In this personal and heartfelt interview, Tindal Wine Merchant’s Managing Director Anthony Tindal talks to Crowe Partner Shaw McClung about the personal challenges and sacrifices his team have made to keep a viable trading business through this pandemic.
Anthony talks about the impact the pandemic has had on his business and how restrictions have changed the drinking habits of his customers. He outlines how Brexit has compounded the impact the current crisis has had on global supply chains and the worrying effect global warming has had on wine supply.
He outlines how strong financial controls, alongside the government supports, and the diversification of the group have kept the business viable. But he feels it is the hard work and loyalty of his team that has enabled the business to deal with the significant challenges it still faces. Below is a summary of the discussion and a link to the video.
The family-owned and run Tindal Group comprises Tindal Wine Merchants – an import business that specialises in selling to hospitality businesses and the independent off-trade, Searsons Wine Merchants – a well-known retail shop based in Monkstown, Co Dublin, an international wine brokerage company called Tankersley Wine Brokers, and their most recent business, Customs Wise, which specialises in implementing and fulfilling customs documentation procedures, including imports, exports and transit declarations across all commodities. In recognition of the service they provide, they achieved All-Ireland Customs Brokerage 2021 Accreditation from the All-Ireland Business Foundation.
We have been lucky that, despite these closures, our sales have been up 14% on last year’s, but they have been periodically down as low as 30% of 2019 sales with it stabilising at about 25% below 2019 levels overall. This means we are no longer relying on government assistance, which I am delighted to say.
As a result of COVID restrictions curbing parties and other larger gatherings, we have seen a reduction in sales of our entry-level wines and a switch to some of our more premium brands. These come with a slightly better margin, but with an overall reduction in volume, the business has had to be very careful of our margins.
I have enormous sympathy and respect for restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses. People don’t realise the impact that this has on your life as an employee in that sector. People have pride in their jobs and to be told you have a job one day and be told the business is shut the next, is very hard to come to terms with.
A restaurant operates on incredibly tight margins, especially when you consider the rising cost of rent, utilities, rates and labour, and a lot of restaurateurs have pulled out of the sector which is a great shame as we have lost some really good people because of this crisis.
We have managed throughout all of this to keep our team together – and it’s not because of me, it is because of them – they are so determined to get through this together. I am eternally grateful to our team for their loyalty, hard work and integrity.
The policy I have with our Team is to be totally honest, frank, and transparent about the challenges the business faces, the plans we have and the opportunities that we hope will come down the track. It is only by working together as a team that we can build the business back up after this crisis passes.
What saddens me in many ways is that I am facing into the end of my career while this is happening, as I really enjoy what I do and with the trading and travel restrictions that the pandemic imposes, it has taken so much of that enjoyment away.
In February we bought a container of wine from New Zealand, which we are still waiting to arrive. Added to this, the cost for freight has doubled, and in some cases trebled.
In order to get through the last year, we have stuck rigidly to our tight financial control and will continue to do so. We have utilised government supports but, because of our diversification, we have been able to spread our costs and deploy some of our staff into different sides of the businesses. However, our tight financial focus extends to each business within the group. Each business must stand on their own two feet, we will not allow one business to support another, each must be viable in their own right. But what has emerged is a great flexibility in our business to be able to adapt quicker to the changing circumstances.
Looking ahead to 2022, there are lots of challenges. We are worried about what impact the reduction and eventual removal of wage subsidies will have on our customers – their businesses and their livelihoods.
We are trying to recruit staff at the moment – a credit controller and a logistics manager – and it is proving very difficult. The job market is very tight, and the salary expectations are too high from the candidates we are seeing. So, while we have staff who have had to take on additional tasks and are overworked, we are going to have to wait until the market stabilises.
Another important factor of course in the wine business is the impact we are seeing of global warming. We see shortages of wine from several important regions like Burgundy. Also, a recent poor harvest in Italy is going to cause shortages of Prosecco, and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is almost sold out. This means a significant increase in prices for wine globally. But of course, these are issues facing everyone in our business and we at least are set up well to be able to deal with these issues.
But overall, I remain positive for our business. We have just had a very good month and are looking at a couple of new opportunities. With continuing focus on cost efficiencies alongside the strength of the team that we have been able to keep in place, I am confident we will weather the storm and emerge stronger than ever.
Crowe's Business Leadership Hub features a range of distinguished business leaders who share their personal stories of achievement and pass on their insight, advice and guidance to help Irish business owners take their businesses to the next level. Find out more at https://www.crowe.com/ie/insights/crowe-leadership-hub.
Shaw McClung talks with Anthony Tindal