Inside advice from Chris Lowder
Insights from Chris Lowder, after battling COVID-19 from inside China.
Chris Lowder works for Proof & Company in China. He's based in Shanghai but the company as a whole distribute craft spirits, educate bar industry professionals and consult with bars across China. Here he tells us what life has been like since COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan.
How is our work/business being affected? Our mission at Proof & Company is to support the Second Golden Age of fine drinking in our communities. So with that mission in mind, we have been extremely busy over the last eight weeks while all of the bars, restaurants and hotels have been forced to close to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
While our friends in the west are just now starting their own versions of this challenging journey, we have been right in the thick of things here in China. We have been working with our brand partners like Peddlers Gin and East Imperial Tonic to help supply bars with funding and products that they need to buy, such as critical medical supplies, to continue to earn money through door-to-door cocktail deliveries. Peddlers Gin is China's first-ever craft gin, and has also partnered with the third-party bottled cocktail company Laiba to further help raise money and awareness for cocktail bars struggling for survival all over China. We have also partnered with bars like Singapore's 28 Hong Kong St. to lead the #LoveToWuhan campaign in which we have raised money and other important supplies to ship directly into Wuhan to support the city's efforts to keep people healthy.
It has been a very busy eight weeks for us at Proof & Company, but it's deeply important to us to support Asia's bar industry in its time of need.
How am I personally dealing with it on a day-to-day level? My wife Micaela and I have been taking things day-by-day. Being the first country hit with this pandemic, there was no playbook for how to react or even how to think about this crisis as it swept across China. We have been doing our best to stay positive, stay informed, and follow our gut to stay safe and make right decisions for our family during an extremely fluid situation.
We are just now finishing our quarantine here in China, and are on our fourteenth day of only being allowed outside one time per day, and not allowed past our building's parking lot. It has been psychologically challenging to stay productive during this time, but we have been sticking to some foundational habits to stay sane and positive while cooped up in our apartments. We each are sticking to our early morning routines, and we have special nooks in our apartment that we only use for working. Then we come back together for fitness in the living room, and unwind together at dinner.
Keeping the apartment clean, decorating with candles and fresh flowers, and not slipping into a Netflix spiral has been critical for us to continue to feel positive and productive. Also, I can't recommend enough writing down goals for each day so that you can live with a sense of direction. It's just too easy otherwise to lose yourself while floating around your apartment.
How are we dealing with it on a longer term level? Now that we're two months in, I can say that the most important strategy has been to plan seriously, act decisively, and pivot often. The businesses that I know that have managed these two months of closure most-successfully were the ones that kept an open mind and stayed resourceful during this ongoing crisis. Forecast your P&L according to different fallout scenarios.
As Bobby Heugel correctly suggested, make very aggressive cash flow plans to ensure that your business can stay liquid during this time. This includes negotiations with your landlord, negotiations with your suppliers, negotiations with your employees, negotiations with all partners. Get everyone on the phone and work out plans that will keep your business balanced. Also, stay on top of all government updates and subsidy/relief programs, and then redo all of your forecasting every few days to account for this new information.
As our friends at Hope & Sesame in Guangzhou have also shown, I recommend selling down anything that can be sold down. Start with using delivery to get rid of all of the kitchen's perishables. Then consider selling off your glassware, furniture or other equipment and decorations to stay alive. Delivery cocktails will help to keep some money coming in, but this is only one component of a larger solution. This is the level of scrappiness that we have seen by businesses in China who choose to fight to stay alive. Get cash, make it work, and stay in the fight.
What do I want people to know about how to support you/the hospitality community at large? The number one thing that I can say is to stay informed, stay resourceful, stay humble and stay constructive.
This is not just a few weeks, after which everything will go back to normal. This is going to be an ongoing fight for the survival of each business, for the welfare of each employee. Options and circumstances will be different in each country, in each city, in each community. The best thing that you can do is to fully understand every opportunity available to make some small amount of cash for yourself and for your business. Yes, some money will come from charity organizations and from crowdsourced donations. But I do not recommend that you wait for the government, big brands, or your bar's fans to bail you out.
If and when that money comes, it should be supplementing you. Not saving you. Every bar, every business is going to have to dig deep and take control of their own destinies if they are going to make it through this mess.
In the awesome words of James Cameron, "Hope is not a strategy, Luck is not a factor, Fear is not an option." If I know one thing about bartenders, I know that we are a group of deeply hard-working, resourceful, and scrappy af warriors who can make it through truly anything. We have what it takes, and we will get through this. Everyone please stay safe, stay healthy and do what you can. Much love.
If you are a bar owner and would like to contribute to Bar Entrepreneur Frontline please email me at Simon@DiffordsGuide.com. Thanks to support from Havana Club all published contributions will be paid for, with a matching amount donated to The Drinks Trust charity (formerly The Benevolent), or a local hospitality charity of your choice.