Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Indeed, small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) which are defined as businesses with fewer than 250 employees, accounted for 60 per cent of all private sector jobs in the UK, a total of 16.6m. Make no mistake about it, SMEs are crucial to the UK’s economy and their contribution has been increasing every year.
I have been looking at how our local SMEs have been coping with the new post-Brexit trading arrangements which have come on top of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis.
A previous West Country Bylines article reported that Barry of BJW logistics has (for the moment) stopped transporting goods to and from the EU. Then we learned that Vicky from Lyonsleaf, is no longer able to sell her skincare and natural beauty products to the EU. Matilda from Burrow Hill Cider and the Somerset Cider Brandy Company has had her trade with the EU decimated, as well as struggling to import vital sundries such as glass bottles.
This time I have spoken to Giles, the sales director of Wild Beer Co. who told me a little about his company:
“The Company was founded in 2012 to create beers with exceptional flavour without being constrained to beer style. We are specialists in fermentation and barrel-ageing and create a wide range of beers in our portfolio with diverse and sometimes surprising flavour profiles. Our aim is to conceive, create and sell beers that astonish our customers.”
Giles told me about the range of beers they sell.
“We make a diverse range of beers from Pale Ales, Stouts and IPAs to spontaneously fermented Coolship beers. Flavours and styles that can be suitable for a number of motivations either standing at the bar over a pint or seated pairing with a 3-course meal. We also sell through Waitrose, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Booths. Our exports go to 20 countries. We are also proud that our beers are served in some great food-led pubs and Michelin Star restaurants.”
With the hospitality industry so hard hit by the lockdown rules, I asked Giles how has this affected the business?
“With the loss of 60 per cent of our sales from the closures of pubs and restaurants, we have had to pivot our sales, which we have managed to do successfully. On-line sales increased over 1000 percent year on year and continue to be a crucial part of our business… The support of our customers buying on-line has saved us, and for this we are eternally grateful.”
I was keen to find out how the implications of Brexit and the UK/EU trading deal had impacted Giles and his company:
“It has caused confusion due to lack of clarity on rules and regulations. Added cost to our business due to change of labels, transportation costs and additional administration costs to us and our importers. This is despite us trying to prepare before 1 January. We focused on trying to get clarity on how to move goods, and spent many hours on webinars.”
So, the time you spent on preparations was not enough?
“Our contact with DIT has been helpful; there has, however, been a broad-brush approach to dissemination of information which has not been trade specific. To compound matters, there has been conflicting advice provided by governmental departments which has led to confusion in our industry for both exporters and our import partners”
It is interesting that once again one of our local companies has picked up on how the government has this one-size-fits all approach. The lack of actual detail coupled with misleading or contradictory advice seems to be a recurring observation.
Finally, I asked Giles about the future for the Wild Beer Co.
“We are positive about the future for our company and particularly once the hospitality trade reopens. We are restarting our efforts to bring a little of the Wild to a consumer base which is expecting more from their experience with beer.”
Again, one of our local companies seems to be finding a way to mitigate the obstacles unnecessarily put in their way, and doing so with little or no help from the Government and its departments. This really shows how resilient and resourceful businesses need to be to survive the changes brought about by Brexit.