Navigating the Crisis

Mark Harvey on leading Chapel Down through COVID-19

"There's much to play for." With all pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues closed for the foreseeable future, Mark Harvey - the Managing Director of English Wine producer Chapel Down - discusses the impact of these closures and the potential professional (and personal) post-lockdown consequences, in this, the latest in our new series of interviews on how leaders of Britain's best-known luxury brands are steering their businesses through the pandemic.
28th Apr 2020
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Navigating the Crisis  Mark Harvey on leading Chapel Down through COVID-19

Graduating from Oxford University in 1998, Mark worked firstly in various marketing and commercial roles at L’Oréal and then Cartier before finding his calling in the world of premium wines and spirits joining Moët Hennessy in 2004. There he held the position of Dom Pérignon Brand Manager in the UK for three successful years before being appointed to the Management Team of Moët Hennessy UK with a leadership role of the Spirits portfolio. From there he went on to assume the position of General Manager for Ireland before then being appointed Business Director USA across Single Malts. In 2015 Mark moved on from LVMH, thrilled to be offered the role of Managing Director of the Wine division at Chapel Down. The English Wine revolution is gathering momentum as Chapel Down consolidates its position as market leader in this dynamic industry. Mark is also a Walpole Board Director.

How are you navigating Chapel Down through the current COVID-19 crisis?

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unfolding over the last few weeks at rapid speed, and there has been a number of recent announcements which have had a direct effect on our business. Following the government's advice on Monday 16th March to avoid pubs, theatres and hospitality venues to contain the spread of the virus, we swiftly made the decision to close our tours, shop, restaurant and bar at the Curious Brewery in Ashford, and to close our hospitality, shop and tours at our winery in Tenterden. The subsequent formal closing down of the entire on-licensed trade followed. As a consequence, over 80% of our beer and cider sales and some 35% of our wine sales disappeared almost overnight. However, we’ve subsequently seen a dramatic increase in sales of our wines through supermarkets (e.g Waitrose) and specialists (e.g Majestic) – the “off licence” trade, and a substantial increase in our online sales as customers seek to continue to enjoy our brands at home.

What has the situation taught you about leadership?

Open and frequent communication amongst the senior team and to the entire organisation is vital. And given the current level of uncertainty and the evolving picture, it is now more important more than ever.  I think there will be a positive legacy to this with teams being better connected – often remotely – and in a stronger position to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

And what has it taught you about your business?

Firstly, I am so proud of how positively every single person in our team has responded to this situation – both those furloughed and those still working recognise the overall business objective and have shown themselves willing to do whatever it takes to see us through this period. Secondly I am humbled by the support of our customers both those in the trade and our final customers – our online sales have surged to 10-15 times normal levels. The love for the Company and Brands is strong! Lastly this situation has exposed the systems and processes that need improving – namely our online capabilities which have been stretched. Again the team have been just brilliant in their response and we are working hard on the next stage of systems to ensure we can continue to grow and then meet demand.

How are you – and the wider business – supporting your people?

We are grateful for the support shown by the government in enabling us to furlough the staff directly affected by the change to the business. It will enable us to get back up to speed quickly when the all clear is given. The company has ensured that all furloughed staff are on 80% of their salaries/wages. Those still working to ensure we deliver to our off trade and online customers remain vital and we are ensuring that their safety is our first concern. Where it is possible to work from home, we have moved staff home, and the senior managers in the company have all taken 20% to 40% salary cuts for the duration.

What do you see as the potential long-lasting changes to your business?

There will undoubtedly be long-lasting changes to our industry and our business. The current outlook for the on-trade (pubs, bars…) is bleak but we will all work together to improve the situation as the government advice evolves. That said it is clear the business will not return to pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future. Online and take home (supermarket, independents) sales become more important in this context and our energies are focussed on how we accelerate sales in these channels. There’s much to play for.

How are you, on a personal level, dealing with lockdown?

OK! It was a bit chaotic at first - my wife is also working from home and we were juggling two busy jobs alongside home-schooling our two kids. We now have a routine in place and – so long as everyone gets  the necessary quota of ‘me time’ – we’re enjoying the amount of time we get to hang out together during the week. Rare, normally!

From a business point of view, everyone seems to be positively surprised by how efficient things can be with remote working. Perhaps all those face-to-face meetings are not necessary. I wonder how much of a shift there will be once the lockdown eases…

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If you are the leader of a Walpole member or partner and have the time to talk to Walpole – and the wider luxury sector – on how you are navigating your business through the current Covid-19 crisis, please contact [email protected]; we’d love to hear from you.