In a time when every brewery can’t be the next regional player, it’s important to know your niche and capitalize. One of the greatest ways to grow your brewery is to expand to an area with an underserved market.
Expansion by the taproom model is a fantastic way to grow your clientele. Without being to kitschy, become the Cheers of a market in need of their own local brew. Once you claim your neighborhood, claim your city, your region and possibly your state. To successfully achieve these goals, it necessary to have a well thought out plan and measures in place to maintain the same high level of quality and experience as you continue to grow.
We’re going to assume you’ve done your due diligence regarding selecting locations and turn the focus onto operations. Here are several steps that must be kept in place as you grow.
Concept and consistency
Consistency is key, character is a must. All of your taprooms should not be identical. They each operate in a unique location and should reflect the character of their surroundings. With that said, they should all share a brand that is recognizable across locations. Growing a brewery is about building your brand. This can be conveyed in each taproom through your logo, art, and general design.
If your concept is so different across locations, consider using multiple brand names. For example, the folks behind Denver Beer Co. are also responsible for Cerveceria Colorado, and each maintain the same high level of quality, while capturing individual personas.
Ben Wolff, their Director of Guest Experience, states: “We refer to Cerveceria a sister company. It’s like the lead singer of a band starting a Latin group. All of the amazing recipes come from the same head brewer and the core values of DBC are alive in Cerveceria but the vibe and feel, and the overall character are inspired by the flavors of Mexico.”
In addition to the maintaining a strong brand image, it is vital to create a welcoming environment that carries across all your locations.
Training and education
Your staff is a key part of your brewery’s experience for new guests. For this reason, it’s extremely important that they are not only presentable and passionate about your brewery, but also properly trained.
One premise of expansion is that you are growing to serve an underserved market. As part of this, education plays a key role — not just of your brand and beers, but also about craft beer as a whole. As simple as it sounds, take the time to walk your staff through mock transactions, teach them the correct way to handle tough interactions, and go over basics that you think may be common sense. Offer additional opportunities for them to learn more about the brewing process, tasting beer, and the industry. The smarter they are, and better trained to be customer experience agents of your brand, the more success your taprooms will see.
Create a basic handbook that goes over your brewery’s values and how you expect them to be put into action. Most important of all, hire staff that is trainable. The person without much beer knowledge but a willingness to learn and enthusiasm to work is much more valuable than the beer nerd who doesn’t take the time to educate new beer drinkers. For craft beer itself to continue growing in market share, we must teach the 87% non-craft drinkers the value in what craft has to offer.
Oversight and accountability
You can’t be everywhere at once as you continue to grow. It’s valuable to be able to monitor your staff to make sure they are adhering to your brewery’s standards when you aren’t around. Cameras aren’t necessary but may be a simple add-on based on your current security system. Simply building a community of trust is the ultimate goal and will reduce your desire to check in, and make your life less stressful.
For some breweries, a simple daily checklist could suffice to make sure tasks are being completed. It is necessary for all staff to know their role and responsibilities. For others, it may come down to stronger management who can better monitor, maximize and maintain a world class customer experience.
Passion is contagious and if you fail to facilitate this you will create a company of worker bees that may do a great job, but don’t have any personal attachment to your brand. Create a company culture where your staff gets excited to come to work, gets excited to share your story, and gets excited to be the face of a company they are proud to work for.
This company culture starts at the top. You can have a thousand fantastic bartenders and servers, but unless you have someone to help steer the ship, there won’t be a single direction toward success.
Find, invest in, and train someone as passionate as the owner to be the face to the taproom and the one implementing your customer experience. Hold this person or team accountable for their staff. You can do this via specific metrics (i.e. daily sales, average size of staff member tabs, labor costs vs sales). This individual’s personality will guide your company culture. Hire an enthusiastic leader, not a cancer.
Review and relationships
Take the time to talk to each employee face to face on a monthly basis to see how they’re doing. Get to know them as a person, but also listen to their feedback on what they feel is going right, going wrong or needs improved in your tasting room. As a manager or owner, you can often get immune to the little things that happen daily in your taproom. Your taproom staff can offer fantastic, firsthand insight and advice on how to better your business. Learn from one another and use this relationship to strengthen your operation.
Reinforcement and reward
You sadly can’t always just train someone on your standards and expect this level to be performed at all times. It’s crucial to foster a positive workplace where you can not only easily encourage staff to continue doing a great job, but also take the time to offer some pointers to improve performance.
It’s also well worth holding contests or offer rewards for high performing staff. This could be anything from organizing a to-go beer sales contest, where you recognize the staff member that sells the most bottles, cans, crowlers or growlers over a specific period of time, to giving a prize to the employee with the highest average tab. Get people excited to work at your brewery! Rewards shouldn’t be only given to bartenders and servers. They should also be a tool to encourage your management to run the best taproom possible.
We don’t operate in a bubble. Have weekly meet ups between your managers, and potentially staff, to facilitate discussion about what’s working or what may not be.
Even consider a messenger app to always stay in touch. Seventh Son Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, has seen great value in this method. Craft beer is about education and learning from our immediate peers is an opportunity that should not be forgotten.
Additionally, what works at one location may not work at another only 10 miles away. Learn from your mistakes, learn from other’s mistakes, and find what works best for you. Do this by having an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn from your peers.
A nice follow up to conversation, streamlining your brand will help create a cleaner, more organized image. Big Top Brewing, which operates three breweries across Florida, firmly believes in the coordination of beer releases and events across their locations. This helps create unified promotional campaigns, adds to consistency, and saves money on marketing. On the individual taproom front, be sure to employ proper planning and scheduling to make sure everything from daily shifts to large events run smoothly.
Listen to your customers
Tractor Brewing operates five different locations across New Mexico. While their brand remains the same, they are willing to adapt to the demands of each unique neighborhood. The desires of your clientele in one area may be significantly different than that for one of your other taprooms.
Additionally, the education level of your audience may change. Be prepared to educate the most devout Big Beer drinker just as well as you are ready to schmooze with the biggest craft beer nerd. Craft beer is about education and that includes learning from your customers. They are the ones choosing to spend their dollar at your brewery. Respect, listen, and pour your way into their hearts.
While the aforementioned list will help create a smoother workflow, it is all for naught if your brewery isn’t releasing a well-made product. Strive to make the best beer possible that is enjoyed by your dedicated audiences. Use that as a bridge to educate your guests as you apply the above strategies. If you’re not doing this, get out the game now.
Andrew Coplon is the Founder of Secret Hopper, a mystery shopping company for craft beer businesses, and Craft Beer Professionals, a community dedicated to the growth and betterment of the craft beer industry. Check out all of his CBB articles here.