A Windsor bottle shop has won a national award just 18 months after first opening its doors.
The story of A Hoppy Place, based on St Leonards Road on the outskirts of the town centre, is one of sheer perseverance and ingenuity in the face of a global pandemic that shut the physical shop after just six months of trade, as well as personal tragedy.
Naomi and Dave Hayward’s beer shop was named the UK’s Best Independent Craft Beer retailer in March by brewers association SIBA, because, Dave believes they were able to build a significant customer base during the pandemic from almost nothing.
It has certainly been a rollercoaster for the business as Dave says had “Just started to build some momentum and then it all got turned upside down.”
As well as the pandemic, Naomi and her brother Jason Whitehead – who is also part of the business, sadly lost their father to Covid-19 in the same month the business had to shut up shop.
“We were thinking, do we pack it in, was this just an expensive mistake?” says Dave.
It was crunch time, but the decisions that followed helped form the nomination to SIBA that ultimately saw a very young business crowned UK’s best: “I’m not given to giving up generally, I’ve always been quite driven but six months in we didn’t have a website, we just had a holding page.
“I am by trade an IT consultant by trade so the very first thing I did was spend two days spinning up the webshop that would become the core to our business. It’s fully integrated with our till, it’s got good product searching and it works.
“But we didn’t we just didn’t rest on it. I’ve been very assertive on the beer groups on social media.
“We got online events going, off the back of that, inviting people along, getting our customers along and firstly, not just giving up, but secondly really working on community building through that.
“I think that was the thing that swung it for us most of all, that we’ve managed to massively grow our reach, our community whilst locked down.”
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Being the new kids on the block so to speak, means there was stiff competition from more established businesses, but Hayward credits the tough decisions that led to them building a strong online presence with seeing them through.
Community building proved to be an uplifting highlight during the three lockdowns across England: “We ran an event for our local CAMRA branch, a lot of these guys hadn’t seen each other in five or six months and we were able to make that happen.
“People being isolated, talking about dark days and the rest of it, we often made peoples day, I’d turn up in my day job car, which is the most inappropriate delivery vehicle ever, with a box of beer for them.
“That might be the first interaction they’ve had all day and that meant a hell of a lot to us, especially having to try and work through loss. With us not having those interactions, I don’t know where we’d have been. It got us through.
To come from having a five-month-old bar with 30 regular customers to building this online community, selling a lot of beer nationwide, doing these online events, I think that’s what edged it for us and what SIBA saw in our application.”
‘We wouldn’t still have a business without social media’
For a new business like A Hoppy Place which started 2020 without a website, no mailing list, and a small Facebook and Twitter following, social media became the most important outlet for connecting with new and potential customers.
Would A Hoppy Place exist without it? “No. It’s as simple as that,” says Dave. “I can’t even expand on that, there are challenges though, especially when you introduce very opinionated people, often within an elitist viewpoint to a lot of imperial strength alcohol and an open forum!
“Without social media, without our work in those groups and without people now more often recommending us in those groups, our reach would still just be the 30 people we had in the shop when this started.”
It certainly looks a bright future for Naomi, Dave and Jason.
The bar has reopened as lockdown measures have eased across England and customers have begun to return.
In normal times, the bar is open Tuesday to Sunday, but as Dave says “We’re not trying to be a late-night bar, it’s where you go and experience something, you turn up to talk about what you’re doing which is drinking something interesting. The latest we ever close is 10:30 pm on a Friday and Saturday and during the week it’s 9 pm.
We are genuinely 50/50 between take out and taste in, but we’re not trying to be a late-night bar, it’s where you go and experience something, you turn up to talk about what you’re doing which is drinking something interesting.
Turning to the future, could a second Hoppy Place be on the cards? Dave certainly hopes so: “The Windsor shop, it’s tiny. There will become a point where it can’t expand anymore. Too many people have to walk away because they can’t get in. Firstly, that’s the dream, but secondly, it’s a problem.
“I am not in the business yet, I still have my day job and frankly that’s because a tiny little shop isn’t able to support me on top of our other staff. I’d like to be though.
“We are hoping to expand. We’re hoping to get a second Hoppy Place going.”