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Furlough Diaries

JGB SitRep

This here is my customer status update email content from 2020-04-17… I figured rather than just the static COVID-19 message I’d temporarilly replace the site with a blog-like series of updates, and here thus is the first post.

Hello everyone,

FarmCat COVID-19 Antics
FarmCat holds fort for COVID-19

I thought I’d send around a status update from mothballed JGB HQ… now we’re settling into this new lock-down life.

First of all – I hope you’re all coping well in the circumstances. Whatever it is you’re up to I hope it goes well for you. I hope you’re safe and well, as is the greeting of the present times… and the same for your family and friends. If you’re working then I hope it’s sensible and safe. And if you’re furloughed then I hope you’re able to relax and enjoy the bit of decent weather we’ve had without being hassled by the police for taking the wrong sort of walk in the wrong sort of place. I’m lucky to live on an edge of a countryside village, the outdoors is nearby and empty… and the warehouse is on a farm. I’ve not been outside of a mile radius from home since March 26th.

I myself am not furloughed as Jolly Good Beer is operated by me as a Sole Trader so I don’t get that option, and the cover for sole traders/freelancers doesn’t help much as my income over the last three filed tax years comes to a grand total of £45.41 per week… I’d be better off on statutory sick pay! So now it is just me and FarmCat at JGB HQ…

Anyway, there are still things to be done despite the shut-down status. I’m busy keeping brewers informed, stock-taking, and planning ahead. As luck(?) would have it my partner, Kat, started working for Jolly Good Beer in December and thus qualifies for the furlough cover which will at least keep a roof over her and my head for the time-being. That went in hand with moving to the same village as the warehouse, so now we live only 200 metres from the warehouse and it’s easy for me to be here without excessive travel, or any travel costs. Small mercies, hey?

I made the decision that full shut-down was the correct option for Jolly Good Beer when the government shut down retail on the 23rd of March. Despite the omnishambles that is our government then reversing this for off-license activities on the evening of the 24th a quick poll of customers indicated there was no way we could viably maintain service. Not without simply bleeding money on overheads and also not being able to provide staff with meaningful hours of employment. We don’t have things like supermarket supply contracts to keep things ticking over, our market is almost entirely smaller indies and mainly on-trade. So, economically, the best option was to shut down – to use the furlough pay cover to achieve continuity of employment, and to pause and wait it out. We do have a bit of an issue regarding stockholding and it’s place in the scheme of our cashflow… and it is a problem I am working on, with the first port of call being discussion with brewers. My over-arching approach to this at the moment is “DON’T PANIC“… there is time to pause and work things out properly.

But this isn’t just an economic problem. I have at least three staff who’re immunocompromised for various reasons, including key in-the-field staff who we couldn’t operate meaningfully without. These folks are higher risk, we also have several staff above 50… there is absolutely no justifiable reason for me to put my people in harm’s way purely for the sake of my small business. That would be selfish beyond words. Not to mention that by operating we’d be increasing daily interactions between people over a wide geographic distribution. So the correct decision for the well-being of my staff and for the greater social good is abundantly clear – hiatus.

And so we remain mothballed. There is only me (and FarmCat) “active” in any way, and I’m busy working on a full stock-take and asset audit, and trying to sort a lot of loose end. Thus I don’t have the time to support ad-hoc collections or pallets, nor do I want to. My interactions with both lorry drivers and couriers in the last fortnight have shown that too many exhibit  laissez faire attitudes towards suitable distancing and hygine standards for the current situation.

Stock-Taking and returning beer to brewers

My focus now is on “cleaning up” – and preparing for the day the on-trade reopens in a meaningful way. On-trade venues were over 70% of Jolly Good Beer business and are key to us being able to operate effectively again. This could be weeks or months away, the future is entirely uncertain for now. However my intention is very much to begin operating again when the time is right… I’ve got the situation sorted with enough brewers to have confidence we can weather this, and I’ve got finances in place to cover our reduced overheads for several months. My key aim is to be able to come out the other side of this with the ability to continue employment for my 11 payroll staff, and 2 contractors – and to continue our service in support of both brewers and retailers, continuing to provide the best quality of supply chain for the craft beer market.

Things will undoubtedly change… but hopefully for the better. (A rare moment of optimism from me?)

It’s quite weird to be in this current holding-pattern… at the start of April Jolly Good Beer reached six years of age. And we had our main annual meeting in early March. It’s surreal to think back to that time only a bit over a month ago. I came close to calling it off due to COVID-19, and we had one member of staff stay away due to the concerns. We were washing hands, not sharing glassware, and had a good night out in the Stoneworks bar in Peterborough. In hindsight it was a bit reckless, but the reality hadn’t set in and the dangerously incompetent powers-that-be were downplaying the danger.

Off the back of that meeting I’d normally be writing a big post about our progress and plans. We did well in the financial year to April 2020… well, “well” in terms of growth. With revenues reaching 55% growth on the 18/19 financial year even with March tapering off then being cut short due to COVID-19.  It has been a big year, with several new staff and the total JGB team growing to 14 with near-plans to bump that to 16 by the summer. And them SLAM… the whole world hits this coronavirus brick wall. Growth is all very well… but of course Profit is key, and as a sole trader what profit the business can make is technically my income. (As if it really works like that when your finances exist in a virtual space between the cashflow dynamics of payables and receivables.)

The issue is there’s very little ‘P’ in distro – well, it seems hard to realise it in my universe anyway. JGB finances track fluctuating either side of 0% ‘P’… it’s a very thin line, with a yearly profit margin being in the region of +/- about a week’s trading volume – circa 2%. And what we lost very quickly in March was a week’s trading whilst not significantly pausing purchasing. We were tracking through to April 2020 with it looking like we’d finish the year on a comfortably positive ‘P’… but the circumstances quickly dropped us from an expected 1%-2% range ‘P’ to negative 0.1%… hey, on the plus side I won’t have a tax bill this year (again, lol). If JGB does continue after this… which is very much the current plan, things need to be different. Still not taking home a wage for myself after 6 years of hard work is… ludicrous, and at times deeply depressing. It’s an issue entirely on my plate to solve, and I’m spending plenty of time thinking about this in the present semi-hiatus.

Blossom on the farm at JGB HQ

In the meantime prepare for “The Furlough Diaries” – with your first diarist on Monday being our “head of sales” Justin Rivett. I’ll be asking the team to volunteer their words/thoughts over the coming weeks to say a little about themselves, what they do, what they’re up to now, and what they’re looking forward to when this is all over… meet the team, per se. We’re still here… just hibernating. (With a beer and a BBQ in some cases…)

In case you missed it, here’s a link to my last email regarding ullage procedures for stock you have on site. Do not destroy anything yet. I am currently just collecting data. As issues go this is one that can wait out the lock-down period and be sorted at the other end.

If you have any queries simply drop me an email.

All the best, please be safe and sensible.