‘People and cash flow will get us through’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Company goals: looking after its people is a key priority for North
Company goals: looking after its people is a key priority for North

Related tags: Coronavirus, Beer, Pubs

A focus on the team and cash flow is how North Bar/North Brewing Co is weathering the storm of Covid-19, co-founder Christian Townsley told The Morning Advertiser.

The Leeds-based business has its bar arm, alongside its brewery side, creating its own beers supplied in the venues it runs as well as others across the country and exports outside of the UK.

Townsley said: “The main thing is that we have now closed all the bars. There was a consideration at one point that we might operate as bottle shops and offer take-out only but all the venues have closed.

“We are still producing at the brewery (in Sheepscar, Leeds) and still packaging but we have set really clear guidelines to our staff so we are being really careful about staff and public safety.

“None of our staff that are working require public transport to get to and from work, it’s not a customer-facing site any longer, we are not doing any collections from the brewery, there's a very limited number of visitors so it’s really only ingredients as and when we need them.

“We are trying to buy that in bigger bulk so we don’t have small, frequent deliveries and then courier collections, which is once a day. We have suggested to our staff they try to work five metres apart, which they are all respecting really well.

“About 99% of what we do at the brewery is cleaning and hygiene so it’s a very sanitary space and we have upped the level of that. We have a very rigorous sanitation process of cleaning before and after anyone touches any taps or is wearing gloves and now we are just applying that to every surface that is touched, such as door handles and computers.

“We are doing a home delivery service but have removed all points of contact so customers can ring in to order their beer and pay for it, then we just deliver and leave it on the doorstep, knock on the door and let them have it.”

While trying to keep the business operating, North is also ensuring it is remaining responsible as employers and helping the community at the same time.

Health first

Townsley added: “We have offered a 20% discount to NHS staff because they are on the frontline, risking their own health to support us all through this crazy time.

“I’ve made it really clear to the whole team, to everyone at the brewery, that if you don't feel comfortable coming in, that is absolutely fine, don’t come in. If anyone has any qualms about it, don’t fret, just speak to us and we will sort it out.”

On the subject of staff, Townsley also outlined how keeping his team safe and well, both physically and mentally, is top of the priority list.

He said: “First and foremost, we are putting their health and safety first and I am considering how we are operating on a day-to-day basis but it's difficult.

“This whole thing is evolving so quickly. So balancing the advice from Government while keeping a business from going under and trying to do the right, moral thing, has all caused a fair degree of anxiety – and the uncertainty that comes with all of this for everyone is a huge source of worry and anxiety for people.

“We are sharing resources to point people in the direction of good podcasts, people on Instagram to follow that are sharing positive mental health things, trying to share positive stories with the team and just check in with them.”

North has continued to receive a small amount of cash through its retail offer, brewing and delivering its beer to the local community but relying solely on this is not a sustainable option for business.

“The level of operation now at the brewery is probably about half of our break-even point. You’re looking at the sands of time and hoping this turns around sooner rather than later,” Townsley said.

However, the business has put measures in place to keep the operation feasibly running for as long as possible.

Procedures in place

Townsley explained: “But, we are incredibly lucky. Our finance director has worked really hard and we have put loads of measures in place to try and mitigate the damage.

“We have frozen non-essential spending, requested rent holidays with some success from some of our landlords, loan repayment holidays from providers, applying to the bank for the Government-backed loan, PAYE and VAT payment break.

“We have talked to a lot of customers to see if we can work together to get some payment up front, delayed the commencement on the lease of a new site.

“We have implemented some pay freezes, we had to furlough some staff, we have done a lot to manage it but all it does is gives us time and then we are hoping to be back to some level of regular income.”

When it comes to advising other operators on how to weather this storm, the North boss said they should focus on two main points.

He added: “The two priorities are cash flow and people. They are the two things we looked at and, fortunately, we could look at them at the same time because we have got a financial director.

“She looked at the cash flow and, obviously, we all banged our heads together to work out what we could stop paying and draw back on, cut off any unnecessary spending so get a handle on your cash flow because that will be the life or death of the business.

“With the people: make sure you communicate with them really regularly and try to keep morale up. They will be the two things that see us through this.”

Finally, when it comes to looking ahead, Townsley laid out what the future held for the business and how the community has rallied to help get it through.

He said: “We will get through it as a business but I don't know how long it is going to go on for.

“There comes a point where we won’t get through it without significant support but we have had unbelievable support from the community.

“Our retail sales, like the home deliveries and online sales, have been brilliant. People have been buying beer and saying ‘I just wanted to buy some beer from you because we love you, we don’t need it but just love you’ and it brings you to tears.”

Related topics: MA Leaders Club

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