Colorado's First Craft Beer Pros Talk Business of Beer
Local craft beer leaders discuss how their companies have remained strong in the fast-evolving craft beer industry.
In the after math of Great American Beer Fest, we decided to celebrate the business of beer here at Vectra Bank. The competitive business of beer making is not unlike running any small business. At Vectra Bank's quarterly Business of Beer event, Colorado's local craft beer leaders discussed how their companies have remained strong in the fast-evolving craft beer industry — by staying focused on customers, quality and the local community.
Chris Banks, owner and CFO of ODell Brewing Co. ; Great Divide Founder and President Brian Dunn, and New Belgium Innovations Brewer Ross Koenigs came together recently to answer questions and help brewers navigate this changing industry.
Preparing for Ups and Downs
All three beer experts have been brewing beer for at least 25 years in Colorado. That's a lot of beer and has provided these local companies with a solid education in the craft beer "school of hard knocks."
Brewers agreed that the primary reason for their successes come from making it "all about the beer." The quality of the product is number one. Regardless of any company's growth plans, businesses must ensure product performance is strong, and if the market is changing, make the necessary changes to compete.
On the current competitive beer market and influx of new brewers, our local beer gurus remind business owners that "it's all cyclical." Like all businesses, beer makers need to plan for the ups and downs of the market. For the beer industry they figured the market cycles every 10 years or so. To cushion for inevitable ups and downs, businesses need to keep a strong balance sheet, focus on quality, and ensure the company is a part of the community.
Slow growth and consistent innovation are critical, whether it's entering new markets, adding canning or launching new beers. For ODell, canning made a big difference for the company, Banks said. With 65 percent of its business in Colorado, innovation and a slow-paced growth have been key. Staying close to home and focusing on their home turf was a critical component of ODell's success.
For Great Divide, also on a slow growth pace, real estate decisions have played an important role. The first 25 years were spent just four blocks from Coors Field. They expanded in 2017 to the new location in Denver's popular RiNo district.
"Our toughest decision was deciding where to expand," said Dunn. "We committed to staying in downtown Denver, remaining true to our Denver brand."
The largest of the three breweries, New Belgium has a brewery in Fort Collins and Ashville, N.C. and recently opened a brewery in The Source Hotel, also in RiNo. Expanding outside of Colorado worked well for New Belgium, though the challenge in that growth was ensuring that local volume did not slip in the process.
Investing in People
In addition to quality, community and innovation, the importance of focusing on people was unanimous. "Sales sell beer" Banks said. That means making sure your people are happy. At ODell, employees can work across departments to learn and train in new areas, and the company is part-owned by employees. Koenigs added that understanding that business success is built entirely on relationships is critical. New Belgium invests in sales people, retailers and wholesalers, is 100 percent employee owned and works to create a culture of ownership and profit sharing.
Whether you are in the business of beer or another industry, these tips from Colorado's great beer makers translate to any business. Let's all celebrate them with glass of your favorite craft beer.