By Phoebe Morton
Mark Costello entered the brewery industry full time at one of the hardest times, March 2020; but times have not got any easier as the world adapts to the new normal.
Horsforth Brewery has suffered from staffing shortages and trade inconsistencies due to Covid, as well as difficulty trying to attract new customers as people struggle financially to support small businesses.
Despite initial support for small businesses in March 2020, this year feels different.
Costello said: “People’s budgets have been squeezed… you’ve got a choice to make, do I spend a little bit more on a local business or do I buy my beer from the supermarket?
“The sentiment is there, but I don’t think people have the available resources to do it as much as they were doing last year.
“People are tired.”
At the beginning of 2021, a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that almost 250,000 small firms were on the brink of bankruptcy.
Furthermore, supply issues following Brexit have also taken a toll on the running of small businesses.
Despite narrowly avoiding running out of CO2, Costello has had to deal with delivery driver shortages and supply issues.
“At the moment we’re waiting for cans, and we’ve got beer that’s ready to be put into the cans – we need those ready by mid-day today, so we can’t brew tomorrow now.” Inconsistency is becoming the new normal for small businesses.
With Covid restrictions ever-changing, some potential customers still do not feel safe socialising inside.
Costello said: “I’m classed as vulnerable to Covid, so I fully understand that, but I can’t pay my bills with understanding.”
This is only exacerbated in winter months by the weather, and whilst Horsforth Brewery intends on covering up the patio area for customers to sit outside, funding such developments is proving hard.
Costello said: “The hope was that we were going to earn enough money over the summer and self-fund it, but the reality was that everyone went to Cornwall, and we had a terrible summer.”
Even without Covid, the pressure is on for Horsforth Brewery over the coming months.
Businesses usually rely on Christmas shopping to cover the slower periods of January and February, but for breweries this can be even harder.
Despite selling beers via their online delivery service, worse weather means people go out less, and in particular ‘Dry January’ can hit small breweries hard.
Costello said: “I think it’s a terrible idea, I think it shows that yeah, it’s great to take a break from alcohol and it’s great to have it in moderation, but it’s better to have it in moderation than to go all out in December and just stop in January.
“It’s not a great relationship with alcohol if you do it like that.”
The constant fluctuation of business also creates staffing difficulties, as predicting the flow of customers can be risky, leading to many nights of either understaffing or overstaffing.
With profits being unstable, small businesses must often take on most of the roles themselves as they cannot afford to hire the staff.
Costello, who has a four-month-old son and used to be an accountant, now acts as the owner, accountant, HR manager, bar manager, and business manager for the brewery.
He said: “If I spend time with my son, it costs me a lot of money because things don’t get done here that need to get done.
“I don’t want to go back to what I did do, but the stress of this is getting a bit much, I think.
“The physical toll is a bit much; I’m regularly doing 70-80 hours a week, and you can’t do that forever, and I’ve been doing it for 18 months.”
However, Horsforth Brewery plans to carry on and persevere through another year of unprecedented times, running weekly events such as Meet the Brewer and cinema nights.
Funding from the government for small businesses during Covid did also help, allowing the brewery to buy a new canning machine and step-up production.
The government promised £2.2 billion in grant funding to support non-essential businesses, such as breweries, which were closed throughout lockdown.
The local community also supports Costello, with several people considering it their local and coming in three or four times a week despite its relatively short-lived village presence.
Costello has also received the help of volunteers, as paying for staff has become increasingly difficult.
Volunteer Ian, who is recently retired said, “Working for Mark is just incredible… and obviously I like beer as well.”