Business Update June 6th, 2022
We'd like to first and foremost express our utmost gratitude and appreciation to everyone who has supported us this far and helped to form the Hidden Bottle Shop community here in Hampton Roads - a community of people who all share the same passion for wine & craft beer, joining in on our experience of finding and sharing great products created by even greater crafters from around the world. A little over a year and a half ago, we started this venture as an online wine shop here in Hampton Roads with a goal to reach a large community of folks who wanted to share and enjoy some tasty wines that we discovered during our time traveling. Wines that are not typically found in other shops. Wines that made us want to keep exploring, learning, and sharing them with likeminded individuals. Our vision and goals then expanded from there to also include craft beer, with the same mindset and passion. We’ve always taken pride in providing some of the best selections of wine and craft beer that we have access to for everyone to enjoy, and all along, we’ve stood by our values and beliefs in that by providing our customers with quality products, the best customer service, and genuine love and passion, it creates more than just an engaging environment, but a great experience as well. After all, wine & craft beer are meant to be shared, celebrated, and enjoyed by all who appreciate the art. That’s what we believe.
Second, we'd like to say that what we're about to talk about does not include wine or our wine customers. Wine will ALWAYS be a part of who we are, and we will be continuing our journey as a wine shop, curating and selling what we feel to be a fantastic selection of wines to be enjoyed by all and sharing more through our passion, experience, and longing for that next new wine.
This has been one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made, and it has not come quickly. It’s been several months in the making, and it's been weighing on us what we should do if we weren’t able to get into a Brick-and-Mortar. For the past 4 months we've been trying very hard to get into a Brick-and-Mortar retail shop in the heart of Virginia Beach. A full-scale wine and craft beer specialty shop. It's been a long, stressful process to ultimately be turned down by 2 banks for an SBA loan because we don't have enough liquidity. The banks were requesting 20% of the loan as liquidity. For the location and space we chose, the total cost of the loan from soup to nuts, equipment and buildout combined was $380K, which in turn equates to us needing about 80K of in cash ready to go. The reason? We’re considered a “start up” business in the eyes of the bank, and are being looked at as a “new venture”. Typically, most banks just require 10% for an “expansion” business but we aren’t being seen as that. So why 80K? In the event that the SBA loan runs dry during the time to get up and running, we would need something to fall back on since it's about a 6-8 month road from start to finish. They suggested a guarantor, which is someone who signs that says they would put up any amount of money if needed beyond the loan, but no one personally that we know wanted to do that, and we honestly couldn't expect someone to. That would require them to have at least 100K of cash sitting in the bank ready to go. Highly impractical, and nearly impossible for most. The other option was for someone to be a gifter, or multiple gifters which unfortunately also didn’t pan out. Maybe an Investor? We thought about that. But we found no interest, and at that, we did not want to give up ownership of what we worked so hard to build through blood, sweat and tears. We’ve worked SO hard and gone the literal extra mile day in and day out.
We wanted so badly to get into a Brick and Mortar, because of how successful we would have been. The numbers make sense. The profits all make sense. We would be a million dollar business in revenue like every other bottle shop in Richmond and NoVa but unfortunately in our current capacity, we’ve only seen 10% in comparison to other shops in the industry which equates to slim to no profits for us, which is why we’re stuck in a cashflow state. We had big plans. BUT, on the contrary, since receiving the news that we wouldn’t be able to get into a brick and mortar, we began thinking to ourselves about how a retail shop would impact us. Realistically, Brian works full time M-F 6am -3pm. We've been running this entire shebang while Brian still works full time and the constant go go go is taking a toll on him as we strictly operate as a local delivery service per our license. We can't allow pickups, and even if we could, we work out of our home so it’s not practical to have people come here and waltz through our front door at all hours of the day. We run our deliveries every day, except Wednesday and Sunday (which we only recently made these changes, we used to run 7 days a week). We thought to ourselves, would working til 8pm every night in a retail shop, not getting home til 9pm to eat dinner, see our dog, and hit the pillow all for Brian to get back up at 4:30am to go to his full-time job every day be worth it? Anything is possible, and if those were the cards we were dealt, we would have done it with a smile on our face but when given the choice, knowing we’d like to start a family one day, it just started to sound a lot more impractical.
We’ve also been pretty honest and straightforward with all of you. We’ve always just shown up and shown us as we are both through our words and our actions. No fluff, no lies, only honesty with good intentions through every single aspect of our business. With that said, we can confidently say that the craft beer scene is cutthroat. At least in the world of craft beer that we dabble in. Everyone wants the freshest beer, everyone wants the best beer and (a large portion) of everyone wants the highest rated beer – because Untappd has destroyed what brewers intended to be a community of likeminded people, sharing their craft and hoping that anyone and everyone can enjoy their products, only to be slapped in the face with low Untappd ratings because it’s what society “says” it should be. AKA – a beautifully made pilsner that checks off all the marks in the book on quality and style but is given a 3.75 Untappd rating, because society has influenced people that pilsners can’t possible rate high , therefore influencing other people to not want to try it because their standard is 4.2 or higher or I’m not buyin’. What happened to forming your own opinion? We aren’t saying that everyone should like everything they drink. But what we are saying is that a rating on an app on your phone shouldn’t make your opinion and “tickers gonna tick” is a lie when your only ticks are beers 4.2 or higher. Our statement is not aimed at any singular individual, but to the craft beer community worldwide and is merely our opinion. Maybe there are folks out there who agree with us, and maybe there are folks out there who disagree with us. But we won’t let that go unsaid. End rant.
