How Best of British Beer Succeeded During the Pandemic

12th March 2021

With the coronavirus pandemic providing businesses with the toughest challenge they have ever had to face, we wanted to shine a light on those that have seen success during this unprecedented time and find out how they have achieved it.

In the spotlight today is Best of British Beer, which was created in 2011 by husband and wife team Will and Gill Sherwin. The online beer retailer supplies beer from over 200 of the country’s finest independent breweries and has sold more than three million bottles of beer since launch. We caught up with co-owner Gill Sherwin to find out how Best of British Beer was able to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Did you have concerns about the success of your business due to the current climate?

My main concern was that an employee would catch COVID - not only because someone would then be unwell but it could mean the operation closing down for a few weeks. When it did happen, we were very lucky that there was a quick recovery and no one else caught it. This gave us reassurance that our safety protocols were sufficient. 

The other main concern was the global cardboard shortage. This was challenging with the lead times on a couple of our products, but we have a great relationship with our cardboard supplier and, although we had to use some alternative packaging occasionally, we didn’t suffer any loss of sales.

How have you had to adapt your products or services to maintain business continuity?

With orders increasing seven-fold, we quickly adapted to streamline the order fulfilment process, removing products and processes that were resource hungry. 

Some suppliers really struggled to deliver, so we increased our supplier base and changed payment terms so none of our suppliers had to wait to be paid. We paid brewers in advance of deliveries to help them with cash flow. 

To increase capacity and space for people to work in, we installed a mezzanine floor and outside storage facilities. We also extended our operational hours, which allowed us to safely increase our team to meet demand.

Are there any measures that you will keep if we ever return to ‘normal’?

All the measures that have been introduced will probably remain as they are good working practices. Our volumes were four times higher than normal when the first lockdown ended and people were able to go to the pub, so streamlining processes and being a bit more ruthless about products that aren’t earning their place is a good ongoing thing to do.

In your opinion, what is it that has made your products/services so successful during the pandemic?

In uncertain times, customers revert to what they know. A lot of our brewers have successful pubs and customers wanted a taste of their local at home. Although we extended our delivery times, we worked really hard to deliver quicker than the other beer retailers. We’ve built strong relationships with our regular customers who now come to us for suggestions based on their tastes. 

It’s clear that everyone has become a bit bored and we’ve seen a large uptake of our subscription service where beer drinkers get 12 new beers in each case. This has become something to look forward to, along with the free pub quiz.

We’ve also brought out new fun products that far outperformed the sales forecast. The most successful being the Staying Inn, which was a pub-at-home box. We could have sold it five times over at Christmas. We also did a Virtual British Beer Festival that offered a virtual trip around UK breweries…we might need to bring that one back for Easter!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the coronavirus pandemic?

Relationships are key. We couldn’t have coped with the increased volume without the strong supplier base and flexible workforce that we have. We were able to call people in and our suppliers were just fantastic at supporting us with urgent requests that were way above forecast. 

Another lesson was to keep it local as much as you can. We didn’t have to worry about Brexit impacts or global sourcing as everything we buy comes from the UK and other than beer most of our purchasing is within a 40-mile radius.

What do you think the future of your company might look like in a post-COVID world?

We’ve had such a successful 12 months and this is our 10th trading year so it feels pretty secure. We have been able to invest in the team and bring in skilled staff that have reduced the day-to-day reliance on the directors. 

Lockdown has introduced consumers to a new way of drinking and whilst we’re all missing pubs and restaurants, there has been a lot of investment in home and garden bars and they’re going to continue to be enjoyed. 

Going forward, we’ve developed our own beers and will be doing a lot more collaborations with breweries to have our own exclusive range. The company has doubled in size since lockdown and that gives you the freedom to focus on your customers and your products. It’s really exciting.

Finally, what advice would you give someone that is perhaps struggling with their business now?

Don’t go dark. Keep visible, keep talking to people, stay on social media as this will pass. I can’t imagine how awful it must be for most people in hospitality - we know we were lucky. 

We wouldn’t be in this position if online retailers were also forced to close. We made a conscious decision to be a lifeline for some small breweries that had no other outlet and asked us to keep buying from them. We did and they’ve survived. So reach out to your community, sell vouchers, sell the future. It’ll be brighter soon.

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Best of British Beer
An online beer retailer.