“I was expecting things to take a bit of time to build up but I certainly wasn’t expecting a pandemic on top of that, so it can really only get better from here.”
Launching a small business is tough at any time but when future historians look back at the first few months of 2020, it’s unlikely to be considered an opportune moment. Unless you’re in the business of video comms, jigsaw puzzles or antibacterial phone spray, that is.
Erin Skubiski started Crafted Connections, a distribution company that aims to get independent beer into more venues, just as venues started closing. If her name sounds familiar, we've written about her before. Early last year, her, partner Carmel McGrath and their brewery-loving dog Ziggy, joined us as Beer Nuts as they recorded their journey travelling the country and popping into as many breweries as they could in Ode To The Road.
Since then, Erin and Carmel have set up shop in Wollongong and launched Crafted Connections in January, with the distributor focused on putting regional beers into the hands of Sydney drinkers and vice versa. As any sales rep would likely attest, pounding the pavement making sales is never easy. Particularly when you’re not really allowed on that pavement.
“Obviously, I’d be going out and introducing myself to a lot more people at this stage of my business,” Erin says. “[But] I’m still keeping terribly busy and making lots of connections which is the whole point.
“I’m still able to do a lot of that which is great and still getting sales through and introducing new beers to some new people in new areas. It was always going to be a hard slog but it’s a fun hard slog and in an industry I want to be part of.”
As well as Sydney, Erin sells beer in the Illawarra, South Coast and Southern Highlands regions and though she says there are venues which have embraced craft beer in recent years, those aren’t quite her focus right now.
“It’s obviously more challenging, particularly getting new stuff into bottleshops who mostly want to be moving stuff people already want to buy.”
Among the businesses Erin reps for are The Beer Shed, Bondi Brewing, Flamin Galah, Hop & Clover Brewing, Hopsters Co-op Brewery, Jervis Bay Brewing, Lord Howe Island Brewing, Nine Fingers Brew, Reckless Brewing, TWØBAYS and Cedar Creek Cider, many of which have transformed their bars to bottleshops to survive.
Erin says it’s encouraging to watch how quickly businesses have been able to adapt to the current crisis, particularly coming so soon after the bushfires impacted some in her portfolio, among them Jervis Bay.
“They opened their taproom in January in the midst of all the fires so that wasn’t a fabulous start for them,” Erin says.
“And they were just starting to get a bit of momentum and the tourists were starting to go back and then there’s this pandemic."
Like many breweries with a focus on taproom sales, Jervis Bay have been canning their beers to get them into as many hands as possible.
"They thankfully have a large and really loyal local population and I’m obviously working to get them out a little further afield,” Erin says.
“Hopefully, whenever things do go back to normal, whatever that is, people will be back down there and they’ll be a destination as well.”
She says it's been great to see support swell around local businesses and hopes this goodwill can outlive the pandemic.
“I hope people follow through and keep up the #keepinglocalalive and it isn’t just a trend while we’re in crisis,” Erin says. “That there’s more support for local and independent breweries and bottleshops and pubs that support local and independent breweries.”
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.