The Story of Starting a Brew On Premises Business

Posted by Pete Caputa on Apr 23, 2008 3:48:00 PM

A few weeks back, Ray Schavone, owner of Deja Brew, sent me a great guest post "how to" article about starting a brew it yourself business. It was a great post with a lot of lessons for any business.

I love "how-to" articles, but I like stories even more. If there's one thing a blog lends itself well to - it is storytelling. And people tend to relate to them. Maybe it stems from when our parents read us stories. I know that my son loves it when we read to him. 

So, here's Ray's story. It's certainly entertaining and it reveals some great lessons too: 

So you want to start your own business? Why? It's a lot more work than you might suspect. You'll have a jerk for a boss, and get to deal with everything, EVERYTHING, related to your business. You won't be able to call in sick, or take time off because the day is nice. And nobody, nobody, will sweep the floor as well as you will. Everyone else in your company will be an employee, and you know how much you care as an employee.

Yeah, I was told all this and more, but went ahead and did it anyway. In some ways, I was lucky in my choice of business (beer, who doesn't like beer?). So how did it all start?

Back in the middle ages, 1996 to be exact, I was down sized, right sized, laid off, use whatever term works for you, from the company I had worked for, for over 23 years. The company had been down sizing since 1987, and it became a rather depressing environment. I had been traveling to Canada on company business and had walked past a brew-on-premises operation one evening. It was intriguing to me as a home brewer, so I stopped in. Everyone was talking, smiling, having a beer or beers, good music in the background, and I fell in love. What a different environment from what I had been experiencing. So, a little bit of research, I found that there were some of these businesses operating in the U.S., and decided to check them out. I found one relatively close by, and spent a bit of time brewing there to get the feel for it. Same feeling to what I had experienced in Canada. It was a lot of fun...

But, that day in 1996 came, and it was time to find something new. So, with my wife's blessing, I embarked on the road to open my own business, a brew-on-premise. I contacted several of the BOPs operating in the U.S. and just started asking the questions I needed to ask, what equipment they were using, how they were doing, what they would do differently. I bought a software package to write a business plan, followed the directions, and Voila!, a business plan.

And so, shiny faced, full of enthusiasm and optimism, my newly printed business plan in hand, I gave a copy to a banker friend of the family, and anxiously awaited my funds. Well, the short story is he didn't approve my request or give me the funds. But he did give me some good advice; he told me that I needed an SBA loan.

So I called the SBA. They told me I needed to go to one of their regional Small Business Development Centers, and have them help me with my business plan (but I have one! And I paid damn good money for that s/w package too). Ok, so I called the SBDC at Clark University in Worcester. I met with a wonderful and enthusiastic lady there (unfortunately, I don't remember her name, it was 11 years and many beers ago), who said she'd help me.

BTW, if you are considering starting a business, I highly recommend contacting the SBDC at your nearest business school. What an incredible service they provide. FREE!!!

Away we go, this wonderful lady became my drill sergeant. Questioned me on everything I wrote in the plan. Ugh.. But, she did put me in touch with an excellent business tax accountant who spent hours with me developing the financials of my plan... FREE! America, what a country!

After a couple of months, my drill sergeant declared my plan to be ready. And off to the banks they sent me. They gave me a list of banks, with contacts, and I started calling. My first rejections were disappointments, but I was not fazed. By the 20th rejection, I was beginning to wonder. And then I read a story about Walt Disney being rejected by banks over 200 times for his Disney Land theme park. Onward I cried!

Eventually, I found a bank that was interested. About 6 months after I started with my first plan, I had a funding commitment. Before the bank would give me the commitment, I had to find a location, and have a lease in place.

And so the build out of the space began. It was undeveloped warehouse space. The building owner decided to pay for the build out. Sweet! The owner was building the space out for a couple of retail operations, and mine was to be the first.

I contact the local Board of Health to review my floor lay out. They are very confused. (What are you trying to do?) I provide them with contact names for the BOH where similar businesses are located. At our meeting I laid out my floor plans, build out plans and the sanitizing chemicals I'd be using. They look at me and say, you know if everyone who needed BOH approval for a business in town came to us first, like you did, our job would be soooo much easier, and their approvals would go much faster. We love what you're doing, and we think you need to put a mop sink in here. Meeting over, approved.

Find out I need a zoning variance for the business. Ugh.. Petition for the variance, go to the town meeting with the landlord, and my hot BOH approval. Variance granted. Yesss!

We started by measuring, and drawing chalk lines on the floor to separate the spaces. We took several half walls down, put metal studding up for the walls, and then one day... Bang! The brick façade came down, and windows and door went in. Hey, this is starting to look real!

