“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” – Edward Abbey
We are well into the rise of the craft beer scene and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. New breweries are opening, seemingly every week. Lots of small breweries have kicked it in to high gear to expand. The interest is there so, why not? Banks are ready to give business loans to brewery owners with dreams. Private investment firms want a chunk of the action so they are chomping at the bit to get involved and expand their portfolios. Even big beer wants in.
It is a fabulous business to be a part of and a wonderful time to get in. It is full of great people producing great products, and long-term breweries willing to share their knowledge. However, with a growing scene there is a growing sense of competition and with competition, often times, comes ego. While many of you are managing to grow while staying humble and true to your roots, some of you are letting it go to your head. And I don’t mean an awesome frothy head.
I once served as VP to a fast growing NC brewery. When I first started the job we used to jokingly say that this industry was less than 1% asshole. After doing the job two years, I was sure I had met the entire 1% or else the number was climbing. I have seen breweries leave their small towns for beer fests with their chests puffed out so high they can’t see their consumer. Their ego blinded them from every customer that wanted to make contact, from every blogger that wanted to say hello, and from every fellow brewer who just wanted to feel like part of a team. I have seen tourists stop owners and brewers to offer compliments and be treated like a waste of time. I have visited brewery taprooms where pretentiousness flowed more freely than the beer. I can’t wrap my head around this. You are producing something that makes people happy! Why not let the people tell you how happy they are?
Now with all that said, I do understand how much work is involved in running a full-scale production brewery. I know that stopping to tell someone they are appreciated isn’t what’s on your mind when you’re trying to figure out how to fill 5 pallets with bottled beer in an afternoon and your Maheen just went down. A lot of these small courtesies are often left to other employees. Taproom managers, bartenders, and wait staff should be trained, not just for the physical labor part of the job, but to have your best interest in mind when speaking to customers. There’s nothing worse than being a day laborer who has to say “that WAS the owner” after unpleasant experiences are had and complaints need to be made. Most of you are excellent at managing money and time, but aren’t made to be in the public eye. That’s ok! Let your employees be the smiling face you can’t be!
It is possible to be awesome and not think you are better than everyone else. Don’t forget where you would be without the customer. Another important thing to remember is that every time a patron leaves your bar, they are taking the notes from that experience back to their families, friends, and social media accounts. Word of mouth is a great asset. Don’t ruin that by letting a sense of pride do the talking for you. Also, most of you are bringing an amazing economic impact to the small towns you are in, but that doesn’t mean you should treat the locals like you’re doing them a favor by being there. Be partners with your community! Make them more than grateful you are there.
I guess this could be an open letter to all business owners and operators. Choose community over commerce and let the growth happen naturally. As you expand, do so with your roots in mind as well as your goals. Slow steady growth is better than rushed ideas and poorly executed visions. Rely on your team. Be leaders, not bosses.
If you’re doing something you love, why not do it with love?
Stay Humble. Cheers.