My Nan lived just off Bourke St, Darlinghurst, right next door to Crown Street Public school. I was 10 years old and every weekend I’d hop the fence collect flowers, and mosey on down to the wall that faces out onto Crown St. I had a paper bag and string and I’d hustle passers-by with my shitty ghetto flowers that I’d found and try to make some money off them.
(SHIET! If I was still 10, and hustlin’ these days with gentrification, I’d be a damn millionaire).
This was my first foray into entrepreneurism, and the few dollars I did make would procure me a shit ton of lollies, the envy of my siblings and cousins. Hop, skip and a jump into the future and we sit here at home, helpless to a virus that has spread globally. A virus that has hit hardest in cosmopolitan cities, striking down even the most insatiable appetite… capitalism.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs, such as myself, are stuck between looking after ourselves, our staff and all the while scrambling to keep businesses afloat on the backs of not much – what’s left to flog on back bars or in the forms of merchandise (merch).
Thank fuck for band tees making merchandise a cool thing, otherwise we’d be dishing out shitty versions of a McDonalds Happy Meal toy in the forms of jiggers and bar spoons.
The commencement of lockdown saw the ever-malleable industry in which we exist, jump straight at the chance to sell its wares. Doing this to not only keep their brand in the minds-eye of the guests that frequent their bars but also provided the ability to pick up a few more followers. After all, if we weren’t already welded to our phones, lockdown has made damn sure we’ve now superglued to them.
Just like hustling to sell my flowers on those balmy Saturday afternoons to unsuspecting junkies, the vibrant homosexual scene (that is but a flicker of what it once use to be) and your regular old mum and dad out for a stroll, our industry has embraced its entrepreneurial spirit. It has mobilised, so as to continue to flog delicious cocktails and dope merchandise, but no matter how hard we might be working to hand-deliver a banana-infused Old-Fashioned and a t-shirt, so many more questions were raised.
Sean Howard, from Adelaide’s Cry Baby bar reckons that “We came to terms very quickly that the sale of booze and merch online was not going to be a heavy revenue raiser for us. It just wasn’t something that could help us work towards breaking even on basic existing overheads.
“The home delivery and takeaways were a splendid idea,” he continued, “but they were never going to sustain businesses that had seen a 75% drop in revenue the week before lockdown.”
Although the move hasn’t exactly helped bars in the industry pay their bills, it has helped to keep the brands of venues in the public’s mind. As Sean explained “it is also giving us a new avenue of content to share with our consumers/followers to maintain a position in people’s news feed consistently”
For those venues that already have high-flying brand recognition, touted across Australia and the world as premier cocktail venues, Michael Chiem, owner of PS40, throws down, this comment. “Its helped both mentally and financially! It’s a tough market with many saturated products, so it’s been challenging to try to differentiate.”
To Chiem’s point, it has been interesting to watch many venues and operators become far more creative in terms of their marketing. Many are utilising platforms such as the one created with the amazing talents of Chau Tran and TJ Harrop, to get their brand and their product into your hot little hands.
An online store for bars and restaurants, Hospothreads.com allows venues with no previous or even current e-commerce tools on their current websites to post up their merch and bottled cocktails to sell to the masses. What Chau and TJ have created has been purely altruistic. They take no commission, but simply wanted to provide our industry with a platform to drop merch into a one-stop-shop.
Chau, also a co-owner of Burrow Bar, has been proactive in getting her products out to those that love to pull up a pew at her bar. She understands the limitations of takeaway and delivery, but also gives insight into the long term benefits of hustling product. “It can keep us afloat in terms of bills, but not enough to replace all salaries. It is beneficial to have some sort of income due to the structure of our business, which also gives us more leverage should we need to talk to financial institutions down the tank about our options.”
While everyone in the industry is left to haggle with landlords, banks, government (at all levels) and various suppliers, there are some of us slogging it out, riding motorbikes to suburbs we’ve never been to before. We are mailing tinctures wrapped in tees and posting the living daylights out of our beloved brands, so we can have a few bucks for a few lollies down at the corner store or even better, maybe keep the lights on in our venues for a couple of days longer.
Many in the industry believe that staying in the public’s minds-eye will prove to be advantageous for when we are finally allowed to bust open. Yes, people will flock to their beloved bars, but hopefully, they will also venture to new bars that they may have discovered by trying their juice in a time of panic, pandemic and desperation.
There is a belief that having tasted our cocktails in their homes, the public will want to see how we work when we are in our element. Our entrepreneurial light may flicker for a while but don’t worry, we’ll be shaking, stirring, whizzing and whirring in no time behind, a relatively safe, three feet of bar.