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Living with lockdown - Jeroboams

Published:  06 May, 2020

Hugh Sturges, MD at Jeroboams, gives Lisa Riley a glimpse of the realities of coping with lockdown

What are the key issues faced by the business during this time?

The closure of the on-trade and events businesses has meant that we lost 30% of our turnover overnight and I don’t see how this can recover other than in the longer term, so we need to work out the best way of maintaining support for that sector whilst managing a smaller business – there may be opportunity here as the model will change for sure. Other issues, in terms of retail, web and office staff, are more manageable and much of the drive is to keep motivation, morale and proactivity up through communication, social as well as business.

We are lucky in that our business is two thirds private consumer and one third trade rather than the other way around. Right now we are seeing better business than pre-Covid in our shops as the attraction of ‘local’ and ‘community’ is prevalent – we have to make sure that we provide the service, range quality and value, and points of difference that will encourage these customers to stay with us when life is back to normal rather than revert to supermarkets or big online companies that they may have used before.

Any 'in-house' initiatives you have launched to make it easier for your employees to cope?

There is a hierarchy of communication that ensures everyone knows how and what we are doing but it is passed around and adapted to individual departments and teams. Senior management are also actively encouraged to check in on staff (working or furloughed) to check they are ok. Many teams have a virtual social catch up most Friday afternoons. We are writing and sending out, to everyone interesting in learning, pieces on wine regions. We are taking initiatives to help the NHS, such as donating 10% of our sales of rosé in May to NHS feeding centres – we are listening to the teams. Business-wise we are geared up with everything system-wise for people to work effectively, and as far as possible, as a team.

What were the first measures as a company you took in response to Covid-19?

Our first dealings with Covid-19 were pre-lockdown and in response to staff concerns arising from press coverage of the disease and who it was most likely to impact. Our first step was to allow all staff who lived with over 70s, someone who was pregnant or with a newborn, to work from home/take leave; this move was very quickly followed by putting office staff on a rota (one week in, one week out) and checking hygiene procedures in our eight shops.

With lockdown, initially off-licences were not deemed essential and so we made plans to close all of our shops; this was changed by 25 March once we were told we were allowed to trade and this afforded us a degree of certainty from which we could plan. 

Our strategy/intent was and is three pronged. Firstly to ensure as far as possible the health and safety of our staff and customers. Secondly of course to manage the business so that we can survive and ultimately thrive and finally to actively maintain or even reinforce our relationships with our wider ‘business family’, staff, customers and suppliers.

What changes have you implemented since?

Our trade business virtually disappeared so we have furloughed the majority of our staff working in that area; we have one or two still working from home where their primary role is communicating with and helping customers, in any way they can. Private sales continue as normal but with sales staff working from home and co-ordinating through Zoom. Microsoft Teams, etc.

We initially re-opened (on 25 March) six of our eight shops, but on shorter hours and a five rather than seven day a week basis. This enabled us to staff the shops with employees who live close enough to the shops to avoid public transport, others we have furloughed for now. We of course also adopted distancing rules, customer number restriction and hygiene procedures.  

Office-wise we have been able to have everyone who needs to, to work from home as we have invested heavily in modern systems over the last few years. Over and above all of this is a communication plan that hopefully means everyone understands what the business is doing and why, and on a more personal level people feel that they are being looked after. 

One other significant change is that we have increased the resource invested in building a fully transactional website. This was already in progress but clearly the need for a web solution is higher than it was and so we have upped the pace of development – the website will be live in May.

What are your hopes for Jeroboams when we come out on the other side?

My hope of course is that Jeroboams will survive and prosper when we come out the other side, but alongside that I hope we take on board the many learnings that have come about as a result of it. The business will not be the same for sure, it will be better. It will be a better place to work as we embrace technology to allow for a better work/life balance, it will have forged greater bonds with our key local communities, we will have a fourth arm on the internet and, through our focus on working with our suppliers and customers on a very inclusive basis, we will forge, I believe, a more mutually beneficial culture of business.

This may take a little time and in the short term we will be a little poorer, but ultimately I hope that the one advantage of the dreadful Covid-19 disease is that we will have looked hard at our business as never before and will make the changes that were probably always needed but which got lost in the ‘busyness of the day’.