We talked to Gary Meads of Gypsy Brew about its award-winning draft beers and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Gary Meads: Like most, we’ve struggled to find a sense of balance during the pandemic: between home-schooling (I have four boys!), long periods of no income due to my pub being closed, my wife working on the frontline for the NHS and working our hardest to keep things moving with Gypsy Brew, it’s been hectic! The past year has been a challenge, but we are just lucky to have our health: ultimately, we’re still here and have come through some very testing times together in the past year.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Gypsy Brew.
Gary Meads: I was born into the hospitality industry – quite literally – above the gastropub that my parents had owned since 1968! So, when my partner and co-founder, Al Smith, brought up the idea to start a new business together, it immediately appealed to me.
I’ve known Al for almost a decade, from when he opened his first barbershop in Worcestershire. As a barber, he has always had a great eye for detail, and this idea immediately piqued my interest. While both of our businesses shut due to lockdown, we began planning Gypsy Brew; the rest, as they say, is history!
How does Gypsy Brew innovate?
Gary Meads: We actively choose not to go with the norm and compare ourselves directly to our competitors. Most breweries use cans as packaging, but we have consciously chosen glass bottles instead. Overall, it’s vastly better for the environment as glass is infinitely recyclable, and we’re proud to be making even a small difference within our industry.
As well as being eco-conscious, we are very focused on delivering quality over quantity in every aspect of the business. We prefer to invest our time in perfecting the logistics behind running a craft brewery and building the community surrounding our brand.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Gary Meads: From an industry point of view, the hospitality sector has taken one of the biggest hits from the pandemic: with my pub being closed, the brewery was a bright ray of hope for the future. During the pre-launch period of Gypsy Brew, we had to be flexible when working around the initial lockdown measures and delay production. Equally, materials and equipment became hard to get a hold of, such as cardboard for packing!
Right now, the main challenge we’re facing is trying to find the most suitable way to deliver our products to customers that are further afield. Regardless of delays and restrictions out of our control, we’re doing our best to roll with the punches and find innovative solutions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Gary Meads: The one thing we’ve tried to ensure despite facing several blockers is that we continue striving for success. When facing adversity, we remember to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and find a way around it. It’s made us stronger as both a team and as a brand, and it’s definitely been a fun challenge to have to think more creatively! Difficult choices are part and parcel of having a business, pandemic or no pandemic.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Gary Meads: Our main communication tool has been WhatsApp; it’s simple, but definitely what works best for us! We’re a small team, and fast-paced communication has been really important to us while navigating the pandemic. In addition, we have our CMS system to manage day-to-day operations and use Microsoft for everything else.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Gary Meads: There are multiple other craft breweries across the UK, but we honestly don’t see anyone else as direct competition in terms of our branding and USPs. Once Al explained his ideas for the Gypsy Brew brand as a nod to his family’s gypsy heritage. Then I relayed my close ties to family-run hospitality business ventures and local brewing. It was a no-brainer that we had a unique concept that we had to run with.
Our focus is on heritage and creating premium products with a story behind them. As previously mentioned, I was born into the hospitality and beer trade and am hugely proud of this: with Al as a partner. I’ve met someone with unrivaled passion and energy for this industry. Likewise, our approach is to prioritize quality over quantity. We’re really excited to have created (and still working on) a core range of craft ales that directly reflect our values as a brand: we believe that this focus is what differentiates us from other competitors on the market and will propel us forward in the coming months and years.
Your final thoughts?
Gary Meads: Anything is possible, so be brave – if anything, we definitely learnt this in 2020. Never take anything for granted, and don’t just stay in your comfort zone if there’s a voice telling you to try something new!
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