Growth strategies for small breweries
I just read this, and while it's an enjoyable little piece, I don't think it said too much of anything, if I'm honest. A few (very few) breweries will take on more debt than necessary, build out their infrastructure and capital investment past their cash flow, and possibly ruin their brand by selling out to a huge investment corporation or domestic producer. But it brings to bear a great question on sustainable growth in the craft beer industry. I tend to believe that growth in craft brewing will come as long as a brewery make a quality product, paces itself appropriately, and makes at least a passive effort at marketing its products (twitter is free, for the record). Almost every american craft brewery that has applied this moderate tact to its operational model has seen something defined as "success" in the past 15 years.
Here at The Brew Enthusiast, I've spoken with a LOT of brewery owners who talk about growth in a very interesting way. I'll ask them "So Mr. Brewery Owner...how has your production increased over the past year and how do you plan to meet demand next year?"
Go ahead and check all the awesome features we've done and you'll that question come up quite a few times. Seriously...Go check it. I'll give you a minute to read all of them. - http://www.thebrewenthusiast.com/breweries/
Great. You'll see a prevailing theme in their responses. Most of their answers don't really focus on a targeted growth rate (although that might be top secret information that isn't being divulged during the interview), but rather the idea that they want their local consumers to understand their brand and its products before they remotely approach the idea of expanding to other markets, states, or regions. They measure this by talking to their consumers, garnering juicy anecdotes on their beer, and iterating their products based on this feedback.
Most craft breweries succeed because they are the masters of listening to their consumers. They're friends with their consumers, and live down the street from them, and make a living based on consistent business from their friends. They will grow, and grow quickly by some measures, but it will not be at the expense of their local market. Their local market will support them for the foreseeable future, and to their local folks, they'll always be small. The co-founder of Harpoon Brewery, Dan Kenary, sums this up nicely by saying "craft beer can continue to be a business of independent local operators with close relations between workers and management and constant, reasonable growth."
That's the success we're talking about. I need a beer.