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Bouncing Back Q&A: Phil Innes, Loki Wines

Published:  03 August, 2021

It’s been a one-of-a-kind 18 months for the trade. Here, as we begin to push into the second half of the second year of the pandemic, Harpers is catching up with businesses to find out how they’re focusing on recovering from the shock, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead.

Next up, we speak to Phil Innes, founder and MD of Birmingham’s Loki Wines.

How ‘back to normal’ are you as a business?

Turnover-wise in store and for drinking in we are very much back to normal. However, events are still lagging behind as we have continued to keep social distancing in place. Staff are continuing to wear masks and we are encouraging (but not forcing) customers to do the same, we still have screens in place and other enhanced cleaning which is likely to remain going forwards.

What are your priorities and predictions for the second half of 2021?

I think we are going to continue to see a "Covid bounce '' in the second half of 2021, as more people are venturing out. This summer is going to see more people staying at home which will be welcome, as we usually see a summer dip. I think if we continue with vaccination and there are no more nasty variants we could see a very strong end to the year.

What kind of Christmas are you anticipating and how are you prepping?

I think it will be a pretty good Christmas if we avoid any lockdowns. We are going to take a pretty cautious approach this year when it comes to stocks as there are still a lot of unknowns, but I am quietly confident that it is going to be a good Christmas.

Do you anticipate making a full recovery from the pandemic? What timeframes are realistic?

I genuinely think things won’t get back to normal until at least spring 2022 at the earliest. But I think some of the changes in shopping habits, especially in town centres may never come back to how they were. We are looking at office occupancy being subdued forever with more people working at least part of the week at home. However, we are seeing sustained strength in our two out of city sites, which may point to a slight change of strategy in the future.

How heavily have you been impacted by staffing issues?

We haven’t run our full hours in any site for over a month now, with one store having to close completely for 10 days as a result of not having enough staff who hadn't been told to isolate. Hopefully this is all easing now, but we kept paying our staff wages whilst closed which means it is a double hit when we are closed.

Are you anticipating more Covid-related restrictions?

I really hope not. I think the signs are looking good with this third wave that infection rates are not translating to the same death rate as we had previously, and this should hopefully allow us to carry on with a new normal.

How have drinking habits changed post-lockdown?

We have definitely seen people spending a lot more in store. Wines that we may sell a limited number a year (Lafite, Petrus, etc) we are selling quite a number now as people want to spend money that they have saved during lockdown. I think the drinking from home is also still continuing, and we are seeing big sales for people drinking at home and having people around now that they can.

Lastly, if you could make one change in government tomorrow, what would you choose?

Business rates would be my number one. I think the system is antiquated and if the government is serious about retaining the high street then business rates need to be reformed.

Quick-fire questions:

France, Spain or Italy?


USA or OZ?


Port or Sherry?


English bubbles or Champagne?

Champagne (sorry England, feel very unpatriotic now)

Go-to drink to watch with the Olympics / tennis / football?

Olympics: 6% German Riesling. It goes on for so long, anything stronger will kill me

Tennis: Champagne

Football: Cider