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;

    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.

    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.

    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"

    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.

    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.

    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.  

    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.


    Topics: business ownership

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