Small Town Brewery in Wauconda started two upstairs rooms of an old warehouse. They made handcrafted beers and delivered them to a thriving downtown area featuring a variety of eating establishments. And then came a new beer they crafted and named “Not Your Father’s Root Beer.” The new hard (alcoholic) root beer took off, and by 2012 it was being sold in a chain of liquor stores in Chicago – Binny’s Beverage Depot with 31 locations.
Making Their Name
Then in mid-2015, Pabst Brewing Co. and Small Town signed an exclusive distribution agreement allowing Pabst to distribute all their products nationally. To date, three of Small Town’s products are distributed around the U.S. under that agreement: Not Your Father’s Vanilla Cream Ale, Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale, and the original product (hard root beer) in six packs. Nearly two years ago, they added another element to their company, the Small Town Brewery Taproom, a local bar where people can try out all the microbrews they craft – offering 16 flavors at a time and cycling them when needed. Not only do customers get to try the different flavors, but the company tests what could likely be number four to go national … and beyond.
The business and its owners are members of the small community, and one of their big goals remains the same as when they first started, to help the community in whatever way they can. Some beer flavor options could include French toast, bourbon pecan, strawberry rhubarb, and the distribution flavors. At the taproom, customers choose up to four flavors, though they also serve water and soft drinks too.
What Can Be Learned?
Small Town Brewery may seem like an overnight success, but like many other “swift” rises, it wasn’t nearly as quick as it seems. They’ve grown in a smart way, starting small and developing their skills, although Tom Kovac claims his brewing capabilities come from a long line of family who had their hand in it going back to a ship’s captain in his family tree from the 1600s. Once the skills were in place, then expanding began, trying new flavors, calling on not just favorite flavors, but ones that have mass appeal.
Then some tweaking happened, and before long expansion to a wider audience. Once the audience had grown to a level that met the current distribution, a larger distributor was needed to increase the brand further. These are the lessons that matter. Take time to develop your skills, experiment to improve, tweak it further, expand your distribution, and then do it again.
But throughout that process, remember what is important, why you wanted to start the business in the first place. When the underlying reason is forgotten, many businesses collapse under the weight of the increasing business because the support system is no longer in place. For Small Town Brewery, the support system is its connection to the community. It even implies that connection in the very name of the company.