Ep 05: Post Covid and Recession Strategies

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K shape, L shape… There’s been lots of talk about the recession in the media. Regardless, F&Bs have seen a trend toward recovery ever since Phase 2 began. That said, how can F&Bs stay in shape?

This September, StaffAny Wok the Talk’s back with a session on post-Covid recovery and recession. We had the honour of having Wee Han and Wee Tuck, 2 of the owners of The Brewerkz Company with us, covering the following topics: 

  1. Brewerkz’ collaborations strategy 
  2. How to get the ball rolling on collaborations
  3. Recession: How a reset enables Brewerkz to go further 
  4. Recession: The power of the “Human Resource”
  5. Q&A: business model add-ons, promotions strategy 
  6. Some closing nuggets 🙂

Our speakers

Before we start, let’s find out more about our speakers, shall we?

Wee Han started in F&B over 20 years ago, when he founded Crystal Wines: one of the largest wine and spirit distribution companies in Singapore. Subsequently, he  started a string of Japanese restaurants. Easy & Light Group was then set up in 2017, which went on to acquire Brewerkz fully. A fun fact about Wee Han – he admires all who enter the F&B industry and calls them brave souls!

Wee Tuck dived full-time into the business only a year ago. Before that, he was at the helm of Singapore real estate company Rowsley, currently known as Thomson Medical Group.  Wee Tuck has had a variety of senior leadership roles in corporate finance and business development for companies such as General Electric,  NBCUniversal, CNBC and Rowsley.  His fun fact? He never thought that they would one day own the Brewerkz brand! 

Brewerkz

The Brewerkz Company is part of the Easy & Light Group – a portfolio of F&B businesses owned by three brothers, Wee Han, Wee Tuck and Wee Lee. 

Since 1997, Brewerkz has been Singapore’s longest-running craft brewery experience, providing customers with innovative craft beers brewed to combine taste, craft, atmosphere and emotion – coming together to create a true Brewerkz experience.

Brewerkz has since transformed from a restaurant business to a full 360 degree business. This strategy is a big milestone for the company, and has definitely helped in diversifying revenue streams and increasing Brewerkz’ capacity to handle different types of projects and initiatives. 

Collaborations: Brewerkz’ way to go

It’s a matter of fact: Wee Tuck shares that in the F&B industry, your food has got to be good for customers to come back, and your service levels have to be on par. But these aside, Brewerkz has identified branding and marketing as a key business component- especially in the craft beer space. 

One can hire great brewers and brewmasters and have a pipeline of great tasting food. But this is not enough.  Good branding is also needed. With this, Brewerkz decided that they wanted to bring their branding up several notches – how they design, the story they tell, and even the platforms they place their products.

For Brewerkz, collaborations are one of the most straightforward ways to bring the brand to people. They boil good collaborations down to a few things: A good partner, a good platform, a good product and executing with credibility. This is what gets people talking. He goes on to share a handful of examples of such collaborations Brewerkz has had with others: 

Source: Brewerkz

The most recent one was the virtual Singapore Food Festival 2020 run by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). In line with the theme “Passion Made Possible”, Brewerkz created a limited-edition brew called Brewerkz Passion Gao Siu Dai. This brew quickly became a fan-favourite, and was one of the six craft beers featured on the virtual food festival’s online tasting session. 

In February 2020, they also brought back version 2.0 of NEWBrew which they had first done in 2018. NEWBrew is essentially a brew made with PUB’s high-quality, ultra-clean, recycled water: NEWater. 

Source: Brewerkz

Next, Brewerkz did yet another special brew for the biannual Singapore Airshow later in Feb 2020. They invited some members of the aviation industry to the brewery for sampling and tasting of 8 different beers with varying flavour notes. Through extensive tasting and brewing, this special beer was created. This event brought the brand lots of visibility and despite the pandemic,sales were not affected much!

Last but not least, the original collaboration that kickstarted it all: Siloso Saison Blanc, a collaboration with Sentosa Grillfest. It was a small start for Brewerkz, where they brewed a customised event-exclusive beer crafted to pair with the hot weather, the grilled treats and the eclectic vibes. This was something unique that resonated with the crowd and people ended up liking it. 

How can F&Bs start? 

Considering the varying sizes of the F&Bs represented in the audience, Janson asked our speakers when is a good stage for F&Bs to start thinking about marketing and branding. Brewerkz shared that actually, it’s alright to start small – acknowledging that when you are small, it is tough to get big players to be attracted to you. So persistence is necessary. Don’t give up only after a few tries.  

For Brewerkz, we’ve always done our own things.  We decided to start small with a collaboration with Sentosa GrillFest 2019. With an event-exclusive custom beer to speak for itself, the results showed that sales had improved, revealed what consumers wanted and that more people knew about the product. One collaboration led to another and this is how Brewerkz does it.   

