P&V Merchants’ Compassionate Response to COVID-19 Is Both Admirable and Inspiring

PnV merchants

Without small business, we’re nothing. TheLatch— and GoDaddy have teamed up to rally behind local businesses and entrepreneurs during this unprecedented time of change.

We’re speaking to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country to better understand how they’re adapting to stay open, how they’re keeping their community safe, and how we can support them now during this time, and beyond. We’re focused on keeping Australia open for business, even if doors are closed. #OpenWeStand

From day one, the good folk at Newtown’s P&V Merchants have strived to bring new and exciting wines, both local and imported, to the neighbourhood (though it’s common for people to cross the city just to stop in — as I myself have done on many occasions).

They’re described as “a bottle shop for the neighbourhood, by the neighbourhood”, and have their inviting shopfront stocked with an ever-changing array of wines, local and craft beers, and unique, artisan spirits. They themselves claim they’re “very cool”. And they are not wrong.

But the team at P&V are impossibly approachable, and always too willing to help you on that quest for the wine to quench. They’re friendly, knowledgable, always up for a chat, and are exceptionally caring of your wants and needs in a good drop.

Co-founders Mike Bennie and Lou Dowling know this, which is why when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they knew they had to do whatever it took to keep their staff employed and on their books.

“When Lou and I first became aware that we would need to rethink how we operated, we had a teary conversation together where we agreed that whatever it takes, we would keep every one of our staffers employed and on full pay. Whatever this meant for our personal lives.

“Since COVID hit, we haven’t even looked at our bottom line. As long as we can keep the doors open and keep people paid, we’re cool.”

While a big part of P&V’s offering, that includes events and consulting, was forced the stop indefinitely, the bottle shop — being an essential service — was able to keep its doors open. The team have also made efforts to increase their offering online, and behind the scenes, are doing far more for the community than their online presence would show.

We caught up with co-founder Mike Bennie to find out more about P&V’s adjustment to the current climate, and find out how we can show our support.

Katie Skelly: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Mike. Tell me, how have you and the business been affected by COVID-19?

Mike Bennie: With the restrictions in place, my role with P&V drastically changed from consulting, hosting events and workshops, and writing, which I’ve always really enjoyed. Around 85% of my income disappeared because of the restrictions in place, so I decided very quickly to shift my energy into the store, and the wider community that P&V is built upon.

On my first days working in this new way, I went door-knocking around the Inner West, visiting my friends in the restaurants and bars there and asking if there was anything we could do to help them and facilitate some form of income for them.

We were fairly confident that bottle shops, being an essential service, would be able to remain open, and we have a pretty good footprint with our community to be able to promote and share activities from other businesses. So we focused on the ways we could help our friends in the industry.

KS: And what does it mean for you now? To have partnered with local venues and friends in your industry? 

MB: We’re a community-focused business, and we always have been. We’re running a number of initiatives, working with suppliers who relied on the restaurants and bars. We buy stock from them directly that would normally have gone to those venues, and have actively utilised our media outlets to tell the stories of these smaller distributors who have been affected.

We put together six-packs of their products — be it wine, sake, or beer — and then wrote editorial stories on who they were and what the packs included, before offering them at accessible prices to help breathe life into these guys who felt like they were at a disadvantage from restaurants no longer being able to purchase from them. We’ve had a really great response to that initiative.

We’re also asking business around the area to produce or supply us with bespoke packaged products. Everything from PS40’s amazing pre-batched cocktails. We’re working with ex-10 Williams chef Enrico Tomelleri, who has put together pre-made, frozen lasagnas that we can sell.

Lastly, with chef Colin Fassnidge, we’re giving away around 60-70 meals per week to local hospitality members, and anyone in need in our community. Working with Colin’s suppliers, we assemble packs of supplies, like Bourke Street Bakery bread and Cloudy Bay Clams, and through our channels we let people know: “If you need food, if you’re ex-hospitality, come down and pick up a care package. No questions asked.”

It’s not about how we can profit. We’re finding ways to be better and facilitate a better sense of community. Our priority is looking after everybody.

“It was never about how we could profit. We’re finding ways to be better and facilitate a better sense of community.”

KS: On your core business, did you put any plans in place to pivot the way things ran? 

MB: We realised we needed to move confidently into the online realm. We had a web presence, but this had never been our focus and quite suddenly we had a lot of online delivery orders.

In that regard, things have been extraordinarily busy and in this period we’ve actually doubled our number of staff. In the decision to bring more people on board, the first thing that Lou and I agreed upon was that we would hire out-of-work hospitality staff, we wanted to help those members in need from our community, and additionally, we hired a number of hospitality workers on international visas, who had absolutely no financial support from the government.

We’ve been very lucky to hire some of the crème de la crème of Sydney’s hospitality talent, and so if you were to come into P&V right now, you would be assisted by sommeliers, restauranteurs and some of Sydney’s most keen wine minds. From a customer experience perspective, it’s awesome that people could have this experience in our store.

And because these employees are so talented in their own ways, we’re trying to tease out their skillsets to keep their minds ticking over. They bring so much to the table and to the business in terms of intelligence and experience.

Show your support for P&V Merchants by browsing the range of wine online today, shopping a subscription box, or visiting the shop in Newtown. 

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