Astley Vineyard - Business case study
A self-reliant and flexible small vineyard adapts its offer to meet changing local demand
Astley Vineyard is a family owned business, run by Tim Haywood and family.
The business lies close to the River Severn, 10 miles north of Worcester nestled in the Severn Valley. The vineyard was established in 1971, then the most northerly in the world, and bought by the Haywood family as a going concern in 2017. Originally only a vineyard, with support from the LEADER rural development programme, the family added winemaking, a retail shop, and visitor tours to the business. There are four employees, half part-time and half full-time with volunteers picking grapes during harvest.
Their customer base includes farm shops, small retail outlets, restaurants or cafes as well as people buying directly from their shop. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Bev Haywood, business manager, said “we had to close the shop and tours from day one, and most of our trade customers - the retail outlets and restaurants, also closed. We assessed the situation and started free home deliveries within a 20-mile radius taking orders from our online shop and selling to farm shops who became a lot busier than normal”. Two members of staff had to be furloughed meaning Tim continued tending the vines while Bev handled the online orders, packaging and delivery.
The business cancelled April to June tours and rearranged them for the end of the season with fewer numbers to observe social distancing. As well as managing the vineyard, other challenges included keeping on top of the increased demand from farm shops, online orders and deliveries. “We were lucky being a drinks producer and therefore an essential service”.
In terms of opportunities, “We will definitely continue with the home delivery side but over a smaller radius because it has been challenging due to an expectation for delivering within one or two days”, said Bev. “Sending wines as gifts which we intend to expand in the future, is also a new development.”
Recovery planning has required putting all the health and safety advice and signage in place, supplying hand sanitisers and paper towels. “The website had to be adapted so that visitors felt reassured, we reduced the size of the tours and communicated with those planning to visit.” The company make extensive use of social media to promote products and services and keep in touch with customers. With more people turning to local sourcing the business was also focussed on buying locally. With the lifting of restrictions, Astley Vineyard noticed that some trade customers came back but the restaurants were still quiet.
“Our turnover for wine actually doubled over the first twelve weeks under COVID-19 but fewer trade customers and loss of tours meant it balanced out, shifting our business towards the end user. The furlough scheme helped and company turnover is generally unchanged but we are having to work harder.” Bev Haywood, Business Manager
Astley Vineyard is confident that they can survive if there is another lockdown because they are small and flexible although they are aware they may lose hospitality customers. “Over the long-term we know we can adapt as long as we hang on to the few hundred customers we have in Worcestershire.”
“We know we have to be flexible, diversify our offer and cultivate a wide customer base. What is important is to keep talking to people, being kind, reassuring and personable but essentially being self-reliant”. Bev Haywood, Business Manager