By Sam Holloway, Ph.D.
Source Article: https://craftingastrategy.com/blog/year-soured-here-were-some-winning-strategies
This blog features a few of our member success stories from 2017. I’ve organized these stories using the Boston Consulting Group’s decision-making framework: The Strategy Palette. This should help you decide how your brewery should think and act in 2018 if you survived the craft beer pinch of 2017.
The last five days have renewed my confidence in strategic thinking and how our approach at Crafting A Strategy works. This may seem odd since the last five days have been dominated with bad news, brewery closings, layoffs, and a general malaise resulting from 2017. Still, at the risk of shameless self-promotion, I think it is worth noting that during the toughest year in beer since the mid 1990s none of our member breweries closed. How did they survive? Why did their strategies work? How do our members work together? It’s because we think and act differently, not building strategies typically taught in a traditional MBA. It's no longer sufficient to have one strategy. Success in 2017 and beyond requires breweries to operate in multiple business models, each with their own strategy, goals, and mindset.
We hope these brave entrepreneurs will inspire. We also hope that more committed entrepreneurs will join Crafting A Strategy and help us sustain the global craft beer renaissance. This blog is longer than I would normally like, but it could help save your business by teaching you how to think. Here’s one of our members describing how his thinking has changed:
Ben Parsons, Co-Founder, Baerlic Brewing (Portland, OR): “In terms of the brewing industry, I tend to exist in the gray area between the brewers and the owners. More often than not, the owner is not the brewer. They are vastly different skill sets and require vastly different mind frames. This is where I really get the most out of the CAS community. It’s more a brewery entrepreneur community and that's really where my time gets more bang for its buck in terms of making better beer. If I run a better business now then I am afforded the opportunities to make better beer in the future.”
The BCG Strategy Palette: The Inspiration For Crafting A Strategy’s Strategic Mindset
Developed by Martin Reeves and his colleagues at the Boston Consulting Group, we believe this lens allows us to explain why our members succeed when others fail.
Source: BCG Henderson Institute: https://www.bcg.com/publications/collections/your-strategy-needs-strategy/intro.aspx
Quadrant 1: Classical
I’m already big, and won’t need to change
Unfortunately, this quadrant is where a classically trained MBA lives. The best way to win here is to be big. If you are big, you get all the scale advantages and bargaining power. Getting big was a great strategy if your brewery was founded before about 2003. This is the quadrant of a blind commitment to volume growth. This is the quadrant of deep pockets. If you aren’t already big, don’t think this way. If you are already big, congratulations and be prepared to adjust your strategy. If you are big and you don't adjust, prepare for a blood bath, a red ocean, and to merge and acquire each other.
Quadrant 2: Adaptive
It’s harder to predict, but I can and will change
This is where most of our production brewery members live. They trade profit maximization and volume growth for growth in happiness, sustainability, employee morale and reasonable profitability.
Steve Waters, CEO Backwoods Brewing (Carson, WA): “2017 was the first year we acted differently. For the first time, we didn’t bank on explosive growth. We readjusted our goals to include profitability and moderate growth. Everyone saw the slowdown coming; we just decided to respond to it where previously we ignored it. You see, my parents put their life savings into this brewery and then gave it to my brothers and I to run. That’s a lot of responsibility. We joined Crafting A Strategy because we wanted to think and act differently. We wanted to be profitable. I’m happy to report, with Sam’s guidance and support from our CAS peers, 2017 was our first positive EBITDA year ever and we grew volume on top of it!”
McKean Banzer-Lausberg, Co-Owner Migration Brewing (Portland, OR): “The entire Migration management team receives the (CAS) weekly emails and very often have strategic discussions about relevant topics brought up in the emails. We have also referenced a wide variety of white papers to help drive decision making. Migration's primary goal for 2017 was to secure a production facility location and financing for a major expansion. Secondary was to bolster our growing team with talented, thoughtful people that compliment our company's culture. We worked with Noah Brockman at the SBDC, Josh Bean of Ethos Commercial Advisors, Columbia Distribution, and Pacific Continental Bank in order to achieve these goals.”
Quadrant 3: Shaping
I can’t predict it, but I can control it
This is where most of our brewpub members and self-distributor members operate. Sure, some also have wholesale agreements that place them in the adaptive quadrant for that part of their business, but their forward looking and strategic choices lie in shaping a future where they can win. Often, this starts with looking in the mirror and asking themselves if they can commit to thinking and acting differently.
Ben Parsons, Co-Founder of Baerlic Brewing (Portland, OR): “For me, 2017 was a year of trying to get into stride. Since Baerlic opened in 2014, it has been a near endless amount of work in mostly the putting out fires category and I have worked really hard to try and move away from that mentality…The biggest of which was removing myself from the day to day operations of physically brewing beer. Which was hard, because I absolutely love brewing beer. It's why I wanted to open a brewery in the first place. But, as much as it pained me, I quickly recognized that decision as one of the best business decisions I have ever made. It has allowed me the proper amount of time and energy to build the business side of Baerlic."
