Entrepreneur Spotlight: Observe, Adapt and Transform

How one Uxbridge company is brewing up business during COVID-19

meridiansmall business owners outside their brewery
Joanne Richter and Rob Garrard, The Second Wedge Brewing Company

Small businesses are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including The Second Wedge Brewing Co. Citywide closures and social distancing have forced the Uxbridge, Ont. startup to lay off more than half of its workforce and shut down important sales channels.

In fact, half of Canada’s small businesses have experienced a drop in sales due to COVID-19, 40% of which report a decrease greater than 25%, according to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

Government agencies are stepping up with programs designed to offset the economic impact of COVID-19, like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and Canada Emergency Business Account. But while these initiatives offer financial aid, The Second Wedge is taking matters into its own hands by deploying innovative tools and savvy business strategies.

Just the right pick-me-up

A perfect example is The Second Wedge’s newly minted drive-thru pick-up. With entry to the brewery’s retail shop closed off, co-founder Rob Garrard devised a plan: set up a conveyor belt outside the brewery. When a customer arrives, a staff member simply lifts the building’s roll up garage door, places the order in a crate, and “rolls the beer down to our customers without them having to touch anything,” says Joanne Richter, The Second Wedge’s co-founder and Garrard’s wife. “We’re always at a far distance from each other, and we always spray down the crate with bleach spray before going to the next order.”

From online to your doorstep

To further minimize human contact, The Second Wedge now requires customers to pre-pay online for drive-thru orders. However, accommodating online orders required bolstering the company’s e-commerce capabilities. The solution: a quick upgrade to the website’s back-end payment processing system. According to Richter, they have also made other e-commerce modifications, like redesigning the company’s homepage and adding content “to make sure our customers have the information that they need.”

When they’re not busy completing online orders, Richter and Garrard are managing The Second Wedge’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds to help spread the word about their new services. As Richter points out, “it’s a constant communication effort.”

For home-bound customers, The Second Wedge recently rolled out several new options, including same-day delivery for local residents. Richter and her husband make the deliveries themselves, always donning the proper protective gear.

Challenges abound

Despite these savvy strategies, Richter adds that combating the financial impact of COVID-19 hasn’t been easy. A beloved community fixture, The Second Wedge usually hosts community events, including live music nights, art shows, and a weekly farmer’s market – activities that are no longer possible. “It’s just a very different business model from what we signed up for,” says Richter.

Other challenges include long work hours, unsold inventory, and a higher cost of goods as the brewery shifts its production focus from draft beer to canned goods.

“We would love to bring back more staff but our cost-of-goods sold and packaging costs make it hard,” says Richter, adding that the company is currently weighing payroll relief options offered by the government.

brewery pick up line

Nevertheless, Richter says she and Garrard have plenty to be thankful for, including strong demand for their products, secure cash flow, and most of all, community support. “I’m so grateful that we’ve forged a strong bond with our community,” Richter declares. “I feel like everyone in Uxbridge is shopping with us.”

About the Author Cindy Waxer : Award-winning writer whose work covers business and technology for top publications, creative agencies and Fortune 500 corporations. Source: Meridian Credit Union