May 3, 2013

The Session #75 | Business of Brewing

In this installment of The Session, Chuck Lenatti of AllBrews asks that we reflect on the Business of Brewing. He makes that observation that anyone that has brewed has probably considered going pro and he asks that we provide insight to those considering taking the leap. I facetiously tackled some of this in an April Fools post, but that was as much a poke at myself than at anyone else.

I am an observer and student of the business of beer. Let it be known, however,  that I have made in excess of $0.00 selling it or promoting it. I also have an extensive background in opening exactly 0 breweries. I am currently consulting no one on their new East Coast brewery. I will also resort to semantic trickery, leaps in logic and made-up statistics to win arguments. Here is my sage advice:
  • Decide right now if you have the aptitude and the desire for public speaking. No? Then shut up. Hire someone or find a partner that will do this for you. You are making, selling and promoting your business with everything you say, everything that you write and anything that has your name or logo on it. Everything you produce that isn't beer is also a marketing piece for your beer.
  • Have that gift for gab? Maybe also consider shutting up. You might not be as charming as you think. Get an outside evaluation.
  • Do not solicit investments on the internet. There are rules. Google it.
  • Speaking of Google, use it so that you don't run into a trademark issue. 
  • Once you are on a clear track to start up and you're adamant about social media, please note Rule 5.
  • As a start up, a social media strategy is not required. It may also be a time suck. 
  • All of the see-and-be-seen events with the craft beer world, the facebook mugging with other brewers, "the research" in a glass... These things do not write your business plan or cut your floor drains.
  • As a business owner, you are a host. You are trading in hospitality (if you are a brewpub) or your product engenders hospitality (if you are a production brewery). When someone is visiting you, they are coming to your home. Are you not that guy? Find someone to run the front of the house who is.
  • Have an elevator pitch that focuses on the role of your business in the community. Talk about employment, economic growth, sense of community and how your business will be transformative. You are the driver that takes them to the place we all want to go to. Making high quality beer is the gasoline that runs the vehicle. Hat tip to Michael Fairbrother of Moonlight Meadery for that wonderful analogy.
  • You are going to make mistakes. Some of them will be big and it may be embarrassing. You might even compound on the problem by saying or doing something defensively and hastily. Stop. The mistakes and problems are hardly ever the reason you do not succeed. It's often how you respond to the problem that makes a difference.
  • Don't read reviews. Get someone to provide you unbiased and unemotional feedback on a regular basis. If you must respond to criticism, answer directly, provide concise information and supply an opportunity to address it off line. Move on.
  • Ignore quality at your peril.
  • Treat your water. It's not olde tyme beer anymore.
  • Kickstarter. Make it a tiny portion of your business plan if you decide to use it. At best, it's a way to move some t-shirts and show that you can put together a campaign. At worst, it can look like begging.  It's better to use Kickstarter as KickFinisher. Use it as part of the run-up to you opening.
  • Your friends. Your friends are your friends whether you make barrel aged unicorn sunshine or an amber ale. You are not making beer for your friends. You are making beer to stay alive, after that you are making beer for you.
  • Hire a brewer.
  • Hire a brewer.
  • You are far better off partnering with a lawyer, an accountant or a bicycle store owner than another homebrewer.
  • Focus on local. All of your initial resources and challenges are local. Your largest regulatory issues will arise from a municipal inspector, not the state or the federal government. The ultimate hurdle in selecting a site will be gaining neighborhood support. Your customers will not be your friends or family or the beer geeks across town, they will be your new friends and family in your new neighborhood.
  • You are responsible for educating your customers, not Greg Koch, not Sam, not Vinnie. Most of your new customers never heard of these guys, nor do they care.
  • As much as you want it to be, "all about what's in the glass", it's not. In fact, what happens outside of the glass is even more important if your beers are solid. Remember, it's hospitality and differentiating your beers from everyone else.
  • Someone may tell you that your beer sucks. They may be inarticulate, imprecise and rude. They may also be right.
  • Do blind tastings of your beer versus others in the same style. Be brutally honest.
  • Is your brewpub a warm and inviting place? Is the service good? Congratulation you're better off than most other service industries and you have delicious beer. 
  • Every beer has a story. Learn how to tell it.
  • Aspire to be more than a brewer or brewery owner. Be a community leader.
  • The news media loves beer stories that don't involve drinking and b-roll of people drinking. (Really, it's true.) Remember the elevator pitch. 
  • Tired of hearing business advice from armchair brewmasters and homebrewers? Tough. Shut up and smile or hire someone that does it better than you.

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