Rough plumbing goes in. Hey! Why's the plumbing for the toilets next to the door, and the sink is on the far wall? Answer: We didn't want to jack hammer through 8 inches of re-enforced concrete to put the toilets on the back wall. BTW, did I mention the landlord was doing the build out? You get what you pay for.

The brewing equipment starts to arrive. Yeehaw! Time to get my contractors in and get everything connected. My brother in law is a plumber and he's doing the job. Free! Cost of materials only. Great stuff! And what a maze of plumbing is needed. Carpenter arrives, and my specific build out starts. Oh, I'm getting excited now...

Plumbing is complete. Get the plumbing inspector out.. Who did the plumbing? I tell him. He says, "Boy, those are great guys aren't they?" Confused look on my face. Yeah they sure are... Ok, so what does this do, what does that do type questions. I go through the entire water flow with him. Jeez, they do great work, he says.. Plumbing approval in hand.. I'm getting more excited every day.

My build out is finished, sign is up. It's spring time in New England, and I'm feeling good... I'm outside sitting on the tail gate of my pick up truck, eating a sub, and a man walked over to me and says "hey, you know what's going on here?" Sure do, and I proceed to explain it to him. He hands me his card. He's an advertising exec from a regional newspaper. We talk a bit, and off he goes. Now that the sign is up, this becomes a daily occurrence. Some one stops in, asks what's going on, and proceeds to tell me I *need* to advertise with them, it'll be great for my business. Oh boy, this is getting old fast.

So, I call the first advertising guy that stopped by, and talk to him for a bit. (BTW, if you haven't figured this out, this is a very unique business. I'm the only one in Mass doing this, and one of 50 in the U.S.) So, I play the news worthiness of my venture to him. He let's me know editorial and advertising departments are somewhat separate, but he'll talk to one of his friends who's a reporter for the town I'm in. He drops by, and writes an article on us. A very nice article too. About a half page in the paper. The phone starts ringing. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy... So, I call the advertising exec up, and let him know what happened, and that clearly, advertising in his paper would do me good. We set up a year long advertising campaign.

And so, I start this approach with everyone else that tells me I *need* to advertise with them. I'm very unique, do a story on me first. If I get a response, then you're a good advertising vehicle for me. Some are willing to do this, some are not. It's ok with me, if they want my money, they play by my rules. Hey, I'm really starting to like this owner position.

Last item is the fire inspection before we can open. They want additional sprinklers installed. Landlord calls the plumber to install them. Plumber cuts the water main to install the sprinklers, stops in the store and says, Sorry Ray, but we're not installing anything until we get paid for the rough work we did... OMG... We have no water, period. No flushing, no washing of hands, and certainly no brewing. Issue resolved, 2 days later the new sprinklers are in, and the fire department completes their inspection.

We are good to go!

We have a soft opening, testing the systems, brewing some beer to sample at our Grand Opening.

Grand opening arrives, it's a pretty nice turnout, and about 200 people come through the door to see what we're about and sample the wares.

Day 1.. Do I hear crickets chirping? That's ok, we've just opened.

Day 2.. Damn those crickets are loud. Hey, it's just day 2.

Day 3.. Turn up the music, and can't hear the crickets. But, I'm thinking, what have I done? I've got a loan payment due the end of the month

Day 4.. Hey, let's play some cards, the music sounds good, and we've got some beer & wine.

Day 5... The phone rings! Our first appointment!! Another appointment and another!

Day 6.. More appointments.. This is starting to feel better..

10 years and 10 months later.. We're still here. We still have local towns people stop in and ask us how long we've been opened. Really? I've never noticed you before!

And oh, the stories we could tell over those 10 years. I do want to say, that the local town officials were incredibly supportive of us during our start up, and continue to be so. And we've got a great landlord, very responsive if there's a problem. We got to profitability pretty quickly, and remain so. One of the best things about our business is the people we get to meet. Our customers are with us for 2 hours during the brewing cycle, and two weeks later, are in for another two hours to bottle. We've made some wonderful friends over the years. Thank you all for all your support!

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Topics: small business marketing, storytelling, marketing a small business, blogging for business, business ownership

DejaBrew - Business Lessons from Starting a Brew-It-Yourself On-Premises Brewery in Central MA

Posted by Pete Caputa on Mar 6, 2008 2:37:00 PM

I sent out an invitation to some people to write guest posts on my blog. Ray Schavone, owner, founder and chief bottle washer (literally) of Deja Brew, a brew-it-yourself beer making business, wrote an excellent how to article on starting a brew your own beer store. There's also lessons for anyone starting a business:

So you want to start your own business? Why? It's a lot more work than you might suspect. You'll have a jerk for a boss, and get to deal with everything, EVERYTHING, related to your business. You won't be able to call in sick, or take time off because the day is nice. And nobody, nobody, will sweep the floor as well as you will. Everyone else in your company will be an employee, and you know how much you care as an employee.