Steve Waters, CEO Backwoods Brewing (Carson, WA): “The weekly updates from Sam and Joe have helped shape our mindset. We realized a reckoning was coming and our market was getting tougher by the day. We had to treat Backwoods first like a business and second like an art – not the other way around. Looking ahead to 2018, there is so much knowledge within Crafting A Strategy – other breweries, distributors, professors, lawyers – we are leveraging this knowledge to improve our operations. We’re even taking a few field trips to other member breweries to steal some of their secrets. Everyone here shares knowledge. Everyone here wins together.”
Tom Schmidlin, Founder and Head Brewer Postdoc Brewing (Redmond, WA): “We are not doing much differently than other successful breweries, but I think there is some separation between the successful and not successful breweries. New beer releases always give a brief uptick in sales, whether it is a new product, a new package, or a new distribution channel. Even with the recent closures I believe there are more breweries in Washington than ever and consumers are looking for what is new. We will continue to create new products and packaging to keep people interested in our brand. At the same time, we are committed to our core brands and continue to grow those, opening new channels for selling those beers.”
Quadrant 4: Visionary
I can predict it and I can change it
We teach our members to fail cheap and fail fast. The strategic way to try new things is to do them in a way that won’t wreck the business. These strategic moves are business model moves based on your vision of your best future. They are hypotheses, both of business model and markets, and they influence and shape each other over time (Holloway and Sebastiao, 2010).
Ryan Flynn, North American Sales Director for Oproer Brewing (Utrecht Netherlands): “We believe that it is nonsense to waste the environment with the transport (of Dutch-made beer) to the USA. So, we reached out to Sam Holloway and asked if any CAS members had excess capacity and a desire to make our beer closer to where it was going to be consumed. Sam recommended CAS Member Coin Toss Brewing and CAS Member LGM Distributing to make and sell the beer for us in Portland. Since then, we have expanded our vision to include brewing American craft beer in Utrecht for sale in The Netherlands and beyond. We articulated our vision in this blog, and now we have a growing and different business model of fresher beer at a much lower cost to the breweries and to the environment.”
Ben Parsons, Co-Founder Baerlic Brewing (Portland, OR): “As Baerlic is a pretty direct expression of who I am, it has been hard at times to really dig into what makes Baerlic “Baerlic” without going down that rabbit hole of self-exploration that might have some scary implications, ha! But, in a pretty concerted effort to discover what truly defines us, I realized that our biggest differentiator in the market is our agility. This is where our ninja like agility has evolved from. We are a very small brewery making and selling just over 1100 BBLs in 2017 and we have learned to use our size to our advantage. We can turn on a dime, when a larger brewery cannot. We can change our entire sales strategy, when a larger brewery cannot. We brew many many different styles well and can push new products to market at lightning speed when larger breweries simply cannot. Every time we try and act like a large production brewery, we fall flat. This has been a crucial realization for us over the last several years and I attribute our year over year growth in terms of brand equity AND actual sales to this mantra. We are not a hoppy beer brewery. We are not a German or Belgian beer brewery. We are not a lager brewery. We're not a sour brewery. We are all of these things and that is what really defines Baerlic. And we will continue this scrappy mindset as long as it works.”
Renewal: The Penalty Box
BCG Director, Martin Reeves calls strategic renewal “The Penalty Box.” In this mindset, the most strategic thing you can do is survive. Our members faced tough times in 2017 and found ways survive and advance toward a profitable 2018 and beyond.
Tom Schmidlin, Founder and Head Brewer Postdoc Brewing (Redmond, WA): “In this market, success sometimes means outlasting the competition. We grew in 2017, although not as much as we had hoped. Our Seattle sales rep left us for personal reasons, and we have been unable to find a suitable replacement. This definitely put a dent in our sales. But when we look around our area, there have been several brewery closures while we are still growing. Just in Redmond we had one surprise closing and another coming up in a month, so there will only be three breweries left."
To Summarize: Your Strategy Needs A Strategy
Winning in 2018 and beyond means that your brewery can’t survive with only one strategy. It all starts with your business models. Each channel you sell beer through (or plan to) needs its own business model and its own strategy. These business models should complement and reinforce each other as much as possible, but don’t try to jam a single business model into every channel. Also, don’t rely upon a volume growth strategy as your primary strategy (unless you are already large or have unusually deep pockets). Finally, you don’t have to do this alone. The breweries at CAS work together and continuously share ideas, successes, and failures. Plus, other members including lawyers, CPAs, bankers, consultants, and several professors surround them.
Please review our membership and testimonials from beer entrepreneurs like you. Our community gets stronger with more breweries. For less than the price of one nice dinner with your management team, you can give them a year of training, networking, and learning on our all digital and on demand platform.
Sources and Additional Resources
If you’ve made it this far through the blog and still want more…
Watch BCG’s 3-minute video on The Strategy Palette, "Your Strategy Needs Strategy".
If you want a 10-minute video on why The Strategy Palette helps companies in tough times, watch this Ted Talk from lead author, Martin Reeves. I use Reeve’s Ted Talk to start all of my Executive MBA workshops – both in the USA and abroad.