17.6.2020

How North Brewing Co is Surviving Lockdown

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From uncertainty at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, to operating 4 of their craft beer bars in Leeds as bottle shops, North Brewing Co has been on quite a journey. Marketing Manager, Sarah Hardy, tells their story.

North Brewing Co was founded in 2015 by John Gyngell and Christian Townsley, the pioneers behind legendary Leeds beer venue North Bar, which opened in 1997. Known as “the first craft beer bar in Britain”, North Bar influenced a new wave of modern beer bars and breweries across the country.

“Our reaction to the pandemic has been split into two halves as we operate both a brewery and a group of bars and taprooms. Luckily, we've been allowed to carry on brewing throughout the pandemic which has quite literally saved the business.” says Sarah Hardy, Marketing Manager at North.

“When the lockdown came we had no idea what was considered ‘essential’. Would we be able to carry on brewing? Would we be able to operate as off licenses? Was this the end of an independent business that had been operating in Leeds since 1997?”

The lack of clarity surrounding whether they’d be able to continue operating, as well as concerns for the safety of their staff and customers, led North to make the immediate decision to close their bars and furlough staff, rather than continue to operate as a takeaway.

North prides itself on its community spirit, from not only the regulars in its bars, but also through the wider craft beer community and their wholesale customers. At the beginning of lockdown, they were purely operating a web shop and home delivery service for customers in Leeds, and using bar staff to deliver 35,000 cans of craft beer within the first 6 weeks - a true testament to their standing within the community.

Having furloughed the majority of their bar and HQ staff - and having a team of people working on every grant and loan possible in order to help save the business - North focused on online sales which have increased by over 1,000% since lockdown began, making up for the trade lost through selling to pubs.

Since lockdown began, North has worked tirelessly on how they can reopen their bars as bottle shops in Leeds - and in a way that’s safe for their customers and staff alike.

Sarah continues: “As restrictions have slightly loosened, we have taken the decision to open pop up bottle shops in some of our bars. The majority of our bars are neighbourhood, community bars with limited capacity. Under social distancing measures we would need to significantly reduce the number of guests (and staff) in the bars at any one time.”

Not only is North selling their own beers through their pop-up bottle shops, but they’re also supporting other independent businesses by selling local coffee, wines, spirits and picnic boxes to appeal to a wider audience.

 

What has made North successful during lockdown?

North bridge brewing cans in bottle shop fridge

- Opened 4 pop-up North Brewing Co bottle shops. These opened 19/04 and are operating on reduced hours (Tues – Sun, 12pm – 7pm). - They're opening two more pop-ups at two of their other bars. These will be weekend only pop-ups (Fri – Sat 12pm – 7pm). - Offering beers by the case / individual cans as well as bottles, wine, merchandise, and picnic boxes from a local deli. - Filling 4 pint pouches, 1l growlers (refillable containers) and 5l mini-kegs from the taps for draught beer at home from their own brewery and guest breweries - Offering grazing boxes from a local deli - Selling Northern Bloc ice cream freezers in all the bottle shops

 

What measures have North put in place?

To ensure safety, staff are serving from behind a Perspex screen, and customers sanitise their hands before entering. Limits have also been placed on how many customers can enter at once, and floor stickers are in use.

Although they’ve had to adapt their business model, North has continued their community spirit by interacting with their customers:

“When dropping beer at people’s homes our delivery teams have provided a bit of human contact, with a safe wave from a driveway, or a snatched chat with a regular. The pop up bottle shops mean that people can pick up a beer or two (rather than a case) whilst taking their daily walk, and keep connected to their communities.”

 

What about North bars, post lockdown?

Whilst we don’t know exactly what rules will be in place for the reopening of bars and restaurants, the team has been giving it thought:

“It is difficult to see how our smaller venues could be viable as bars under social distancing so we are focussing on getting these bottle shops right. We hope to be able to make use of the outdoor space and add a couple of tables at some of our venues as restrictions loosen but it is very difficult to plan for an unknown future. We are also really conscious of adapting to new regulations in a way that is respectful of our staff, customers and local communities.”

There is a great deal of optimism, as staff and customers have adapted to a new way of living. The way North has been able to adapt, first with a direct home delivery service and online sales, and now with their pop up bottle shops, is a testament to how a company can invoke community spirit through their products and thrive off the back of it.

To find out more about which bars North has opened as bottle shops, take a look at their twitter account