The Week Here: Free to talk?
21 May 2020
Beverage brands explore delivery services, emerging fashion labels rethink wholesale relationships, and reopened restaurants experiment with how to welcome patrons.
Alcohol delivery activity is at record highs around the world, reflecting the sudden rise of make-do mixologists. Established operators and brand-new businesses alike are innovating to meet demand – their chutzpah lights the way for entrepreneurs of all stripes. Cin cin.
Castalia at Sfumato, a bar in Detroit, took seven days to develop takeaway cocktail cube sets – and they’re selling out every weekend.
Halo Drinks – a London-wide cocktail delivery service – was created in response to lockdown, in less than three weeks. They’re already breaking even. “We knew that, if we were going to launch a business tailor-made to the current situation, we needed to do it fast. In some ways, that focus helped us,” co-founder Ben Hodges told Courier.
And it’s not just mixed drinks people are thirsty for…
Hackney’s Forest Road Brewing Co. decided to mobilise the kegs collecting dust in their warehouse. Director Peter Brown now drives around the neighbourhood, “pulling pints on people’s doorsteps.” The popular service is booked up until the end of the month.
Big Beer is Watching:
Although there is not yet a clear path to reopening for Britain’s 47,000 pubs, the survival of this £18bn industry is essential to both craft and behemoth brewers. “To get the suds flowing again, Big Beer is seeking to prop up publicans,” reported Bloomberg Businessweek, with the world’s largest beermakers backing pub-supporting schemes: from vouchers redeemable for brew, to initiatives that help pubs temporarily pivot to takeaways.
While Americans already favoured drinking en casa before the pandemic, most of their European brethren have always preferred imbibing in public. But as home liquor consumption climbs and online delivery sales soar – will we ever sidle back up to a bar?
Small fashion brands are rethinking their wholesale relationships, and rapidly restructuring to reach – and resonate with – consumers directly. Whether you’re in fashion or furniture, the lessons are universal: now is the time to focus on your brand’s identity, and double down on social.
With many of the biggest retailers cancelling orders or on the verge of bankruptcy, this is a moment for emerging labels to break free from their demands and the industry’s relentless seasonality.
“Traditional retailers are not your friend; they are going to be under enormous stress when they emerge from this crisis,” Mark A. Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Business School, told Vogue Business. His advice for emerging brands: take control, develop a “multichannel sales approach” and use social media to “create an engaged community of loyal fans.”
Staying true, rather than scaling up, is the goal.
“You shouldn't feel ashamed to launch your products right now, but you do need to be honest and authentic to the reality of the moment,” said Sarah Jossel, Beauty Director at The Sunday Times’ Style magazine.
Instagram’s fashion team announced a “playbook” for hosting digital fashion shows: “If you’re not see-now-buy-now, you can still take advantage of this high-traffic time by sharing posts with shoppable products before and after fashion week,” it reads. The social network that owns them also unveiled a rehaul of existing commerce features, renamed as Facebook Shops, that enable in-app storefronts.
Both platforms will soon have the functionality of adding shopping tags to live video: a natural evolution of the retail live streaming phenomenon that has already caught on in China.
The entry-level tech may be free, but at what cost? Social media has been criticized for its saturation of sameness, and those with larger marketing budgets will inevitably have the upper hand.
As establishments continue to reopen throughout Europe and the United States, they’re discovering that setting the mood – while maintaining safety protocols – is a challenging feat.
Forbes reported on a myriad of creatively improvised (creepy?) social distancing solutions. In the German city of Schwerin, a restaurateur supplied patrons with pool noodle hats. At Vienna’s Café Central, clothed mannequins occupy the tables taken out of commission.
A bar in Ocean City, Maryland acquired rolling tables customised with massive inflatable inner tubes reminiscent of a baby walker – but for adults.
Central London is still quiet, but stirring. Although most of Soho’s shops remain closed, in the past week alone Appear Here has seen footfall increase by 13%. We’re cautious, but curious.
And in New York City, food businesses are pondering their future with a reach limited to those in the immediate vicinity.
“I can’t see being open every day and having the business support the amount of hours and the employees … I suppose most businesses will be purely local for a while,” Paul Eng, owner of tofu shop Fong On,told New York Magazine.
If customers stick to their neck of the woods, what will that mean for our city centres? In search of relocated lunch crowds, will food trucks roam the streets?
Big Problem Energy:
Conor Sen, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, tweeted: “If you think dining demand has normalized by summer 2021 and 25% of restaurants go away in the next 6 months then it actually does seem like a good time to start a restaurant in Q4 2020/Q1 2021.”
“Is a pandemic the right time to start a business? It just might be,” read a headline in The New York Times.
A silver linings playbook: obstacles create entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s a new world, with new problems. Focus on solving them, the time is ripe.
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.