Just like we had done with wine when we first started, when we expanded to craft beer we chased breweries that not every shop carried. We wanted to see breweries here in VA that weren’t distributed here yet. We even made a post asking what YOU all wanted to see in the shop because we wanted to bring the best we could for all of YOU as long as our distributors could bring those brands into VA. Some of our favorite breweries that we brought into the shop were Equilibrium, Vitamin Sea, Barrier, Weldwerks, Prairie, Foam, Marlowe, Drowned Lands, Wheatland Spring, Other Half, Barclay, Short Throw, Foreign Objects, Civil Society, Timber, Battery Steel, Masthead, Dutchess, American Solera, Jester King, Fair Isle, Pen Druid, Referend, Alesong, and so many others. We had them all and consistently brought in new offerings every time we were offered them, to the best of our ability with what limited space and spending that we had. Truly, we gave it our all.
As a business that operates strictly on cash flow, our sales each week are what fund the next weeks purchases. This is the first time we’ve openly talked about our struggles that for the longest time were swept under the rug when we kept telling ourselves “do more do more do more” and that it would “all be worth it” one day. We've lost a ton of customers along the way, and not just because of the state of the economy. It’s been an ongoing loss for quite some time now. On the flip side, we’ve gained a lot of new customers that helped to balance out the scale, but the scale never weighed more on one side and has unfortunately tipped over with the lack of craft beer customers.
Combined, we've put on over 100K miles on our personal vehicles in the last year and a half, and right now we’re in a time where vehicles aren't even readily available here in the US with the chip shortage. Car lots are empty, and used vehicle prices have skyrocketed.
In addition to that, gas will be closing in on $5/gallon here in Hampton Roads in the next week or 2 when we used to operate at an average of $3/ gallon. For a small business like ours that’s sole means of getting our products into your hands is via local delivery, it's practically killing us to maintain and sustain at our current capacity. We thought about toning back our craft beer delivery days to once a week, but when we toned back our delivery days a few months ago we saw a massive decline in sales and we felt it hard so we dove back in full force, forking out the fuel prices without adjusting our product prices. Why not just raise our prices you might be asking yourself? Would you want to spend $8 for an IPA? We wouldn’t which is why we’ve never charged that like other shops do. Going into this, we’ve always wanted everyone to be able to enjoy good wine and beer without being taken advantage of knowing what the wholesale costs are. With that said, with such a small customer basis, raising our prices wasn’t practical either especially when we also have to battle with space. Low prices and moving volume has always been our goal to make sure we could continue bringing in a variety of new products each week. We work out of our house. Our beautiful parlor room is full of shelving for beer and we have 2 refrigerators in our dining room and 1 in the garage. We only have a core customer base of about 50 craft beer folks who consistently buy week to week out of the 2 million people here in Hampton Roads. To this day, we haven’t figured out where we went wrong when we see every other bottle shop still open, still selling, and bringing in more than 1 case of something each week when some weeks we can’t even sell more than 3 cans of something. We truly thought that same day delivery, craft beer delivered cold, with only a minimum of $40 for free delivery, and not even having to sign for it once we've confirmed who you are on the first order and gotten a signature sounded pretty good. We are not sure what else we really could have done other than advertising which we couldn’t afford. We gave it our best to bring in the best beers available in distro at the best prices in Hampton Roads that other shops don’t consistently carry, all for 50 consistent customers on a good week with limited forward growth. It all started to sink in. From a personal stance, those 50 people became some of the best folks we’ve met. We’ve gained friendships and met some really awesome people which is why making this decision to get away from craft beer has been difficult. From a business stance, it doesn’t make sense to continue based on the above mentioned.
We like to think that we are levelheaded individuals and can understand that you don’t always reap what you sow. Nothing about owning a business comes easy, and business aside, nothing in life comes easy. It takes hard work, dedication, consistency, and passion to feel like you’ve made a difference and we won’t even call it success. But it’s really hard to look at reality and realize that even though we poured 150% of ourselves, our actions, our words, our intentions, our energy, our home, our vehicles, and our lives into The Hidden Bottle Shop, the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and we’ve started to lose ourselves along the way. If we ever grabbed the wrong can for someone when pulling orders, we always went back to them and fixed it same day, usually within a few hours. We can’t think of a business that does that same day. Heck, we’re even faster than Amazon. When folks forget to add their discount codes at checkout, we’ve always gone in and refunded everyone even though no where does it state that we HAD to that. We’ve just always done it anyway. Most businesses see it as a win on their end when you forget to add a code or use your coupon. What started as a passion for wine that we both shared, wanting to share and experience new wines with all of you, who share the same passion as we do got lost along the way and we want to rekindle that relationship and passion. What started as wanting to support breweries here in our shop that other shops don’t pick up and wanting to explore all that the world of craft beer had to offer in all of its glory just isn’t worth it anymore. We truly feel like we gave it our best, and that we gave you all the best that we could. We have to take a step back and slow down. Get off the roads more, reclaim our time and get back to living for us and what we truly find joy in. Not living for the next best beer in distro. Not to say that we’re giving up on beer on a personal stance, but we’ll no longer be offering craft beer here at The Hidden Bottle Shop at this time.
Starting today, we will be delivering once a week, every Friday from 9-12pm and 3-6pm. Our last beer drop will be this Thursday at 3pm. We will continue to sell the remainder of the beer that’s in the shop until sold out. Going forward, we will be back to operating solely as a wine shop and we’ll be diving full force into that! We have some exciting things up our sleeve and we’re looking forward to all of the new wines coming in soon! Wine deliveries will follow the new delivery schedule of every Friday, 9-12pm and 3-6pm! Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to sign up for e-mail marketing!
Cheers, love, and many thanks,Brian & Kristin Curry