Luke Kemper is the founder of Swamp Head Brewery

What you need to know about small businesses during COVID-19

This is a challenging time for small businesses around the world. As restaurants close their dining rooms to avoid the spread of COVID-19, they’re forced to go exclusively to curbside pickup and takeout options.

In Gainesville, popular hangout Swamp Head Brewery is facing similar challenges. We spoke with owner/operator Luke Kemper (BSBA ’05) about the challenges small businesses are facing at this time and how consumers can help them.

Q: What are the specific challenges Swamp Head is facing at this time, and how are you going about tackling them?

Kemper: “Like a lot of businesses, we are trying to figure out how to survive in these unprecedented times. I never expected to have my tasting room shut down and lose all draft beer sales due to bars and restaurants no longer selling alcohol, and all at the same time.

“With these new challenges, our goal is to keep our team members working, adapt to our new environment and stay in business.  As new rules and regulations pop up daily, we have to keep evolving to stay relevant and make sure we are doing everything in our power to help not spread the virus and keep our community safe. Clearly, one of the biggest factors is how long will this last and how much help will we get from the government?  We are taking this day-by-day and keeping expenses as low as possible.”

Q: How have COVID-19 concerns impacted Swamp Head’s production of beer?

Kemper: “It has completely halted the sale of draft beer and all distributors cancelled all draft orders starting March 17, the day the governor closed down bars. We are still making canned beer and selling that wholesale to our distributors and retail via our on-site drive thru. With losing both the physical tasting room and all draft beer our sales dropped by over 60% overnight.”

Q: What kind of turnout have you seen at the brewery’s to-go sales?

Kemper: “I would say much better than expected so far. Clearly, it is not even close to what we did before having to shut down, but Gainesville has been supportive of both Swamp Head Brewery and the bar staff. Certain regulars have stopped by on more than one occasion and tipped very heavy to help take care of the friendly faces they are used to seeing before social distancing became a thing. We are only just starting week three and the sales are starting to slow and thinking it might have to do with the growing unemployment rate.”

Q: Have you seen any positive or negative impact on Swamp Head sales in grocery stores and other retailers?

Kemper: “In regard to grocery stores, I would say it has been positive so far but still doesn’t even come close to making up for the loss of draft beer. We are fortunate that we have package beer in a number of stores, and it has been our saving grace in being able to keep team members working for the time being.”

Q: Can you give us a few things local residents can do to assist small businesses at this time?

Kemper: “Keep your routine but be safe. If you normally went to a certain restaurant or bar on Thursday, then still try to support them that day via take-out or a gift card. Cash flow is what we all need right now, and I know it is only going to get tougher and tougher to ask for people to spend money when there is so much uncertainty out there.

“You can also promote businesses you like on your own social media or repost their post to help expand their reach/audience. Just buying local also helps versus ordering stuff online from Amazon.”

Q: As a company leader, what are some challenges that come up from a leadership perspective during this time?

Kemper: “With all the media and constant bombardment of terrible news, it is tough to stay hopeful or positive. It is also tough to handle a situation that wasn’t your fault. However, as the leader of the company you have to be realistic and provide possible scenarios so people can be mentally prepared for things to change at any point. We are all having to roll with the punches, I’m just trying to make them as painless as possible.

“Trying to leave work at work and not bringing it home to my wife and family also. Finding guidance is difficult because no one has ever been in this situation before so you want to look solely at numbers, however if you do that, you would turn very doom and gloom. There are a lot of gut decisions that have to be made.”