Like many in the hospitality industry the team behind Tom’s Tap and Brew, a small brewery and tap room in Crewe, faced an uncertain time when the crisis started to bite but, following support from regulars, the Taproom is flourishing in its new role as a beer delivery service.
Coming to the end of the company’s second year in business a cautiously optimistic summer had been predicted after Tom’s beat the previous year’s Q4 by more than 50%.
“It’s a huge cliche but the last three weeks has been a rollercoaster of emotions” director and taproom manager, Jacqui Ayling said. “We went from ‘this is our break-even year’ to ‘are we even going to have a business in 12 weeks’ time'” her husband Sean, who runs the 2.5bbl brewery attached to the premises, added.
Part of the reason Tom’s Tap and Brewhouse was established was a desire to add some “self retail” to brewery output whilst keeping the overheads low to combat the over supply of a small section of an otherwise inaccessible market. “I couldn’t see how a small brewery could become profitable without selling a significant proportion of their beer at a decent margin” said Sean, previously a co-founder at Kent based brewery Pig and Porter. “We also felt that having two revenue streams, bar and brewery, would protect us if the brewery trade suddenly disappeared but we weren’t quite prepared (who was) for a global pandemic that took away our customer base at a stroke.”
Except that it didn’t.
In the two years Tom’s has been in business the community focus Jacqui has applied to the bar has resulted in an army of dedicated “Tom’s Tappers” all adding a collaborative touch in the business. Whether it was taking part in the extensive refurbishment in 2019, hosting “crafternoons” in aid of MIND, running open mic nights, beer and wine tastings, cocktail classes, art exhibitions or even cheese nights. “They absolutely weren’t going to let us go to the wall,” says Jacqui. “When we closed as a bar we functioned for a couple of days as a takeaway and delivery service (before the Govt. tightened restrictions) and we were very busy.”
“We saw what other businesses in our industry were doing and wondered how we could apply it to ourselves,” says Sean “We don’t do small pack except at Christmas, we’re too small to get a mobile canning company in but we do have four degree cooling across bar and brewery which helps to keep the beer fresh.”
So they ordered in 1000 2 pint milk bottles and 4000 lids and used their existing website to show which beers were available and took payment via paypal or bank transfer.
“The most important thing we did during this crisis was to sit and wait. We knew SIBA was trying to clarify whether bars and breweries were exempt retail premises and we also knew that, if we closed completely, it would be very difficult for us to come back and say ‘well, we closed because it wasn’t safe but now we’ve got an exemption so we can trade'”.
They put out a blog post explaining that, although they had an exemption to function as a takeaway business they’d taken a decision that they could function more safely as a delivery only business and the same community who made the tap their own soon flooded it with orders for beer delivery. Two customers volunteered to do deliveries a couple of afternoons a week and another does their social media. Bands who used to play in the Tap are now playing online and being promoted through the bar’s social media channels and Jacqui hosts online gatherings through Zoom two or three times a week so everyone can stay in touch. As a result the couple were even nominated as Everyday Heroes for BBC North West Tonight.
Initially just delivering in Crewe and Nantwich, the service has expanded to the neighbouring areas of Sandbach, Middlewich and Alsager with demand showing no sign of slowing as the Easter Bank Holiday approached.
“We’re taking about 80% of what we’d be expecting to take if the bar was open and, although we have zero brewery income, the working day is about four hours during the week and six or seven at the weekend” says Sean. “Who knows when this will end or when it does, what normal will look like, but we’ve found a whole lot of new customers in the last two weeks and I’d be surprised if a delivery service didn’t remain as part of our offering.”
Contact information: Sean Ayling 07931 573425 or email@example.com