and talk to people face to face.
This whole experience has been quite like going back to the start of Good Chemistry, thinking afresh about who our customers are and what sort of business we want to be. Particularly because, with the furlough in place, it has been the two of us doing all the jobs again! But we are confident that we have a strong business, we have a plan, and we have a great team to make it happen. We also have great customers who understand how valuable all the small, independent businesses are.
So, that turned into quite a long update in the end, but we hope that gives you a bit of an insight into what we’ve been up to and what’s next for Good Chemistry Brewing! Thank you again to everyone who’s supported us over the years, we very much look forward to seeing you for a drink when we are allowed. Till then, take care and stay safe.
Bob & Kelly
To collect from the brewery (Thur 12-2pm; William Street, St Philips BS2 0RG) or The Good Measure (Thur, 4-7pm; Chandos Road, Redland BS6 6PE) please select ‘Pick up’ tab on Delivery section of checkout. All necessary precautions for the current situation will be taken for you to safely come and pick up your beer from the brewery and the pub.
Home deliveries will be made on Fridays. Addresses in BS1-BS8 (Clifton only) are eligible for home delivery; apologies but we are unable to process deliveries outside of these postcodes. All necessary precautions for the current situation will be taken when delivering to you: we will knock/ring on the door when we arrive, leaving the beer on the doorstep, & stand well back when you answer.
Orders received after midday on Thur will be fulfilled the following week.
All Bag In Box and mini-kegs will be freshly filled to order. All necessary precautions for the current situation will be taken when working in the brewery.
Please note we are unfortunately unable to sell any other draught products from The Good Measure or the brewery at this time.