COVID Creativity - Appolo Vineyards

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December 11, 2020

Owner Name: Mike Appolo
Business Name: Appolo Vineyards
Business Website: www.appolovineyards.com
Industry: Food - Alcohol (Winery)
Location:  Derry, NH 
SBDC Advisor’s name: Julie Glosner

As part of our ongoing Covid Creativity Stories series, NHSBDC recently had a conversation with Mike Appolo, owner of Appolo Vineyards in Derry, about persevering through a pandemic, adapting business practices, and his collaboration with the NHSBDC team…

When the shutdown began, what was the immediate impact on your business?

“We immediately had to close our tasting room. This was and is our primary source of income. We had to stop doing wine tastings at grocery stores and NH Liquor and Wine Outlets. We were deemed an essential business, but the closed tasting room severely impacted our sales. My staff is all per diem, and it doesn’t make sense for them to work remotely.”

How were you able to adapt during the first few months of the pandemic?

“We pivoted to doing online sales and curbside pickup. We were able to reopen with restaurants at the end of May, and almost immediately, we were chosen by customers as a way to get outside in a safe space.”

Contactless wine sales also increased—loyal customers began signing up for the wine club Mike had begun a few years earlier. Since January, membership in the club has tripled. 

Once businesses were able to open in NH, how did you adapt your business, services, products, and/or physical space? 

“We’ve had a very active outdoor patio tasting room in the vineyard since spring of 2016. It is our primary tasting room from spring to fall.

During the shutdown and since we moved our tables farther apart in our outdoor space (patio). We removed some couches that didn’t allow for appropriate distancing. We added additional tables in a grassy area near our patio and gave people plenty of space. We have not reopened our indoor space. The dry, hot summer has made that unnecessary.”

Will you continue the changes and adaptations you have made once concerns over COVID-19 are behind us? Are you planning to institute more changes in the near future?

“Yes. Somewhat. The reservation system helps me, as the owner, schedule staff appropriately, and ensure that customers are served in a reasonable amount of time. Previously, we would have spikes of traffic in the middle of the afternoon, while other parts of the schedule were empty.

Most people have respected this reservation system and call to cancel if necessary. This allows us to fill in people who want to visit on short notice and guide them to the appropriate times and dates.”

Are you collaborating with other businesses, municipalities, organizations, etc.? For the first time or differently from the past? If so, in what ways?

“The NH Liquor and Wine Outlets have carried some of our products since 2015. They started a ‘Buy Local’ program where customers get 20% off 3 bottles of NH wines, including wines from different NH wineries.

We also started working with a local Derry restaurant, ‘The Grind,’ to provide our charcuterie and lunch meals. This has allowed us to increase our menu while also supporting another local business. We have invited food trucks and musicians to participate in events in our space, where people can enjoy their food or music in an outdoor setting.”

If you have employees, how has your workforce been affected?

“Because we had decreased cash flow, and because I wanted to make sure everyone observed a quarantine, we took about 6 weeks off from our production schedule. This is time we’re still trying to make up.

Mike did get a PPP loan and used it to pay Appolo’s employees before cashflow was back to normal. He also received funds from the Main Street Relief program and an EIDL loan.

A few employees have not returned and chose to stay on unemployment. Most of the others have returned and excelled during this rough time. He says he also hired some new servers who have done very well. “We harvest in August, and bottling will continue into November,” Mike said. His indoor tasting area remains closed.

How are you communicating with customers now? Are you marketing in the same ways you were prior to COVID-19?

“We have been very particular to tell them that we needed to make very few changes due to COVID-19. We already had laminated menus, which we clean between visitors. We already cleaned tables between guests. Really, the only thing that changed was masks for the servers and the table separation.”

Mike says he cranked up marketing by hiring someone to do—something he had never done—to make sure everyone knew about Appolo Vineyards and the outdoor space, freeing him up to focus more on product development and his customers.

He is keeping it all in perspective: “No risk, no reward. People love our wines, and we expect that to continue. They tell me, ‘If you had lousy wines, we wouldn’t come back.’

How has SBDC helped you and your business, especially in the last year?

"Julie Glosner’s discussions helped me to decide which programs made sense to apply for. She also guided me to apply via different banks, which was instrumental in the second round of PPP.”

Mike stays in touch with advisor Julie about every other month now.  “I refer to her as my coach, and she just checks in to see how I’m doing.” 

This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.

 

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