Hello Cuckoo Fans,

Well, we find ourselves in a significantly more normal situation than the last time I put pen to paper, so to speak. Last time I wrote a blog, we were thrusted into a third lockdown in less than a year. People were getting fed up, myself included! Since then, there have been many ups and downs for the hospitality/ drinks industry, and I have been reflecting on how these industries have changed since they have been reopened. My job is highly dependent on meeting with people face-to-face. Since May I have been able to get back to doing this.

Hospitality is a multi-billion-pound industry and is a huge part of our economy. Clubs, pubs, restaurants, and bars have been impacted negatively since the start of the pandemic, with the government very quick to point the finger at these places when it came to rising cases in COVID.

Now, all those with common sense know it was the right thing to do to close these venues when the pandemic first hit and equally as right to impose certain criteria when they reopened but, as an industry we did feel picked on at the time and left with very little support. Owners, management teams and staff were tasked with making their venues ‘covid safe’ which involved great cost. Most people wouldn’t realise but the amount of cash spent on one way system signs, sanitiser stations, masks and other PPE was massive for hospitality and an expenditure you don’t profit from either. Add to this the substantial meal nonsense, lower capacity and as we saw in April, just outdoor drinking, and dining for a month. What I am saying is, the obstacles have been never ending from day one. People are anxious that the restrictions will come back round again and with this, an uncertain future for their businesses.

Another shift in change I have seen and been told about in hospitality is the lack of staff. In the last year, many people have found themselves in the privileged position of having plenty of time on their hands. With this brings reflection. Reflection on your own life and whether you are happy doing what you are doing. Being a bartender, server or a chef etc. is time consuming, hard work as well as being mentally and physically draining. I know people close to me who have decided to hang up their chef whites and bar blades for a more sociable career. I am a strong advocate for the hospitality industry, I enjoyed my time working behind bars. But I made the decision a couple of years ago that I didn’t want to work those hours anymore. It becomes a way of life rather than a job and you must love doing it. Many people have had the same thought during the pandemic and made the decision to leave the industry or forge a different path in the industry for something that gives you the time to enjoy yourself a bit more. Because of this, venues are stretched and having to start again with building new teams, which is very hard in such a demanding workplace. Spare a thought next time you go out for a meal and the staff look a bit flustered, they are more than likely short staffed! Plus, you have things like this to deal with; ‘Bottle of Corona please bar keep… hold the virus!’ No wonder we are short staffed with craic this bad!

It’s not all doom and gloom. I have really enjoyed getting back out there and catching up with our customers. Cuckoo has really expanded its appeal in the last year or so to a point where more people in Lancashire associate the word ‘cuckoo’ with gin rather than the bird! Which is of course quite sad for actual cuckoo birds, sorry guys. We must be grateful for people who have stood by us both during the pandemic and since it has calmed down. Many could have gone down the road of keeping their gin costs down with some bigger brands but our retention for existing customers has been exceptional. I think that is testament to the work done by the team to adapt and change our engagement over the last year or so.

Of course, it is massively important to keep relationships healthy and bring in those existing sales. But the real gravy is in gaining new business. After all, how do we grow as a brand if we aren’t introducing it to new people? Personally, I have found it tough since the limitation of face-to-face meetings. I don’t like Zoom or Teams. I know they are brilliant tools for having meetings to limit travel. Why fly to New York for a meeting when you can sit in your living room in Chorley over the laptop and achieve the same outcome? I get it! However, I find it hard to get my real personality across on the screen and over the phone. Especially on the phone, never been good at it. I was still asking my Mum to ring the bank for me until I was about 22! Seriously though, I work much better when I can sit down with another person and show my passion for the brand. You lose a bit of that over a screen, in my opinion.

Anyway, I went off on one then. The opening up of trade has allowed us to get back out there and gain some new customers. The best feeling is going into a place and seeing the product already on the shelf, job done! If only it was that easy all the time. We find ourselves in a very saturated market which is a big challenge when trying to gain new business. The most common statement I hear is ‘not another gin’ which immediately knocks your confidence! We aren’t just another gin though, thankfully, we are much more than that and fortunately we’ve manged to get lots of people on board with the story and our product. There is still lots to go at even just in Lancashire and our scope is to gain nationwide appeal within the next couple of years.

Without sounding too negative, I do fear for the next few months and what challenges we will face as an industry again. We are by no means out of the woods yet, even with vaccine rollouts we still don’t have a concrete plan in place by the government to when life will be normal again or if we will have more lockdowns imposed on us.

To end on a positive note though, it’s been wonderful to have people back in the distillery enjoying the Nest Bar Nights and seeing people out and about in the towns, festivals, and weddings etc celebrating the good times again! Oh, not forgetting, the football is back, and we can go and watch it!

Look after yourselves.

Tom x