Kingsdown Water, a Canterbury-based supplier of premium spring water and sophisticated sparkling pressé drinks, is delivering its soft drinks direct to consumers’ homes, with support from Clydesdale Bank to help refocus the business in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the start of the year, when the rural business celebrated its 25th anniversary, the hospitality trade represented 91% of sales, with outlets such as delicatessens accounting for 8% and online sales just 1%. When restaurants and food establishments were forced to close to stop the spread of COVID-19, the company’s main market disappeared overnight, prompting an immediate recovery plan.
Within two weeks, Kingsdown Water was re-invented, new markets were identified, an e-commerce website was designed and launched, and a digital strategy activated. The company went from supplying top restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs to refocussing on the UK adult home market, with a new lockdown-inspired proposition of “make it a special night out, at home”.
Clydesdale Bank, owned by Virgin Money UK PLC, has supported the business’s transformation with a three-month payment holiday on existing loans and additional funding secured through the bank from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).
Will Bomer, Kingsdown Water founder and managing director, said: “I was shell-shocked; we had hit a brick wall. It was a case of diversify or die. We needed to immediately re-think our business model and review our brand for a new customer and find a new route to market. In the face of adversity, innovation and speed was key. Fortunately, with UK households at home and people venturing into their gardens for the warmer weather, the timing was perfect to launch our products to individual consumers.
“Our business manager at the bank, Justin Ellis, has been extremely supportive. The payment holiday on the loans really helps to take the pressure off until we can return to normal business service.”
Four weeks after launch, online sales have increased fourfold. Although production has dropped from an average of 250,000 bottles a week to 5,000 bottles, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sales are growing on a daily basis and margins are improving, and the business is looking forward to the core business returning when restaurants, pubs, and hotels re-open their doors, by which time the online home delivery division of the business will be making a valuable contribution.
Justin Ellis, Agricultural Business Manager for Clydesdale Bank, said: “Kingsdown Water has stood out in its ability to be agile in these unprecedented circumstances and responded quickly by finding a new market within lockdown limitations. Working with our rural and agricultural clients requires us to support them with viable options tailored to each business’s individual needs, as was the case here.
“Once the lockdown is over, this will be an emerging market for the business and is the perfect example of short-term diversification with long-term ongoing potential.”
Kingsdown Water is a loyal Clydesdale Bank customer and has been supported to buy the building it originally leased. Last year, the company received funding to import, install and provide longer term asset finance on a substantial new bottling line, which packs up to 8,000 bottles per hour.
The new retail website (www.kingsdownwater.com) is fulfilling orders throughout the UK. Kingsdown Still and Sparkling Spring Water can be purchased online in 1 litre, 750ml, 500ml, and 330ml glass bottles, while Kingsdown Sparkling Pressés come in seven flavours available in 330ml glass bottles.
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