Lessons Learned: Marketing & flexibility

Lessons Learned is a column where Brews News speaks to start-up breweries one year after first opening to understand the challenges of opening a new brewery, and share key learnings for any breweries-in-planning.

Marketing to a wider audience and learning how to pivot in unforeseen circumstances were two key lessons learned from Woolstore Brewery in its first year of business.

Founded by husband and wife Chris and Kylie Ind, Woolstore Brewery opened in South Australia’s (SA) tourist town of Mount Gambier in July last year, the first brewery to open in the area.

“It’s been really exciting for us to see our vision become a reality,” Kylie Ind said.

“What we wanted was a space where people could come and feel really comfortable and we’ve been able to really see that come through, which has been fantastic.

“Having said that, there have been some super major challenges in the last 12 months, mostly around COVID.”

Late last year, SA had various COVID-19 restrictions put in place, which left many hospitality businesses struggling for numbers.

“We were open for two weeks and then had to shut for two weeks because we had a statewide lockdown, so that was a bit of a challenge,” Ind said.

“Then over Christmas, when we should have been at our busiest, South Australia had really, really tight restrictions on numbers.

“We were at one-quarter capacity for most of January, which we weren’t expecting at that time of year.”

Ind said it was the ability to adapt and pivot that helped the business navigate the uncertainty around restrictions.

“We put in a heap of outdoor area so that we had basically sidewalk dining out the front of our building and we got around it that way so that we could still have people there.

“Of course, people were a bit scared to go out too, because of all the restrictions and everything. So yes, it’s been a challenge.

“But it’s also been really amazing to see everyone start to really embrace the brewery and embrace the space.”

Marketing challenges

For any new business, marketing is a key aspect in attracting new customers. But for a start-up brewery in a small local town like Mount Gambier, it can be a challenge to identify which method should be prioritised, as Woolstore experienced.

“Obviously we made all the Brews News and other industry-type newsletters, so anyone that’s really into craft beer knew we were open,” Ind explained.

“But getting the news out in a country town was very difficult because we have three newspapers in our town, none of which have a very high circulation.

“So it was like, ‘who do you advertise with? Do you go radio or spend big bucks and go TV?’

“Most of our growth has been through word of mouth. But even now 12 months in, I get people who say ‘I didn’t even know you were here’ and we’re right in the centre of town. We’re hard to miss.”

While social media is a clear option, Ind explained it’s not necessarily the right tool for bringing in new customers.

“It certainly does get word out to a core group of people, but then still reaching out to the wider community, it’s hard.”

To combat this challenge, Woolstore looked to events as a way of reaching a wider audience.

“We found events are really good for that sort of thing and we’re just starting to ramp up how many events we’re running,” Ind explained.

“We’re looking forward to doing an Oktoberfest later in the year and we’re doing a boots and brews night. Things like that, just to get different groups from the community to come in.”

Expansion plans

Despite the challenges Woolstore has faced in its first year of business, the reception from the local community has been positive, according to Ind.

“Everyone’s pretty casual and laid back and everybody knows the story of the building and the dream of how we came up with the idea,” she said.

“It’s been really good sharing that with the community. We’ve had a lot of visits from local clubs and we’re about to do some more tourism industry visits, because people are curious about why we’ve done this.”

As a result of this, the brewery has brought forward its expansion plans to open a new dedicated dining space.

“We were planning after two years, to open up the other half of the building we’re in for dining and put in a kitchen area.

“We’ve actually had to bring that forward 12 months because of demand. So we’re just about to start opening up another 100-seat dining area.”

Ind also acknowledged the collegiate nature of the industry as a positive highlight.

“It’s been really exciting to be part of an industry that’s so collaborative,” she said.

“Talking to other brewers and going to different events and getting to know people has really been very rewarding.

“People are also willing to share their knowledge and to help when you’re thinking ‘how do I do this?’”

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