Wee Han chips in that everyone knows partnerships are great and they want to do it well- in fact, it’s a very logical strategy. So what prevents us from actually getting down to it? From his 20 years of business experience, he shares that a big part of it boils down to having the right human resource. (On this note, several attendees chimed in to agree!)

He emphasized that having good people is important, since businesses are bound to face problems everyday. If the focus is put on daily fire fighting, there will not be much capacity left to think about how the overall situation could be solved. With a good team, collaborative ideas could be tested, and have opportunity to see results and then it snowballs.

Getting resources, practically  

Okay, how does one then assemble this important piece, the “human resource”? How about smaller businesses?

For Brewerkz, the 3 brothers decided to run the business themselves.  This means giving up other career paths that they each might want to pursue.

If you’re a business owner who believes your business can grow but is lacking resources, Wee Tuck suggests  to look for partners, be it a financial partner or even a partner in the same industry, who can bring in that firepower you don’t have – so you can grow and scale. Yes, you may have to give up some shares and control.  However, capability is ultimately foundational to the business. 

A question to consider is, how might we be more strategic and partner with the right people? Surely, successful partnerships will need to overcome incompatibilities and misalignment in terms of vision, personality and values too. 

Hitting reset

Wee Han shared that when Covid hit, they started to look very hard at their financials — this meant lots of modelling, forecasting and being disciplined with them. Besides that, they also made an effort to really clean up the operations. Having been around for over 20 years, that also meant “20 years of problems” – Covid presented a great opportunity to hit the reset button. By cutting out the excess, operations became much tighter and leaner after shaving off all excesses, allowing them to actually earn better margins. 

Recession Strategy – where do we go?

Brewerkz’ plan was always set on growth. This decision meant scaling the business: more restaurants, more beers and investment in branding & marketing. When the recession hit, that did not change their goals or strategies. They just had to be more careful about their investment decisions and slow things down a bit.   

With each F&B having a different set of visions and goals, Wee Tuck’s advice is: Start with having a clear sense of what you want to do (or need to be). Some F&Bs may prefer to be a lifestyle brand and not grow and that’s okay. Don’t feel pressured to grow just because everyone else is doing it. For Brewerkz, staying still is not an option because we have already invested in certain infrastructure and growth is needed to recover those investments. Once you know what you want to be, tailor your plan accordingly.

Questions from the floor, anyone?

Besides the regulations imposed by the government, were there any new add-ons to the business model to survive in the new “normal”?

Yes. One example is the launch of virtual beer tasting.  We did this for Father’s Day promotions and in a much bigger way for the Singapore Food Festival. While these may be smaller add-ons, Brewerkz is pursuing them anyway, as it is about the business mindset. When a business does things you haven’t done before, you send a signal to yourself, “let’s keep on trying”.If it fails, let’s move on. We need to fight the mindset of complacency, of not doing anything or think “everything is gloomy” as it can be difficult to grow the business in this way. Such a mindset warrants Brewerkz to experiment with new things, even if they’re small. 

We know that consumers may be more careful in spending now, would you recommend promotions to bring better value, or maintain the price and excel in service (focus on niche customers with bigger spending)? 

There’s no right or wrong answer here, Wee Tuck shares. He thinks that promos and deals are ok – but once you present yourself as a venue that is always making deals available, people are just going to wait. 

However, if you’re confident about your product (and you offer good service), then perhaps you can hold off promotions. Not only do they eat into your margin, it develops a mentality amongst your base that they should wait for the next time you do a deal — in the long run, this hurts you. Nonetheless, if your cash flow is low and inventory is high, promo and deals could definitely be something to look at. 

Looking Ahead

In the next few months, Brewerkz is looking forward to executing some growth projects they have in the pipeline. Nonetheless, we’re not out of the woods yet so we all hope the market continues improving. They will continue to watch their cash flow and numbers carefully but definitely see improvements.

Finally, Wee Han shares that while they have done their numbers and also have a strategy, really, the future is still an unknown. Many thought 2020 would be their best year, Brewerkz included. However, he is not too worried – should anything come, they will deal with it by focusing on fundamentals, getting good heads together to help solve problems and navigate this unknown together. 

Wee Tuck also addressed the F&Bs that this has been quite a stressful time for all in the industry. Nonetheless, It’s helpful (though painful) to occasionally take a look at the business. Is it going well or not? It’s great to get real feedback to get a sense of where the business should go — Sometimes, business owners may think our business is this or that, but it may not be what the market sees. It’s important to calibrate ever so occasionally so you can ultimately work on more effective things.

Next ep please?

That’s it from us! While we plan for the next episode, join us on our telegram channel to stay updated on Wok the Talk and also have a say on future topics and formats! 🙂
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