Based in Masham in North Yorkshire, Black Sheep Brewery was established in 1992 and has since grown to brew a range of cask, keg, bottled and canned beers. The business also operates five pubs. They have an excellent reputation due to their determination to put quality, consistency and independence at the forefront of their business.
The brewery uses a number of specialist business finance products from Close Brothers. They have an asset based lending facility to provide ongoing access to working capital, in addition to container rental agreements with Close Brothers Brewery Rentals.
Coronavirus business challenge
Many of Black Sheep Brewery’s primary trading partners, such as pubs and other hospitality outlets, have experienced prolonged periods of closure and ongoing uncertainty due to COVID-19. This has had a significant impact on usual revenues, with trade and event sales paused until restrictions are lifted.
When the coronavirus lockdown began in 2020, the management team responded quickly to protect cash flow and the brewery’s long-term prospects. They furloughed staff, negotiated payment plans with suppliers and deferred regular payments, such as rent, VAT and duty. They were also able to receive some government grants designed to support the sector for their pub business.
The business has since refined its operating model in response to the pandemic by diversifying and growing off-trade sales channels. They have been able to sell increased quantities of bottled and canned beer to supermarkets and convenience stores. In addition, they have significantly grown their online presence, and started a takeaway and home delivery service locally which has been well-received.
Since starting their funding partnership with Close Brothers Invoice Finance in 2016, Black Sheep Brewery have built a strong relationship with their client manager. When the pandemic began, they set up a weekly phone call to ensure their facility continued to meet their needs.
Initially, the business managed pressures on cash flow by deferring crown liabilities and focused on changes to their business model, such as their online business and a renewed attention on their packaging line for bottled ales which commenced production in March 2021.
In the summer, Black Sheep Brewery also decided to apply for CBILS. The additional working capital would help them to trade through the pandemic, support business structure changes and protect operations over the medium term.
We were able to provide a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan of £3.1m over 60 months. This included a bespoke bullet repayment plan, allowing the total borrowing to be settled at the end of the loan term, which suited the business’ forecasts and ongoing strategy.
Chris Kelly, Interim Financial Director at Black Sheep Brewery, says:
“In what has been a particularly uncertain twelve-months for our sector, support from Close Brothers has guaranteed our short-to-medium term survival. At each stage, our client manager listened intently to our requirements and was thorough in their approach to funding requests.
“The CBILS in particular has given us breathing space to review what we’re doing and drive the business forward. Our business model has had to change significantly in response to the pandemic, and thanks to the liquidity the loan created, we have been able to invest in the ecommerce arm of the business, increase supply to retailers and cope with challenges, including disposing of cask stock.
“The funding we have from Close Brothers has enabled us to continue trading, provided us with sufficient working capital to meet our customers needs and has allowed us to focus strongly on developing our future strategy.