David Nicholls, Vancouver Island Brewing

David Nicholls is the General Manager of Vancouver Island Brewing, which, since its launch in 1984, has been a pioneer in craft brewing in British Columbia. He is an expert in business leadership, marketing and communication. His team of group of passionate and inspired people are dedicated to driving innovation, using locally sourced ingredients to produce quality, fun, authentic and shareable beers.

How is Vancouver Island Brewing coping right now?
Like many other businesses, we’re facing a lot of challenges. That said, we continue to analyze and adjust on a daily basis in order to make sure we’re doing what is right for our business, as well as our team members. Our culture has allowed us to pull together and has really kept things on a positive path.

How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will continue to affect it?
On-premise draught sales are a reasonably large part of our business, and those sales have been eliminated entirely. Although our packaged beer sales saw an initial uptick, things are starting to level off and as a result we are anticipating a decline in both volume and revenue in a year we were aiming for strong growth.

What advice are you giving yourself and your team for riding this out?
We’re leaning heavily on our values, which are to be an explorer, be resilient, be neighbourly, and to be yourself. We didn’t land on those values anticipating a global pandemic, but it has been amazing for us to have a culture built around these core pillars. Thanks to that we instantly started exploring every avenue we can to keep moving in a positive direction, are resilient in the face of challenges that pop up every hour, and keeping our Vancouver Island neighbours in mind when making choices — like donating our excess keg beer to Stillhead Distillers in Duncan so they can strip it and turn it into hand sanitizer.

What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and your business?
We’ve had an interesting opportunity to get even closer to our customers and consumers in this crisis. I think people sometimes look at Vancouver Island Brewing and see the brand more than the people behind the brand, but with our new local beer delivery, and adapting our social media to be more supportive to those in lockdown, we’re starting to connect with people on a more human level. It’s sort of funny that in the time of social distancing, we’re taking the opportunity to get closer to people on a human level.

What advice have you applied or are you applying from previous experiences coping through crises?
Early in my career I experienced a large product recall. As you can imagine, it was pretty stressful and chaotic. My director at the time taught me to remain calm, stick to the facts and focus on solutions. I’ve carried that direction through many challenging scenarios in for much of my career.

What are your resources right now? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?
I strongly believe in starting every day with clarity and energy. I take time to meditate, exercise and read (HBR’s 10 Must ReadsOn Managing Yourself and FreeHub Magazine) before heading to work. I’m also lucky to have such a fantastic peer group that meet monthly (MacKay CEO Forums) as well as checking in with each other regularly through these past few challenging weeks.

What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?
Take care of your health, be compassionate, and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help. Together we’ll get through this.