"We learned how to adapt": wine shop boss talks lockdown on Radio 4

A leading north west England wine merchant has shared on national radio its experiences of a rollercoaster ride doing business under lockdown.

Marc Hough, owner of Cork of the North, which has branches in Sale and Heaton Moor near Manchester, told Radio 4’s You & Yours programme this lunchtime that he had welcomed government support to pay 80% of furloughed staff wages but said the business would be hit once the goal-posts changed to enforce employers to top-up the remaining 20%.

Hough said: “Thankfully we got help from the government, so they paid furloughed workers. Unfortunately that’s going to come to an end in October. In August we’ll have to start chipping in and contributing to the wages of furloughed workers.

“If you’re a big supermarket you can afford to do that. We’re not trading anything like where we were [before lockdown] and that is going to cost us money. But we value the staff we’ve furloughed and we’re trying to do our best.

“We’ve also taken advantage of the government bounceback loans, which have been great but the problem with [them] is that when we do start trading again we’re going to have a mountain of debt which, as you can imagine, isn’t great for small businesses like ours.”

Hough said Cork of the North had been forced to change its operation because of its hybrid on- and off-trade format.

“We had to close like everybody else [in the on-trade], but thankfully not only have we continued to trade through the lockdown, but we have been successful," he said.

"We are supported in a fantastic way by a load of people.

“We do a home delivery service which has been very successful. We’ve learned how to a adapt.

“One thing which we thought would be a great idea was to do online virtual wine tastings. We’ve actually been taken aback at just how successful they’ve been.”

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