The owners of Ginger & Co in Princess Street, Shrewsbury, recognised that the traditional coffee shop model would need to change, if they were to survive the health crisis. Despite suffering a personal tragedy due to Covid-19, directors Sam and Kate Gwilliam have redefined their business – from collaborations with other local restaurants and Shropshire producers, to expanding their services to include a general store, as Kate reports.
How has coronavirus impacted you so far?
In one word…massively.
We immediately ceased trading as a coffee shop on March 20 following the announcement from the government. The following day we went back to the shop to clear out the fridges and give the shop a deep clean to allow the shop to lie dormant for the foreseeable future. Luckily, we were able to give the majority of our food and cakes to either the local food bank or the hospital teams. Locking the doors on that Saturday was a haunting feeling.
As a husband and wife team who built the business together over years of saving and research, it was hard not knowing what would happen next. Setting up our own business we’d had great visions of being masters of our own destinies. If the last five years of business has taught us anything, we now understand that isn’t something that happens!
The town had only just recovered from the floods in February to now be hit with this. We were glued to the government daily announcements praying for some clarity on what the promised support would look like. Our biggest concern was for our team. We’ve always been so proud of them as they make up such an integral part of what we offer. How would they survive without pay and would they have a job to come back to?
The Government grant has helped a lot to ease the initial worry of paying rent and other unavoidable overheads, but it was used up extremely quickly. The furlough scheme gave us a good few weeks of breathing room where we were able to go back to the drawing board and sketch out Ginger & Co Marque 2.0. Unfortunately, as directors, we fell through the cracks of the support that was provided, so getting the business to work for us again was hugely important.
Personally, we very sadly lost Sam’s mum to the virus. She was cared for at The Worcester Royal and I can say that the care Jan received was second to none. Having been hit first hand by the effects of COVID-19, we are all too aware of the risks, which is why we were adamant that whatever guise our shop’s rebirth had it would be a safe place for both our team and our customers.
What are your concerns and expectations for the future?
Social distancing seems like it is going to be lurking in some form or another for some time yet. There appears to be many (many!) different schools of thought on what’s what, all from seemingly informed, knowledgeable parties, but it is so hard to know who is right. So we’re erring on the side of caution. Although we only have a small shop, it’s a very busy shop where we manage to turnover well in excess of 350 customers a day who all come for the coffee shop ‘experience’. This is something that we just can’t see being possible with any form of social distancing in place.
What measures have you put in place to try to survive the gap?
To bridge the gap from the ‘New Normal’ back to some semblance of ‘old normal’, we have converted the front of the shop into a General Store. As well as being able to get your coffee and cake fix, we now also stock essentials like milk, eggs, flour etc and a range of hand-picked local products including Bakehouse & Co. sourdough breads.
We’ve taken advice from Barrie and JoJo from what used to be The High Street Delicatessen in Newtown on what sold well for them and have tapped into our plentiful county of producers for some amazing products. We’ve now got a licence to allow customers to take alcohol off the premises too…bring on the mulled wine at Christmas! We’re also very proud to stock Paso-Primero wines from our good friends Tom and Emma who happen to be pretty exceptional at what they do! We’ve too many wonderful producers to list them all!
Working on the assumption that a lot of people need to come into town to grab something quickly and don’t want to have to queue, we’ve also got a click & collect option. You can place your order on our shiny new website www.gingerandcocoffee.com and pre-order for the next day or another day in the week.
We also have a couple of great collaborations with Plantkind Falafel, who sell a range of our vegan cakes and Bakehouse & Co. who sell our cakes for delivery through their website. As well as these new offerings we also have many fingers in many different pies, so hopefully there’ll be more to come.
How has this been going?
So far…so good. At the time of writing this we have only just re-opened but the support from the town and those beyond has been incredible! To the point where tears were almost rolling. Having been on lockdown for a long time it’s a strange feeling to be out and seeing faces in 3D, chatting to people and catching up on what’s been (or not) going on in the lives of our regulars. The most challenging aspect is the constant need for communication to customers to make sure they are safe. There seems to be a chasm between those willing and happy to work within the advice and those who are a little more blasé.
Why did you join Support Shrewsbury?
We joined Support Shrewsbury as it was a way of keeping our presence in the Town whilst we weren’t trading and it gave a mechanism for our regulars to help us out during a time when they couldn’t visit.
How is it working out so far?
Since the initiative was started, we have had about £250 worth of vouchers that people can redeem now that we are back open.
Can you estimate lost trade to the business per month?
The Coffee Industry is a tough one to make money in as the average spend is comparatively low so we need to have our little shop working really hard to make money. We bake all our cakes and make as much of our offerings as possible ourselves as the margins are better that way and we can keep quality consistent. After the lockdown was announced, our trade went to zero whereas ordinarily, we’d be able to take about £40k a month. As it’s such early days in our new way of operating, it’s very hard to tell how big the impact will be. Selling other people’s products more means the margins are not in our favour. Needless to say, we had a fantastic team of eight full time members including Sam and I, and we are likely to only be able to sustain two others for the foreseeable. This is brutally heart breaking.
Anything else you would like to say to folks in Shrewsbury?
We’d like to say a big thank you for supporting us and coming back to see us. We’re sorry that we’re not the Ginger & Co that you may have been used to, but we’re still us at the core! As soon as we can, we will make every effort to come back as we were, but only as and when it is safe to do so.
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