Quick thinking from two startup founders - after losing two thirds of revenue overnight - meant their business could continue to survive and thrive through the coronavirus lockdown. 

Photo of Lucy Wright

Lucy Wright and Jeremy May, co-founders of wine disruptor brand, NICE, are aiming to lead the UK’s canned wine market with their range of high-quality, vegan wines. 

Although many other drinks sectors have been disrupted, wine has remained very ‘old-school’, according to Lucy, who has attempted to bring a different way of thinking to the industry. 

Launched in 2019, with Sainsbury’s as their first customer, NICE products are now in a thousand stores nationwide, and also available on Amazon and Ocado.

But when lockdown hit, NICE lost a big chunk of its revenue. A significant proportion of their business was catering for events and having just secured a contract for the upcoming Wimbledon tennis championships, the lockdown served up a nightmare. 

Lucy said: "We lost 60-70% of our revenue overnight. Pivoting is an overused word, but we reacted very quickly. We focused online and started to proactively contact 3,000 pubs, bars and restaurants that were offering takeaway services – nobody wanted to be faffing around with bottles and glasses, so our cans were a good option for them.”

Lucy and her team were boosted in lockdown after securing a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp, helping them to adapt to the situation and continue trading well. 

“We know that in tough times you have to pivot really quickly. We needed to invest in online even further and find opportunities to work with places offering takeaways. As a result, our online orders are now ten times what they were last year, working with lots of take-out places and we’ve launched in Wagamama, which is great.

“But now, as pubs, bars and restaurants have reopened, they’re going back to bottles, so we need to adapt again. We need to be thinking all the time.”

As lockdown continues to ease, Lucy believes the pandemic and resulting shifting in working practices will have a long-term effect on how she runs the business. 

She added: “I’ve learnt a lot about the business during this time. On a personal level, I’ve been fortunate to have been living on a farm during lockdown. If I was going into the office, I’d be commuting for two hours a day. Now, I’m able to get up in the morning, walk the puppy, do some yoga and have eggs on toast and still be at work on time. Lockdown has shown that people can work from home, so there’ll be some work to be done around building our company culture in the coming months, looking at both office working and homeworking.  

“And on a business level, we’re called NICE, and one of our key pillars is being nice to everyone who works with us – our customers; our suppliers; everyone. 

“It’s been so nice to read about so many businesses being nice to people, particularly their staff during this time, and this is something we need to continue, going forward. Being nice is a huge part of our working culture, and we’ll be building on that key pillar of ours.”

During the pandemic, NICE also launched their ‘Nurses are Awesome’ campaign, giving 100 cases of wine to NHS workers, and a separate ‘Wine for Heroes’ campaign which saw them sell 20,000 bottles of red wine which were due to be canned to sell at a festival online, with all the proceeds going to the NHS to say thank you for the work they were doing. 

Find out more about how a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp could help you and your business.