It's mind boggling to think about the year we and everyone else went through in 2020. Looking recently at our blog, on Tuesday 24th of March 2020 we made the decision to temporarily close our store. We did this from the perspective of wanting to keep our staff and customers safe. It was a good thing we did as we had no idea what was to come. Alongside closing the store we also split our team in half so that if one team was taken down then the other one could still function without any crossover.
As everyone will tell you the first weeks of COVID restrictions were a bit of a nightmare. On the positive side of things online sales went through the roof - we had more orders than ever before, it was like every day was our crazy run to Christmas! On the more challenging side of things we were totally unprepared for working in split teams and working from home (especially with little ones!).
To start with we tried splitting teams so that one team managed the warehouse in the morning and the other in the afternoon - we would watch the other team from a distance as they left work and we came in. We had to pick up where they left off, but handovers were tricky, as well as the constant battle to keep up with orders and get new arrivals away. In the end we moved to individual teams working longer full days in the warehouse but less of them, with the remaining time spent working from home. That plus getting our heads around Zoom meetings and using Slack revolutionised things from a team communication point of view.
From a sales perspective, while we were having massive growth, we were also very aware that anything could happen at any time, so worked on the idea that we could at some stage be closed for a month or more. As a result, we tried to come up with as many ideas as possible to offer great beers and beer packs to our customers. We created an Isolation Beer Advent Calendar and Support Your Local Tinnie Packs which were well received alongside a stack of other concepts (our Tinnie and Bog Roll offer was an interesting one!).
The next big challenge was how to manage keeping up with orders - we had more than doubled our team and given a number of hospo people jobs which was really awesome to do, but the huge demand and over 200% growth was a real challenge. To get by we completely reimagined our whole picking and packing process, refining things on the fly so that we could handle the massive increase in sales without headaches.
We also had our sister company Brewquets which was experiencing 400% growth, sales numbers which when we looked at them each day made us dizzy. For Brewquets we realised we could no longer keep it running out of our main warehouse and so ended up moving it to a new location around the corner. This effectively doubled our warehouse capacity and provided an additional dispatch point which was a huge help.
For us COVID was a challenging experience but the pressure of the situation in forcing our hand really has helped us grow and took us to where we are now. As things came to the end of the year it meant that our normally extremely busy period was managed with complete ease. We were often saying to each other “it's hard to believe this is Christmas” when reflecting how easy it was to manage the workload.
We are extremely grateful to everyone that supported us through COVID and glad that we could support the breweries that we range as they went through lockdown. It’s been a surreal experience and we would regularly say to people that we were in an unbelievably lucky position (operating online), but even still we would much rather the world having not gone through COVID than to have the fortunate experience we’ve gone through. On the plus side, when speaking to others about our experience it was really well received, and people would often say it was nice to hear something positive came from COVID.
When we started Beer Cartel online back in 2009 there was so little selling of alcohol online (Dan Murphy's wasn't even online!). And while we have been through those times where the concept of buying online didn't exist, it is amazing to see where we are now. Online is continuing to grow and will only get stronger in the years to come and we are really excited to play a big part in that. People have realised just how easy and convenient it is to buy online, alongside the fact that you can access so many more beers than those just offered by your local bottle-o