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.


The SOPA Effect

Well today was an interesting day.

I tried to do my part, but there were several who did some really creative things. Wired, Google, Reddit, and The Oatmeal.  Several local local companies showed their frustrations on their sites, Twitter, or Facebook.




For those uninitiated, you should check out @herpderpedia It’s a hilarious curation of content that is from folks who didn’t know what was going on.

But if you’re looking for content on the Why, check out

The bottom line is this:

We need to keep it up.

There have been 13 Senators that no longer support the current bills.  But we have short attention spans.

No matter your politics, I beg of you to pay attention. To participate. To vote and be heard. Social media and the internet (as it sits today) is a place to be heard, but alo a place to read. Don’t be afraid of typing more than 140 characters; but know it can start there.

Don’t just do this for politics – make it part of what you do.

Want to succeed at work? Participate. Want to have safer roads? Drive better. Want to write a book? Start typing. Want to have a better relationship? Pay attention.

No more bullshit. No more excuses. As Nike says, Just Do It.

I’m Not Sure You Understand.

Not to be smug, but I don’t think you get it.

JC Penney just made a huge investment and is now a company that I respect.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure the last time I bought anything from them – nor the next time I might shop there, but they just rolled the dice and came up a winner.

They nabbed someone who I would see more likely working with George Blankenship (again) over at Tesla to reinvent the way we buy cars. Or perhaps J. Crew. Maybe even the reverse of what most of us who have experienced retail management and have him recruited to Gap*.

I’m talking about the Steve Jobs of retail. No, not because he worked at Apple, but because (along with Steve), he changed the way that we buy things.

Ron Johnson is the epitome of what merchandising and retail brand management is, and should be.

I worked for Apple for almost seven years. Some people wanted to meet Jobs. Sure, I’d be ok with that, but I always wanted to meet Ron. You’d think in all my  years, that I’d have met him. No such luck.

But true to who he is, I can tell you that I had a few times received “thank you” notes from him via email. What Senior Vice President in charge of so many people takes the time to say thank you to a Manager at a store that had the opportunity to do the right thing? Ron.

He is a home-town legend. Growing up in the Twin Cities, developing Target to be the powerhouse that it is today, and making visits to his “hometown” Apple Stores pretty consistently, he loved Minnesota. I’ve heard numerous stories about how friends of mine would go to Cupertino, run into Ron, tell him that they were from Minnesota, and that would instigate an immediate smile, connection, and conversation that was euphoric for many.

This is why I’m also not surprised (and delighted) to see that he continues to challenge the status quo. Instead of being given a boatload of JC Penney stock, he decided to buy some. $50,000,000 worth.

Now. I’ve left the retail world, and have few regrets in doing so. But if you are, or have ever been interested in being someone who can make a difference in a company, here’s a golden opportunity. It’s not often where I’d suggest taking a leap of faith in JC Penney’s, but if you want to be a retail manager and see what merchandising is really about, there aren’t any better mentors than their newest CEO.

I am sure Apple will continue to be very successful in their retail stores. The roadmap for Apple Retail is drawn out for years, and without speedbumps . But to me, it’s similar to losing Johnny Ive of the design team. Those close to the process will feel the immediate pain, but it will be years before it trickles down. Most likely, you’ll never notice. Why? Because Apple is good at finding talent, and the Retail group is no exception.

I loved my time with Apple Retail, and although you may not understand, part of it was because of Mr. Johnson – but call him Ron. We all did.

Here’s to the crazy ones who thought they could change retail. Here’s to the crazy ones that can make that change a reality.

Best of luck Ron, you will be missed.




* It is no secret. Apple Retail recruited, and maintains some of the best and brightest minds from Gap (amongst other retailers). I had the absolute pleasure of several who ran Banana Republics, or Gap stores. I call them my soft-line friends in a hardware world.

Why #3 Matters.

About ten hours ago, the world changed. And not necessarily for the better.

We lost an All-Star. Both literally, and figuratively.

#3, Harmon Killebrew passed on today after his fight with cancer came to an end. A horrid end for a fantastic individual.

This is not some slugger who just played ball. This is a guy who honestly changed fans lives. Don’t believe me? Well the internet is there to prove you wrong.

I found out about 10 hours ago, via Twitter. Honestly, it’s where my news comes from on a daily basis.

Now, I am an odd one. I never got to see him play. I wasn’t born until about six years after he retired. Ironic, I know. My only interaction with him as a person was at a charity event about eight years ago.

That was where I realized it wasn’t all rumors. Harmon Killebrew was a great man both on and off the field. Today, that was emphasized. Stories and pictures flooded my Facebook and Twitter stream about my friends’ interactions with the legend.

And that is how he will be remembered. A legend.  A true original. Not this pompous crap of sports stars we see today (not so much in Minnesota, though).

And that is how it should be.

To a sports star I never had the opportunity to watch, I raise my glass in your honor and hope that I can have even a fraction of an impact that you’ve had.

Something I Love.

Yesterday, I complained. Today, I admire.

A friend of mine shared a link that I couldn’t resist clicking.

Apparently, Pixar is 25 years old. Aside from making me feel old, it made me feel pretty great. Why? Because I’m an advocate. There is something to be said about Pixar. They’ve alway made the most important part stay the most important part. And that’s the story.

The video (below) isn’t all that great. It’s just several clips tied together in a good sequence, that remind us of why the stories are addicting. Even without being great, the content makes it great. Pixar bring us in, they relate, they make us want to be part of it. All while wowing us through subtlety. What I mean is part of my fascination has always been about how great they make it look, without making it look like it.

How do they (continue) to do it? Well, not too long ago another friend posted a link to a behind-the-scenes look at Pixar HQ.

My favorite part? Everyone talks about how fun the environment is. But why? Because they aren’t the kids that you had to stop from having fun – they’re the kids that you had to stop from doing their homework all night long.

In short, Pixar may be 25, but it makes me feel like a kid again.

And for that, I’m glad.

Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Sounds scary, right?

Well it isn’t. What is scary is how important it can be. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is a lofty title put forth by Edward Tufte on a book that has claimed a top 100 spot from No little feat. Especially when I feel smarter just by reading the title.

But that’s not what it’s about. It isn’t about fancy words and explanations, it’s about how graphs and charts could save us, educate us, and better the world. Don’t believe me? Look at the rise of the so-called “infographics” as of late. We respond better to information that is properly designed, not just gathered.

If ever you have time, I highly encourage the read. I was reminded of it recently after having originally read it while in college. No matter the industry or your focus, the input within the text is valuable and applicable.

Every industry, including those involving consumers, beg for information.

One revelation that I’ve had recently is that it isn’t always about more information. It’s about better information. Think about it – you don’t need every email you receive every day, but if they were succinctly communicated in a way that you properly received, you’d probably be better off.

Graphs don’t need to be boring. If they are important enough, then you’ll find ways of communicating your information that is digestable, and tangible.

Read the book. It’s worth your time.

The book can be found at or from various resellers.