We just can’t get the staff

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Brexit is blamed for shrinking the pool of talent available to retailers – but for some, recruitment presents few issues

 

Independent merchants are struggling to recruit and hold on to staff, blaming Brexit for shrinking the pool of talent.

There are fears in some quarters that the problem will get worse once the hospitality industry is back up to full speed, and out-competes retailers by offering higher wages.

Christopher Sherwood, owner of Bottle Apostle, which has four stores across London, says the company has experienced “one frustration after another” with its recruitment.

“It’s been mainly at two stores that we’ve had difficulties,” he says. “We have much lower response to any adverts, whether it’s part-time or full-time.”

Sherwood believes that Brexit is “90% to 100% of our problem”.

He adds: “London restaurants and independents have always depended on Europeans. Until now, British people have always been a minority in our company. W we haven’t got an opinion about that: we don’t mind where people are from in any way whatsoever. It’s made the whole thing a richer experience for people.

“I can’t think of another reason to attribute to the hiring problem other than the pool of labour is simply smaller.

“Brexit supporters would say that’s been speeded up by Covid. But who can say? There’s certainly talent moving home, and the restaurant industry must be suffering from that too.”

Andrew Lundy, owner of Vino, which has three shops in Edinburgh, says: “We had a vacancy in April and I felt we would have no trouble finding people. But, with furlough still on, it was like a ghost town.

“We had a handful of CVs and one knockout candidate. Were it not for that person I am not sure what we would have done.

“Brexit has been a massive influence. We are a melting-pot city in Edinburgh with lots of EU citizens making a home here and wine is such a natural subject for French kids who grew up drinking it. We miss that influence on our business already.”

Jeroboams in Belgravia

Jeroboams, which has eight London shops, is having issues recruiting sales assistants, according to chief executive Matt Tipping.

He adds: “We’ve always been very proud of the international nature of our shop teams. They bring welcome diversity and knowledge, with many hailing from wine-producing countries across the world.

“The pool of talent has undoubtably shrunk over the last 12 months and it is the international part of that pool that has been hit hardest.

“My belief is that Brexit is a significant factor, both directly, through our normal pool of recruits being diminished, and indirectly, due to other industries now looking at our pool of potential recruits due to shortages in their own sectors.”

But some independent merchants are reporting no major problems with recruitment and staffing.

“I am aware that numerous companies are finding recruitment either tricky or impossible,” says Ted Sandbach, owner of the Oxford Wine Company.

“But I can say, hand on heart, that we are having no trouble at all.

“We have opened a fourth shop in the centre of Oxford and found two top quality people from a good pool of applicants.

“We have strengthened our support team here at HQ with an addition to our marketing and retail teams as well as finding a top quality sales/retail person to take over responsibility for the Oxford colleges.

“We have recently added two drivers too, which I thought was going to be tricky but, despite low pay compared with the supermarkets, who are desperate, we managed to make the job, hours and wine discounts work in our favour.”

• More in the November edition of The Wine Merchant.

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