Stay local and cultivate repeat customers, says pioneer brewer
Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Company has become one of America’s largest craft brewers both by design and good fortune, its founders have told Australian and Kiwi brewers.
Founded in 1993, New Glarus is now the 16th largest craft brewery in the USA with annual beer volume of 30 million litres.
“A lot of our success is really attributable to good luck,” Dan Carey told the IBD Asia Pacific Section Convention in Wellington.
He said these lucky breaks included finding a “meticulously maintained” 130-hectolitre copper brewhouse for sale in Bavaria in the 1990s, when New Glarus had outgrown its existing brewery.
Most craft brewers considered the unwanted equipment too big for their needs, so the ambitious Wisconsin company was able to purchase it for scrap metal value, 25,000 Deutsch Marks ($20,371 in today’s currency).
Dan Carey said New Glarus sells all its beer exclusively within its home state, where it has a ten per cent market share and 45 per cent of its volume is sold on draught.
“Most craft brewers in the United States are proud to say that they are sold in 30 or 50 states and five countries,” he said in the duo’s keynote address.
“We have always felt that that is maybe not the best business model for a small brewery. Not only is beer heavy and expensive to move, we always felt that it is best to have repeat customers.
“If you keep moving further and further afield, you’re really not building the depth of ownership that our customers feel for our brewery.”
Deb Carey said the brewery’s success is also predicated on taking care of its wholesalers and educating them on how to sell beer, as well as working with all stakeholders in the supply chain to maintain draught quality.
“That is a lot of work and frankly I’m not willing to travel to do that in other states, but I think it’s what’s required to be a successful brewer these days,” she said.
She said New Glarus has a relatively flat management structure with no job titles and a huge suite of benefits for its workforce of 130, including an employee stock ownership plan.
“Dan spends a lot of time training our brewers – we generally do not hire people with brewing experience. Often they are cheese makers, they might be farmers… he goes to great lengths and takes about a year before people are really valuable to us,” she said.
“I try to do things that are taking care of our people because we want them to show up every day healthy, happy and focused on their work.
“Breweries are really stressful to run and there’s daily drama, so we make sure they have health insurance, they have paid vacation, time off with their families on the weekends and just in general a good lifestyle,” Carey said.