AS breweries had to discard millions of bottles of alcohol and the industry faced numerous booze bans, many businesses were forced to shut.
This was more so for small alcohol business owners.
The owner of Mother City Liquor Tivesh Nair knows white-knuckling through this tumultuous business period and fought hard to keep his brand alive. Nair made the bold move to close his physical stores and sell liquor online only.
A year ago, Nair owned three outlets of the Mother City Liquor brand, in Gardens, Sea Point and Bellville.
He said: “The first outlet was opened in December 2017. It was actually a friend of mine that owned a small boutique liquor store in Gardens and he was looking to sell, move on into the food business.”
Nair added: “A payment plan was negotiated, and the next day, we set up and opened. We re-branded the whole business and that's how we started Mother City Liquor.”
Each year after that he expanded and opened a new store, the Sea Point and Bellville branches of Mother City Liquor.
He said: “When the hard lockdown was introduced in March last year, we had 15 staff. We had drivers because we would work with certain suppliers to collect stock at wine farms and breweries, especially the smaller brands.”
Nair said they did what they could to keep the business going as well as support the staff.
“We tried to pull as much cash as possible to support all the retail staff in the stores because for them, it was more difficult because they worked on a weekly basis and were paid an hourly rate. For them, it was hand to mouth and so we tried to give them a three-week advance salary and we were able to cover every single staff member,” he said.
“Then the three weeks came and went and we had to apply for the UIF and the Ters (Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme), some of them (employees) moved on and found other jobs ... we couldn’t blame them because no one really knew when we’d be opening,” added Nair.
By the end of last year, he had managed to keep the Gardens store open but not the other two outlets. Going online seemed like the most obvious solution but Nair said he and his small team still had their doubts.
“We were a bit hesitant because we didn’t know, would people order online not knowing when they’re going to get delivery,” he said.
“Morale was down and then we managed to make a little online store of boutique products offering delivery just to locals in Cape Town and surrounds. We launched it two days before the ban on alcohol was lifted around June. But we didn’t have the manpower to load all of our products online so we just did what we could,” added Nair
The nature of his sales then started to change: “We then just had times when online sales were too busy for us to handle and we would close the store on certain days just to get orders ready for online delivery,” said Nair.
Nair said they had grown almost overnight: “In August, we figured out delivery and got good logistics partners, so we decided to expand nationally.”
The decision to trade solely online comes with its own challenges, but leveraging off their existing partnerships with smaller boutique wineries and breweries is going to be their strongest selling point.
“Cape Town does have quite a lot of unique gins, beers and wines to offer the rest of South Africa, and we realised we have the perfect name and it just all clicked,” said Nair.
Nair is optimistic about the future of his business and in the next few months, he plans to share equity with two of his managers who have been with him since day one.
He’s already thinking of expanding his online reach beyond the borders of South Africa to offer a taste of Cape Town to the world.