Brewing Better Ideas

Crazy ideas. That’s what drives me.

And beer. Particularly brewing beer.

Oh and the intersection where retail meets technology.

And my family.

Ok a lot of things.

Hence this post.

Last Father’s Day, my wife retained her throne as “best wife”. She took me to a home brew class, and we bought a kit. It’s one of those things that you think is a cheap hobby, and then you realize how much better you could do it with XYZ. But it’s ok, because it’s “cheaper” than buying a case of craft beer. It was an awesome experience that did exactly what it was supposed to do – make me buy stuff.

And that’s where it started.

I could talk about brewing for awhile, but that’s not what this post is about. The only tip I have for you when it comes to brewing, is don’t try to tell your wife you sanitized the bottles when you know you forgot to….

At any rate, Northern Brewer is poised for an excellent opportunity for growth, and some fun ways to do so.

Right now, they have three locations: two in the Twin Cities, and one in Milwaukee. Not a bad start, but craft beer is exploding right now all across the US. Brewing at home is a nice little tag-along for those of us who want to be better beer snobs, too. Northern also has a pretty good web presence, and I imagine their distribution does well out of their Roseville warehouse.

My guess is that the next step by default is to move to new markets. Chicago, Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, somewhere in Vermont, Boulder, Austin, and then probably the big cities like New York and LA. Big cities are hard though, but I’ve got an idea about that in a bit. With the expanded location base, some math should be done about if having a higher level of inventory at the retail locations is worth it. Why? Because each one could also be a mini distribution center for the online sales.

Plus, now a days, everyone is getting on the “order online and pick up in store” bandwagon. And why not? Multichannel sales is the next step for retail. Just look at Apple – they changed with their most recent head of retail hire, but it went mostly unnoticed. Angela Ahrendts left being CEO of Burberry to be Vice President of Retail and Online Stores. Notice that last little bit? She’s in charge of every place you can buy an Apple product – online or in person. Time to make them work together.

And with this fun expansion, how on earth do you control the growth? For a “grocery” store, the technology part is always the most challenging. Which is why you make it a store-in-a-box. Build the standard network (yet independent of connectivity type), hardware and software, box it all up, and send an installer to get the work done. Make the systems cloud based (and remain PCI compliant, of course), so that the reliance on internal systems are minimal. iPads as POS systems work great. Why? Because if/when one breaks, I bet you’re close to an Apple Store that can swap it out, or have a spare ready. It’s still cheaper than a standard NCR or other traditional POS system, and expanding the number of terminals is drastically cheaper than the traditional model. You skip out on all the fun wired networking, gain flexibility on physical location choices, and the hardware spend is less.

But, don’t be stupid. You’re relying on good connectivity as the backbone, so don’t fuck it up. Build in back ups. There are perfect branch routers that have the ability to provide 3G/4G failover for when the main connectivity goes down. Cheap. Effective. And, a requirement if you ask me. Also? Backup power, a good app developer and a management platform that gives you the ability to remotely support your end users easily. Wait. Check that. An excellent app developer who is truly your partner.

Sidebar – I went to a great liquor store (apparently my world does revolve around beer) that has a ton of craft stuff, and a build your own six pack that is beyond compare. But, they lost their internet connection while I was shopping, so it was a cash-only moment. I can’t remember the last time I had cash on me. So, I put my bottles back and was quite bummed. The store lost my $20, along with at least three other customers that I saw walk out.

But beyond mere physical expansion to “craft beer cities”, there are some other ways to more fully develop the home brew culture.

I’m pretty lucky to work with some amazingly interesting folks, and it helps keep me thinking about solutions and how randomness sometimes aligns.

When I started brewing at home, my wife happily participated. She still does. But, my two little kids want to help too. And my basement isn’t exactly temperature controlled. And my sink isn’t the best for the massive amounts of use it gets on brew days. And time without disturbing it is hard in our small house.

What’s amazing is we live in a nice little suburb, in a decent house, not unlike most other home brewers.

But then there’s my brother. He started brewing years before I did, but he lives in what I assume is a typical New York City place. There isn’t the luxury of our yards, storage space, but they have their (far superior) mass transit.

So what the hell am I talking about? A recent trend in small business and the startup community is working cooperative spaces. CoCo is a great example of it in the Minneapolis area. They have hundreds of members – some are individuals, some are teams, but they get to use shared resources like internet, printing, physical office space, and the ever important power of collaboration through happenstance.

Now take that idea, apply it to brewing, and put it in a densely populated area. Imagine a warehouse where you could rent space to brew, and rent controlled storage. For you brewers out there, how sweet would it be to have a lager room? It’d also potentially lower the cost of entry for folks to try brewing. You have your brew session, move it into the fermenting room(s), come back for second fermenting, or take advantage of a shared bottling line. Northern could also have “emergency supplies” vended at the location, so if you’re an idiot like me and constantly forget priming sugar, then you pay a premium, but you can get the job done without a trip elsewhere. Plus, shared cleaning locations, high powered gas burners, shared wort chillers, kettles, and anything that you’d need. Sure you can bring your own, or you can rent what you’d like.

Lets not forget the community part, too. My wife and I chat with my brother about brewing, but it’d be awesome if we could talk to someone who was also brewing at the same time and get their ideas. And part of that community is the responsibility for not being idiots and cleaning the crap out of everything. It’d also provide an excellent venue for more workshops, home brew tasting competitions, and who knows what else. ¬†Staff it daily from 10-7, and provide extended hours for those who want to pay for premium access.

There are probably a thousand ways to do it, but a cooperative home brew location would be something I’d love to see.

Oh, and one more thing. Why aren’t home brew carboys made out of brown glass? Light = bad, right?

Then again, Minnesotans can’t even buy beer on Sundays.

 

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