An Owner’s View: 10 Things The Covid-19 Crisis Have Reminded Me

Editor’s Note: Recently, we sent out an “Open Discussion” topic in our monthly email that we send out to a few hundred breweries at a time and Lori Nicolini Miller, the co-founder and co-owner of Winters, California’s Berryessa Brewing sent us this great list of things that she has been reminded of over the past few months during this global pandemic. Thank you Lori for the great insights!

  1. Diversify. It’s easy to go after the low hanging fruit. Multiple taproom expansion is a perfect example of that in the brewing industry. Larger profit margin, more name recognition, etc. It almost makes sense why some companies have gone exclusively with this model. I for one, have never been a fan of the idea. To me, it changes the business and can even cheapen the brand, creating more of a franchise feel as opposed to a quality establishment. Regardless of how I felt prior, I am sure glad I did. While taproom is a big focus and means of income for our brewery, so is our distribution and packaged beer, which has given us a much-needed cushion during these times of health concerns, safety, and shutdowns. This has also given us the time and opportunity to focus and expand the distribution of our packaged product.
  2. The importance of a solid product and a solid foundation. Now is the time when all that hard work of getting those recipes just right, skipping those shortcuts, and your reputation as a top-notch brewery is paying off. You may not see the profits and growth you were hoping for but thank goodness you have a solid product that folks will seek out, regardless if it’s at your taproom or local retailers and grocery stores.
  3. Take the challenge head-on. This has certainly kept me, and I’m sure all of you, on my toes. Treating it like a challenge has kept me always thinking one step ahead and reaching deep for creative, different ideas. Now’s the time to get your hustle on.
  4. Always be ready! Ok, maybe not all bumps in the road are this extreme, but always look ahead and be ready to adapt to change. Those who are resisting change and hoping things will be back to business as usual in no time might lose out in the end. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
  5. Keep those opinions private! Boy oh boy, it sure has been hard to keep those opinions regarding politics, social unrest, and the pandemic to myself, but as a business owner, I feel this is really important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a post from someone who I thought I liked only to be disappointed and sometimes even surprised on their take. I’ve personally noted businesses I have no intention of continuing to do business with due to their opinions. Keep in mind there’s a lot who will agree with you on whatever you blast out there on social media (personal account or not), there’s the other half of the population that feels strongly the exact opposite way. Do you really need to know how everyone who purchases your product feels politically? Ignorance is bliss on this one, nor do they need to know your opinions. It’s just better that way, saying the wrong thing right now can be detrimental to your brand/business.
  6. There has been no better time than the present to do what’s right. Sure, some feel closures and lockdowns are unnecessary. Why can folks go to Costco but not sit and have a beer? Now is the time to put those feelings aside and do what’s right for the health and well being of your employees and community. Perception is huge and folks are paying attention. Do you really want to come out of this looking like all you care about is the money? As a consumer, I’m watching. I know others are as well. Being business savvy is one thing, flat out greed is another.
  7. This is a great time to trim off the extra expenses for good. While we have always operated on a fairly minimal crew, it’s been a great time to exercise maximum productivity and reevaluate work schedules. Now, we have no choice but to run as tight a ship as possible. It has also been a great time to completely cut out unnecessary expenses and reevaluate how much beer is kept in inventory. It has also given us a chance to become much more stringent and implement much-needed policies regarding accounts receivable. (We self-distribute, late and non-payment is a constant loss of income for us that we have now been able to get ahead of).
  8. Ecommerce. Those who were already up and running with this are already ahead of the game. Ecommerce is a way to get your product and brand out there and is here to stay. Ecommerce has always been on the back burner for us. It is quite complicated and now is a great time to cipher through the tedious process of setting up a shop. Tedious every step of the way: From setting your website; to taking orders; to being able to streamline with current inventories and sales; which states you can ship directly to; how to ship while ensuring the quality of your product, etc. We are still trying to figure it all out and this has given us the time needed to explore that outlet more.
  9. Treat your employees right. Now, more than ever, is a very important time to show appreciation for your employees. This is a very fragile time concerning employees. Many of them are conflicted between work and health risks. It is important to take their concerns seriously, create a safe and healthy work environment, encourage remote work as much as possible, and show endless appreciation for those willing to continue to work with the public and onsite. Listen to concerns and adapt as necessary.
  10. Perspective. There is always a silver lining if you look for it. These last couple of months have given me a much-needed perspective on life. My husband and I founded a brewery together nine years ago and as much of you can relate, it consumed our lives. It became a part of our identity, and every waking hour. While the current situation of shelter in place and shutdowns has also been challenging and exhausting, there have also been times of much-needed rest, times of focusing on improvements around the house, those little things in life that can become neglected when inundated with running a business. While the brewery will always be a focus, it’s nice to gain a little perspective on life, even if in these circumstances. Stepping back a little, I’ve now realized, is a good thing.

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