How Chesterfield businesses have diversified to survive everything the pandemic has thrown at them
The upsetting prospect of pouring beer down the drain quickly persuaded Ben Stephenson that he needed to change the way his business operated.
Ben knew his one-room pub, Brimming with Beer in Brimington, would have to diversify or die when the pandemic hit last year.
Facing the likelihood of long months shuttered up and no trade, Ben realised he had to act quickly ‘before someone else did’.
“I knew we would have beer we had to sell and takeaway was the only option to pouring it all down the drain,” he said.
Ben bought a canning machine which allowed him to can up beer from kegs and began delivering to homes within a 12-mile radius.
And it worked, Ben says he is ‘incredibly busy’, making 50 to 60 deliveries every day and his quick-thinking has already helped breweries who faced a massive loss in business as pubs closed their doors.
"I’ve gone from a tiny fridge to having 300 different types of beer,” he said. “So it has helped breweries as well. Everyone thinks pubs have had it bad, but so have breweries.”
Now Ben is looking to diversify further by applying for a pavement licence so he can serve drinkers outside from next month.
Ben is typical of business owners across the town who had to think on their feet when the pandemic hit a year ago.
It was a similar story at well-established Chesterfield company Northern Tea Merchants, which found much of its traditional business with cafés and restaurants ‘virtually dried up overnight’.
Director James Pogson said: “In order to keep our delivery van drivers busy, we introduced free doorstep deliveries to anyone across Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire.
"This enabled our local customers and those shielding to stay stocked up with their essential tea and coffee supplies to help them through the crisis.
“Seeing how Covid-19 has affected consumers and their shopping habits, we also took the decision to make an investment into our website to provide customers with a free click and collect service.
“Finally, a further step we decided to take in order to future proof the business and also become more sustainable was to heavily invest in new machinery in 2020.
"Proudly, we are the first company in the UK to have one such seaming machine which now takes pride of place in our cocoa packing plant.
"This allows us to fill and seal drums that formerly had a metal base, with a biodegradable laminated paper base instead.
"We are delighted to share that we will be able to replace approximately 650,000 drums per year with the new 100 per cent recyclable format.”
Few industries have been hit harder over the course of the pandemic than hospitality, where businesses have been forced to adapt almost overnight to providing outdoor seating and takeaways.
Owner of Chesterfield’s Vintage Tea Rooms, Sharon Hilton, saw an opportunity in lockdown to move to a new building on Steeplegate where she is able to provide takeaways.
"Our Mother’s Day takeaway boxes were a success and I’m looking at introducing grazing boxes and picnic boxes,” Sharon said.
"We also want to provide some outdoor benches so we can open in April. We had to change because previously our customers all preferred to sit in and enjoy the service we provided.
"Everyone I speak to just wants to meet a friend and have a coffee now. It has been a long time to wait.”
The plight of pubs has been well highlighted during the past 12 months, with their shuttered doors becoming a symbol of the pandemic’s impact on our towns and villages.
Many have been forced to diversify by offering takeaways and more outdoor seating.
The Spotted Frog, on Chatsworth Road, Chesterfield, has taken this further and will introduce eight beach huts with their own TVs, heaters, Wi-Fi and USB connections for customers to enjoy when it reopens in April.
Co-owners Trevor Marples and Nicola Claxton, who also own the Butchers Arms at Brimington, said: “We have remained positive throughout the period, with continued upgrading and development of our outside areas, redecoration where needed, and a thorough cleanse throughout.
"We have recently constructed eight ‘beach huts’ which are fully fitted with their own TV, heaters, Wi-Fi and USB connection and are in the process of launching our new app and booking system.”
For shops and other businesses in the town, websites and social media became more important than ever due to repeated lockdowns and a lack of passing trade.
Adorn Jewellers of Chesterfield said it was lucky to have customers around the world as well as local people who enjoyed visiting the shop on Middle Shambles.
Joint-owner Laura Jo Owen said: “As we have a diverse collection of jewellery we started to photograph and add more collections each week so our customers had a lovely choice when they visited our website.
“In addition we continued with our ‘Friday Night Live’ each Friday at 7pm on Facebook and began to add more videos to our YouTube channel.
"We wanted to make sure that our customers could not only keep up to date with our new collections but also had the opportunity to chat to us live.
"We have a wonderful community that join in with our ‘Friday Night Live’, many of whom have become friends and now chat to each other in the comments as well as chatting to me.
"This pandemic has and continues to be, a terrible time for small businesses and our communities but our fabulous customers, our ‘Sparklies’, coming together online is a wonderful feeling and gives us hope for the future.”