Monday 24 November 2014

A list which is short

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 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.


StringersBeer said...

I liked the beer up a mountain thing. As a publicity stunt it was a good one, particularly as it went to what the beer was actually about ( a low abv, tasty, hydration beer - I had some the other day cos I was driving - Excellent).

Stonch said...

Dave, looking over your blog, you seem fixated on only brewing for some form of beery elite (who I suspect don't correlate at all to any other type of elite, but that's conjecture on my part). It's a bit off-putting, to be honest.

Are you averse to creating a popular draught beer that will generate sales and margin so you can do all the funky strong bottled stuff on the side?

I used to come across your cask beer in London and enjoyed it but you seem to have vacated the market here. I'd like to buy some but only if I can get my own %GP without overcharging customers.

Unknown said...

Stringers, the rather sad thing about that low ABV beer is that the reports back from pubs are that drinkers don't even get as far as trying it. "1.9% isn't even beer" seems to be the thoughts.

Jeffry, it's interesting you think that the ordinary people who are looking for extraordinary beer are some form of elite. I wonder if they find your comment off putting.

We haven't vacated London at all. I'm not sure of the exact sales figures but it is certain we send a fair bit down there. Of course, since we moved out of the pub 4 and half years ago there has been an explosion of breweries in London, making things interesting and intensely competitive, but equally there are a lot more outlets looking to stock much better beer. Perhaps you've just seen much more great beer and so notice ours less. Certainly we do not notice a drop in volume to the capital.

We make a range of beers. Everything from 3.8% upwards. It is my belief that they are priced appropriately at the brewery door. Azimuth does the best volume overall, across cask, keg and bottle. The 4%ish beers stand up well in cask, not surprisingly and remain bread and butter at the moment.

We run a business and it is important to me that every beer and every activity stands up on its own merit. How we balance that is of course our choice. How we shape our business and how we bias our offering is the way we do things and that makes us different from other breweries. I don't think that is wrong.

What we certainly do not want to be known for is putting out beer made to a budget to compete with every other beer along the front of a bar that is only good enough to compete on price. Yes, price is important, but we want to give the beer drinker something different from the common denominator.

Of course you need to look after your margin, as do I. It would be interesting to know where you've tried to get my beer and how much you've been asked to pay for it. It might be that there is a route to your place that will get whichever of our beers you'd like to try at a price we are both happy with.

Stonch said...

good answer that

Ben Viveur said...

From this Londoners perspective, there's still plenty of Hardknott about - you just need to know where to go.

Certainly my regular haunts of the Craft chain and Rake/Tap East all seem to be on the distribution list. We're seeing more Hardknott in keg down here, but still plenty of cask too.

Bit disappointing not to see something insanely strong and rare at the Sloaney Old Ale Fest this year, but I'll get over it!

Stonch said...

I go to the Clockhouse sometimes as it's local to me but confess I haven't been to any of the other Crafts. Never really got on with the Rake but if I'm walking past and Burnley Dave is behind the ramp I'll go in to chat to him. I'll ask him to tell me next time Hardknott is on

py said...

Hi Dave,

How much exporting do you do of your beer?

I have a q: when you export overseas, do you send it by plane or boat? Does this affect freshness etc?

DaveS said...

Re marketing and so on, you'll probably also be interested by some of the later discussion on this recent Boak and Bailey post:

AndySmith said...

Congrats on the Azimuth. Saw and bought the 1.9% "Juxta" in a bottle last weekend, loved it. The ability to get so much taste and flavour from so little alcohol is genius. I thought it was a misprint…
...the reports back from pubs are that drinkers don't even get as far as trying it. '1.9% isn't even beer' seems to be the thoughts."
That's ridiculous isn't it?