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Living with lockdown – Natalie Tennent, Berry Bros. & Rudd

Published:  22 May, 2020

Jo Gilbert caught up with Natalie Tennent, chief operating officer of London merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd about a large part of the business going into hibernation, while preparing for a shift in gears when lockdown eases. 

What were the first measures you as a company took in response to Covid-19 and how has lockdown affected your sales channels?

The first measures of lockdown all seem like a distant memory, but I have to say, the organisation of setting our business up for lockdown was handled swiftly and efficiently. 

Our events and experiences business was the first to be impacted through cancelling and postponing customer events. We then closed our shops and sent colleagues to work from home where possible. All the while we were ensuring that we had the warehouse fit for purpose and social distancing was maintained, thankfully this is quite possible in a 96,000 ft warehouse. During this our operations team rolled out a new contactless delivery process to ensure the safety of our drivers and customers. Where possible, people have been working from home now for almost nine weeks and I know that more flexible working will be one of the many learnings from this situation.

Communication has been the priority through the process – ensuring our colleagues were kept abreast of the rapidly evolving situation was of paramount importance and continues to be so to this day. Sharing regular updates and asking for feedback has meant that our people were involved throughout. We are currently working on our roadmap back to reopening our business and have asked our colleagues for their input and learnings in a recent survey.

How has lockdown affected your sales channels?

With the current situation and like many others, our business is experiencing an incredibly challenging time. While it has been documented that online performance has been strong, our fine wine and wine advisor teams have also been doing well. However, a large part of our business is effectively in a period of hibernation. Our events and experiences business and retail shops are closed, and our on-trade business and spirits brand sales have been heavily impacted by lockdown.   

We know ‘business as usual’ will take some time to return and although we are using this period to gather ideas and new ways of working, normal levels of trading will no doubt take some time to recover. 

What are your priorities at the moment? 

While our priority has been centred around ensuring the health and safety of our colleagues, our producers, and our customers during this time, we have also been looking at ways to adapt the way we share information – both internally to our people and also externally to our customers.

Our colleagues have been amazing at getting on board with online meetings and conference calls. Beyond work I know that regular socials, quizzes and even wine lingo bingo have been taking place across the teams.

For our customers, we have been prioritising ways to safely provide them with the fine wines and spirits they expect from BBR as well as sharing quality content. We have recently sent out a new mailer, From the Inside, which is a great read produced by our brilliant in-house content team. 

We are launching Inside Bordeaux next week – Jane Anson’s gorgeous new book which we have already had over 1,000 people sign up to be the first to buy it from 27 May. Our digital team has been providing regular video content shared via our Instagram channel from both our in-house wine experts, Bottle Notes, as well as our family of producers, Field Notes.  Our people are finding innovative and thoughtful ways of sharing wonderful content during these challenging times.


How do you see lockdown playing out, and what kind of industry / world are we facing on the other side? 

We have just started to see the beginnings of an easing of lockdown. However, there is a long way to go before we anticipate the industry returning to the way it was, if ever. We expect it to take some time before hospitality and the on-trade will be able to reopen and when it does, with much reduced capacity for some time to come. 

While we anticipate our retail shops opening again in some guise in the coming months, our events and experiences business will be closed for a while longer. We are adapting to the circumstances and have online events scheduled throughout June for some of our corporate customers, but welcoming guests back to our home at No.3 St James’s Street is still a long way off.

We also anticipate a change in consumer buying behaviour. With increasing numbers of people working from home during the week, there will be a greater emphasis on at home entertaining – our online sales have been strong, and we anticipate a continuation of this trend. Additionally, people are learning from the current situation and we expect greater emphasis on social and environmental responsibility. Buying with more consideration and care.    

No one really knows yet what the ‘new normal’ will look like but we, like all other businesses, will need to be on our toes and in a position to adapt quickly.


On a personal note, how are you keeping sane through these difficult times?

I’m not sure if it is keeping me sane, but one of the upsides of this situation is that I get to spend more time with my family. There have been no fall outs…yet. We are enjoying this time together that was rather unexpected, and it is making us reassess our priorities and re-establish family time.  

We are talking more and eating meals together, which is quite special.

That said, I am also enjoying running and using the time I have back from not commuting to stay fit. Something I have been meaning to do for a while now!