Founder and GrandMaster of Yeastie Boys, Sam Possenniski, understands the value of a good brew in challenging times.
We caught up with Sam from his United Kingdom base to find out how he was getting on during lockdown and to answer some key questions.
Where are you living and what are you doing?
Nearly five years ago we started brewing our beers in the UK and my business partner Stu McKinlay (fellow VUW alumni) and his family went over there to establish what is now our main market for the business. I followed nearly three years ago and conjointly we are running the business from over here, trying to take advantage of the big market opportunities over here and throughout Europe.
What’s the current situation with COVID-19 in your region?
I think the situation is broadly similar across the world. The UK went into lockdown on 23 March, which has had a dramatic effect on our industry. Pubs, bars and restaurants closed overnight and 80 percent of our customer base simply stopped operating. Since then we have been working hard to maximise what opportunities that still exist –the good news is people still want our beer! We quickly established our own online web store as well as supporting and finding other businesses offering online purchases. The UK government has been very supportive, offering to fund 80 percent of wages up to £2,500 per month. The only requirement however is that those staff members must be 'furloughed' –meaning they are unable to work in the business. This has allowed us to keep our staff with the business, and most importantly paid, while we are under this lockdown period. Of course, the uncertainty over how long this scheme will be available, and how long the lockdown will go on for, is stressful for a small business such as ours.
If you are currently working from home–what's your best tip for others?
We already mixed up our time between working from home and meeting in the Members Lounge at the Tate Modern (a great "office"!), so the change hasn't been as significant for me. And the saving of London travel time is actually quite productive. But of course, and not surprisingly, the beer industry is rather social, so that inability to be out and about meeting stockists and consumers is quite difficult. My best tip is to make sure you fit in exercise. I will usually go for a run or a bike ride each day –both still allowed under lockdown. It helps get you away from your screen (or screens), into the fresh air, and most importantly ensures you don't forget to have a shower!
What did you study and why did you choose your degree?
BCA (Hons)/BA majoring in Economics & Public Policy. At the time I was fascinated with the machinations of politics and government and I had aspirations of working in the public sector. Somehow I ended up in the world of banking instead and didn't surface for another
20 years. But along the way Stu and I decided to embark on starting a brewing company, firstly as just a hobby, but that eventually took on a life of its own.
What was Wellington like when you were studying?
It wasn't quite the ‘coolest little capital in the world' that it is today. But the closeness of the city and the campus meant that there was a great combination of study and social life. It was also where our passion for good beer was born as Wellington, even then, was establishing itself as the 'craft beer capital' of NZ. Of course, in the mid to late 90s that was centred around just a few venues, but what venues they were –for example, the original Malthouse on Willis Street, Bar Bodega, Tupelo (now the site of Little Beer Quarter, aka "LBQ, Yeastie Boys' 'home away from home").
Any memorable lecturers?
I remember Ganesh Nana making Microeconomics fun in 1st year –quite the achievement. And Geoff Bertram running my favourite course of all time –History of Economic Thought.
What do you enjoy most about working in your profession?
The industry is very supportive and collaborative –from the bigger breweries all the way down to the very small. We've received no end of support through the years as we have established and then grown our business, and we are very open about giving this back to others.
Biggest challenge for your industry?
The biggest challenge now is simply the sheer uncertainty of what our industry will look like in 12-18 months’ time. The hospitality industry is going to be hit very hard and there is also the question of whether consumer habits will be changed by all of this. With challenges comes opportunities, but at the moment it is really about survival mode, managing what is in front of us, and trying to stay in the best possible shape to take those opportunities when they do arise.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
As a 'dyed in the wool' Wellingtonian when I grew up and went to university there, it was a colleague who told me while I was trying to decide whether to accept a job relocation to Auckland (of all places!) that there were many great cities around the world to live and work in and I should take advantage of that. This helped make my mind up and I took that relocation and since then have lived all around the world. I can even now admit that it is sometimes 'breezy' in Wellington.
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