I started my own business over 10 years ago. Here's a couple of things I learned about starting a business.

Business plan
It starts with a business plan. I'd strongly encourage, urge, or cajole you to start with the Small Business Development Center. You can find them at your local business college or through your local Chamber of Commerce. Or, you can locate on of the centers through the SBDC website;
http://www.asbdc-us.org/

This is a free service btw.  Well, you pay for it through your tax dollars, but why not use it? Their goal is to help entrepreneurs realize their dream of starting a small business. Did I mention it was free?   They ran me through the paces to get my business plan to the point where I could qualify for an SBA guaranteed loan.

Funding
If you've got all the funding you need, you can skip this step. I brought my plan to about 20 banks before I found one that was interested. It took Walt Disney 297 banks to find one to fund his Disney Land project. So don't get discouraged. I had to put roughly 50% of my own funds into the financing. They very much want you to have some skin in the game. Last thing about funding; you need to have enough operating capital set aside to get you to profitability. That's why most small businesses fail. Not because of bad ideas, or bad business people, but they were under funded, and couldn't make it to profitability.

Location
Our business needed a brick and mortar location, and we had to have a lease in place before we could get the funding. As they say; location, location, location. It made a huge difference for us. We get about 35,000 cars a day driving by our location.

Build out
You may be able to move right into a space and go from there. We needed to build out. We were lucky, it was empty warehouse space, and the landlord was willing to cover the cost of the build out, as they were building out a couple of other store fronts at the same time. If you've got to build out, stay on top of your contractors. If the ideas in your head can easily transfer to paper and diagrams, then great, if not, you need to be there. I had great contractors. I was still there every day to answer their questions whenever a change had to be made.

Town approvals
We needed to get town approvals for our business. We needed a Zoning board variance, and Board of Health approval. Don't be shy; get in front of these folks early on. I did and found them to be incredibly helpful. It may have been dumb luck on my end. But, if I can relate a comment made to me by the BOH when they were reviewing my plan; "I just wish that everyone who needed our approval to open a business in town would do what you did. Get into us early and discuss what they want to do, and let us suggest changes It would save them time and money"

Occupancy
Since this was new space, we needed permits from the plumbing, BOH, and fire department. The fire department wanted additional sprinklers. We had to get the plumber back to do the job, and then the fire department back for the approval. This caused us a two week delay. See my note on town approvals above. We did not engage with the fire department prior to completing our plumbing and build out.

Opening
We had a "soft" opening a couple weeks prior to our Grand Opening. This allowed us to test our system and processes to get them correct before we opened to the public.

Advertising
I'm not much of an advertising guru. But, as soon as the sign went up, it was like an invitation was sent out to every advertising sales person in the area. Ugh..  We have a unique business. It's a brew-on-premise. We were the first in Mass., the 2nd in New England, and about the 50th in the US of A. So, I felt we were newsworthy. As the barrage of advertising execs started through the door, my response was simple; run a news story about us and how unique we are. If it drives phone calls and generates interest, then we know you are a good advertising vehicle for us. Some took us up on the offer, others didn't. The best advertising is word of mouth.  

Customers
Love your customers. Yeah, they can be a pain in the neck sometimes. We have no problems telling them that when they are and that they need to chill out and have a beer. We've made some great friends through our business. I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

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Topics: business ownership

The Hubspot-PC4Media Relationship Ambiguity

Posted by Pete Caputa on Jan 22, 2008 3:09:00 PM

After reading my blog, Mike at Inquisix asked me if I was a HubSpot SEO Consultant. (HubSpot doesn't call them that. They are internet marketing consultants or IMCs for short. They are the people that coach Hubspot clients in developing and implementing their inbound internet marketing strategy.) But... Very fair assumption.

Jonah, who's in charge of all the IMCs at HubSpot, read my site and said "It looks like YOU are helping people with their online marketing directly. Shouldn't it say Hubspot somewhere?" Very fair question.

I met Don Dodge very briefly the other day at HubSpot.  He's the closest thing Microsoft has to a well know blogger evangelist type, since Robert Scoble left. On the day I met Don, he wrote about the reasons why Robert Scoble didn't start a business of his own, but joined Fast Company instead to start a new video website project within Fast Company.

