Working out how to push out beer to more people is something that preoccupies me quite a lot. Being tucked away in a corner of Cumbria, where there is not exactly a bustling centre of urban activity, creates challenges. The country side is stunning, but we don't have an easy ride from the perspective of finding sales opportunities.
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Luckily for us we keep getting mentioned in various publications, on-line and in the printed media. This doesn't happen by magic. It doesn't just happen because we make stunning beer. It happens because we work very hard to get our name noticed. The great thing is I enjoy engaging with the beer world, being a bit controversial, and helping to shake things up a bit. It gets me into trouble a little, but you know, you can't bake a cake without cracking eggs.
It isn't that there is a lower proportion of the population locally looking for stunning progressive craft beer, it is just that there are less people. A niche market in a small population is quite tiny. For this reason we do have to try a little harder than breweries that reside under a railway arch in a metropolis1. Our rent might be lower for our quite deliciously expansive industrial unit on our significantly under-occupied industrial estate, but conversely our transport costs are higher.
But I digress into another preoccupation eating my Azimuth soaked braincells, that of the assertion beer is "cheap to make" - I do feel a little like tackling this one, but that's for another post. Hopefully Stringers Beer2 might actually engage in a less rascally way this time, as he seems to be on my side from the nice rebuff he is seen to make on that point on an interesting comment exchange on Ed's blog.
In looking at costs associated with filling a glass with a particular beer, one thing that has to be done to make it happen is finding the correct audience. The route to market can be complex and is largely invisible to the beer drinker. For us, getting beer efficiently to say London we have to convince a distributor to buy the beer of us and then that distributor has to find pubs, bars or shops to buy it off them. The pubs and bars then have to sell the beer fast enough for them to want to re-order next time. This diverse route to market is like a chain; if any of links become damaged or broken our beer doesn't sell as well. Our market is geographically large but selectively niche. It is the way it is and we quite like it this way.
For any product, beer or otherwise, to succeed its awareness has to be heightened in all links of the supply chain. This, all by itself, can introduce significant costs into the overheads of the brand by way of traditional advertising and perhaps PR consultancy. Luckily for me I write this blog, which only costs me my time. We tweet and engage in Facebook etc. We deal with social media with what I believe is an honest and forthright approach. Sometimes this helps my business and sometimes it seems it doesn't.
We can't afford to pump lots of money into marketing and advertising, although we do a little. I hope to demonstrate the tight margins with beer when I do get around to my own rebuff of "beer is cheap to make" But just trust me, we are not rolling in cash, far from it. What we do instead is think up tangental things to do like silly Christmas Videos and taking beer halfway up a mountain.
Making good beer is of course important, but doing other stuff to actually get people to remember our name is also important.
This week we see our efforts pay off a little with Azimuth being listed on ShortList.com as one of 13 of the most exciting British Craft Beers. I doubt we'd have made the list by only making exciting beer, making noises about the fact also helps.
Stunning result, I think you'll agree.
1No, I'm not really thinking of anyone in particular, there are several that make very good beer, good on 'em.
2We are still friends, I think. Well, Ann and Becky are still talking even if us blokes are still strutting a bit of faux literary confrontation.