Key criteria for microbrewery success
Owning a brewpub/microbrewery/tap room can be very fulfilling and very rewarding. But starting any business is not easy, and statistics indicate that four out of ten business startups fail by year five. With the market for new brewpubs going strong, the probability of success might be higher than other businesses, but it is not a given that your business will succeed.
So what are the keys to success? We asked several of our customers what they thought the most important criteria were (other than great beer). This is what they said.
1. Have a clear vision
Several owners responded with this high on the list. Scott Keddy (3 Dogs, BC) said:
A clear vision as to what kind of brewery you want and a plan to get there. In our case for example we wanted a community/neighborhood brewery that was easily accessible for local patrons. We wanted to offer a variety of styles that would appeal to a wide audience. Other options might be a destination brewery where you want to draw people in to the brewery from a wider area or a distribution brewery where the focus is on production and moving product out to stores, bars and restaurants.
Scott DeLap (Next Chapter Brewpub, NY) added:
You need to find a niche that fits in within the community you locate. Besides the beer styles, the setting/atmosphere, the food you offer, the attraction you provide in your place is so important.
2. Find a great location
The real estate mantra of 'location, location, location' is important for selling beer too. Several owners including Nick Hill (Pixeled Brewing, ND) and Scott Keddy stressed this. Joe Burdo (Track 3 Brewing and Cafe, PA) said:
You can have the best beer but if the traffic isn't there, sales will stink.
Scott Keddy said:
The location needs to work with the vision. If you want a community focused brewery it has to be in the community and easily accessible for locals. It doesn’t do much good to put a community brewery a 10 minute drive into an industrial area where there is no foot traffic. An industrial area might be more suited to a destination brewery or one that is more focused on a distribution model.
3. Surround yourself with the right people and engage with your community
Josh Lockman (Axe and Arrow Brewery, NJ) had this to say:
Craft beer drinkers have a lot of options. You want to make sure your servers are knowledgeable about your product. Craft beer drinkers are becoming more and more interested in how the beer is made. What specific ingredients go into it. I try to interact with everyone that walks through the door. Even if it’s just giving them a sticker and thanking them for coming in. I think that goes a long way.
Matt Tilley added:
Surrounding yourself with the right people, especially customers. You can't run a successful brewery, or business, without the support of customers. We host a lot of community based events, through the university, lending agencies, local business, local artists, and our customers really respect us for it and continue to come out because of it. Beyond customers, hiring the right people who will push your brand forward and trust that they will do things to your standard. And even other breweries. Sharing equipment, ingredients, knowledge, etc will only benefit everyone involved.
Scott Delap said:
You need to have great customer service to get them to stay and come back.
4. Be passionate and work hard
It's been said that 'the best things in life don't come easy'; several owners attested to the truth of this with successful brewpubs. Matt Tilley (Bootleg Brew Co, NL) advised:
Understand the amount of work that goes into everything compared to the payout is not what most people are expecting. We consider what we do, along with many other breweries, to be a labor of love. Being in the service industry as long as we have, we've seen every level, and the most successful business's are those who are super passionate about what they're doing. And it shows in the final product, passing along that passion to the customer...Running a brewery is a really interesting case study on 'hurry up and wait.' The brewing process/fermentation is definitely not a quick process and patience for waiting until the yeast is completely finished is very important (cutting corners or rushing will show in your final product), but at the same time, there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything you need to get done.
And Scott Keddy wraps it up nicely:
Realize that it’s going to be more than you think. Starting your brewery is way way more than you think….It’s more work than you think it will be, even if you think it’s going to be a lot of work it’s going to be more. It’s going to take longer than you think it is to open the doors, it’s going to take more money than you think to open the doors, it’s going to take more hours per week than you think to keep the doors open and most importantly once you get the doors open and people into your brewery its going to be more fun and rewarding than you think.