I've taken the reasons that Don has written and have applied them to why I've joined HubSpot. I hope this will clear everything up for everyone.

Understanding what you are good at..and what you love to do
-  I love meeting new people and hearing about their business. I am pretty darn good at solution based selling. I'm really good at helping people diagnose their internet marketing problems. I know enough about online marketing and business to make solid website and internet marketing recommendations for almost any type of business. Hubspot has 90% (maybe more) of what a small or mid sized business needs to attract more visitors and convert more visitors into leads and inquiries in one inbound marketing platform. And they are good at helping everyone from large companies, small business owners, internet geeks and marketing professionals focus on what's important and actually generate leads online that turn into business.  Using their own cooking, they also have more leads than they can handle - which made joining them as a sales rep - a really easy decision. HubSpot and I are a real good match.

Building a diverse set of income requires a sales crew and attention to client happiness. Agreed. HubSpot has a "Customer Happiness Index". It's a SaaS business and clients must renew. If a client isn't happy, they leave.

In terms of a diverse set of income, I have that. I have a few passive income streams. WhizSpark clients are being taken care of through outsourced help. Hive411 generates some passive income. But, these aren't my focus areas. Building up my Hubspot revenue is. And I'm part of a rapidly growing sales team where I'll be instrumental in helping them bring new products to market and generate a diverse set of income streams for HubSpot.

Brian Halligan and Mark Roberge are taking care of building the sales team.  But, if you are based near Boston, know internet marketing and solution based sales, let me know. HubSpot is hiring a salesperson per month. I can put you on the inside track.

Setting up a business requires a ton of other tasks. I know this from experience. It was difficult for me to juggle selling, servicing and delivering at WhizSpark, not to mention product development, bills, etc. It's nice to be able to just focus on selling at HubSpot. At WhizSpark, Jeetu handled a lot of these tasks and did a great job. But, HubSpot has an office manager, a product support group, and a very smart development team lead by an accomplished software engineer and startup guru, Dharmesh Shah. (Who also happens to be hiring superstar developers, btw. Again, let me know if you want the inside track.)

Doing a business is stressful on everyone involved.
Running WhizSpark was difficult not just on me and Jeetu. It was difficult on our wives. Now that I have a son, I don't want anything to distract me from being a GREAT Dad.  HubSpot helps me generate a healthy income with less stress, so that I can spend more time with Peter V and Amy, our family and friends.

Brand extension is hard when running your ass off to build your own business. Aha. This one hits it on the head. I've always wanted to start "Peter Caputa IV Media" and build kinda like a Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch type empire. I'm not incorporating PC4Media anytime soon. It's a vehicle to help me grow my HubSpot sales and support my clients. And to keep me out there for other potential strategic opportunities. But, I'd much rather focus on creating "my own brand" than something else, right now. Thanks to HubSpot, I have that flexibility.

Getting access to things, when running your own business, is tougher. Don meant that it's harder to get into events and interviews with rock start CEOs, which is important to Robert Scoble. I'm not sure if it's important to me yet. On the other hand, interviewing CEOs is potentially an important reason to blog, at least from a lead generation and sales perspective. I'd much rather call at the top.

All that said, I still kinda like the ambiguity. I still see myself as a business owner. Rick Roberge says that being a salesperson is the closest thing to being a business owner anyone can get. I think the reason he says that is because salespeople have to build the business, which is also the primary responsibility of most business owners: growth. 

Another great business coach, Kate Hyland Mercer and I were chatting the other day and we agreed that we only want to take on business opportunities that help us make more money and do less work. That's what sales is about: How do I get better and better at sales so that I help more people, make more money and ultimately: do less work.

Along the same lines, I was talking to Rick on the phone. He thanked me for making him an honorary member of PC4Media. He also said he "gets what I'm doing". Just to confirm, I told him that I think I can turn PC4Media into a lead generation and prospect qualification machine for me, so that I ultimately just pick up the phone and take prospects' credit card numbers. He corrected me and said, "You mean have someone else pick up the phone and take credit card numbers." I agreed.

Unfortunately, that job posting isn't live yet. So, in the meanwhile, I also hope it's obvious to my clients that I recognize that my success is dependent on their success and that I'm here to do what it takes to make them successful. Although I don't get residual income from them staying on as a HubSpot client like I would as a business owner, I know that helping them achieve their goals will ultimately help me achieve mine. That's what Karma is about. Having a vested interest in your clients' success is what "business ownership" is about. That's why my clients are "mine".  And that's why I like a little bit of ambiguity.
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Topics: sales, about pc4media, business ownership

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