For hundreds of homebrewers, going pro is a pipe dream. Those who have actually pulled it off, however, will tell you -- building a successful beer company is no cake walk. With a high cost of entry and ridiculous amount of competition, going from bathtub to brewhouse is a stressful, high-stakes gamble.
If you've been successful in carving out a niche in the market, cultivating a fan base, and (of course) brewing great beer -- you probably knew all that going in, and you're lucky to have those days behind you. Unfortunately, your job is far from over. As the market matures, the heaviest (and most important) competition comes when it's time to scale up. The beer market has proven it can handle thousands of new entrants, but to survive your brewery has to outpace its peers and "grow up" into a sustainable business that's proven it can take advantage of growth opportunities.
That's a lot harder than just brewing great beer.
When it come time to master the hurdles of scaling, it helps to have a guide, someone who's been there before -- or who's taking on the challenge alongside you. To help, we brought in our friends at Down the Road Beer Co. to get a peek behind the scenes at the tactics they're using to scale up efficiently while also growing their local presence and identity as a brand.
Over the next couple of weeks we'll be collaborating with Down the Road on a bunch of pieces to help breweries go from all-star emergents to champions of the cooler. To start, here are three tips from DTR's VP of Sales, Jon Bare.
1. Set the Bar High
When you're starting out, seeing your beer on a menu or on the shelf at your local liquor store is one of the best feelings in the world. While you don't want to lose that childish excitement for what you do, scaling up means setting a higher standard for success than just making it in the lineup.
“Never settle; always aim for the best location, and the best store and the best possible result," says Bare. "As long as you work hard, are persistent, and have the right product -- you can achieve that.”
For Down the Road, growing faster has meant honing their sights on key accounts, better shelf locations (eye-level in the cooler is ideal!), and high-visibility bar placements. While you can't expect to get these kind of wins off the bat at new accounts, stay hungry and always seek ways to improve your sell-through. Adopting a never- attitude team-wide is a key first step.
2. Don't Get Tunnel Vision
As you first built your team, everyone had their own responsibilities but chances are you all wore a bunch of hats -- that's the nature of a startup. As your team grows, it can be easy to narrow your focus and concentrate only on the job in front of you. In a lot of ways, that's necessary for growth; you need to specialize. But as you do so, make sure not to lose your company's collaborative spirit.
Down the Road attributes a lot of its success to having developed “an air of open source ideas within the group," according to Bare. "Everybody contributes and every idea is taken seriously, and that creates an environment that is open to creativity.”
That mindset extends from the brewing itself (DTR's founder and brewmaster reserves a bit of equipment where his employees can brew their own recipes), to the company's sales and marketing initiatives. DTR likes to say their growth strategy is to "go an inch wide and a mile deep." When it comes to owning a niche like that, creativity is a competitive advantage.
The Darkest Night, our big #beerrelease party on the longest night of the year, is @Brewbound approved.— Down The Road Beer Co. (@DTRBrewery) December 15, 2017
Join us Thursday, 12/21, as we raise a glass to all things dark and shadowy: https://t.co/YFzHWvjTvh #beerevents #TheDarkestNight #WinterSolstice pic.twitter.com/DafgWOGgqA
3. Use Sales Data as an Asset
Every sales organization would describe itself as being in touch with their sales data. It's how they know what orders to place, which accounts to focus on, and how much beer to brew. When it comes to scaling up, however, beer companies have an opportunity to use their data (and collect more data points) to get better operationally.
“I actively analyze our sales team data to improve our efficiency. I give my reps proactive feedback based on what they are actually doing, seeing, and experiencing out there in the market,” says Bare. For Down the Road, equipping the sales team to collect data about their accounts while also connecting the entire staff with a two-way communication tool made the difference between simply crunching numbers at the end of the week to proactively getting better as a team every day.
For more behind-the-scenes insight from Down the Road, subscribe to the Repsly blog. We'll keep you up to date with everything you need to scale your brewery!
Gabrielle is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly with an enthusiasm for creativity and innovation. While pursuing her passion for writing, she is studying economics and philosophy at Boston College. She spends her free time exploring Boston in search of the best cup of coffee and cannoli.