Entrepreneur journal: Brooklyn Brew Shop
(Reuters) - As the jobless rate climbed toward 10 percent this summer, Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, quit their advertising jobs, took $10,000 in personal savings and started selling their 1- gallon home brew beer kits from a stand at the Brooklyn Flea Market, testing the theory that beer is recession proof. The following is a five-day journal written by Brooklyn Brew Shop co-founders Erica Shea and Stephen Valand exclusively for Reuters.com:
Day 1: Tuesday, September 29
Reuters had asked if they could send someone over to film Tuesday morning - which we happily agreed to (even as we worried we wouldn't have enough time to prepare for our first class). The filming was a ton of fun, but once the cameras turned off and we were left alone with our work again, we frantically started putting together a PowerPoint, making kits, and milling grain to have on display for our class. The PowerPoint is something we adapted from a lecture we'd given a few weeks earlier. That was for a 10-minute presentation where we were one of four speakers, but this was going to be longer, and it was just going to be us (with a lot of help from some really tasty beer and food pairings). For the PowerPoint, we used the tricking-people-into-learning method. People were coming to learn, but in order to keep them in seats for more than an hour, we had to make it funny, so we threw in some weird Alan Alda references (for the Mash stage of brewing, pretty cheesy, but ultimately successful).
We got to Jimmy's No. 43 in the East Village to set up for our 7:30 p.m. (ET) class. The room as well as the pairings looked amazing. The only hiccup was not having the right video adapter to view the PowerPoint on the overhead projector, but since I used to work in film production - where these unfortunate situations seem to happen more frequently than anyone wants - I have a pretty firm grasp on Radioshack locations, so I left while Erica was carefully setting up some demos and calmly exited the bar past what turned out to be a sell-out audience waiting outside the door, and sprinted a few avenues to Radioshack, where I got the proper adapter. It's always fun running while wearing a tie. I got back, and we did the class, which went for an hour and a half. From the looks on people's faces and the commentary at the bar and through emails that night, people really seemed to enjoy it, so we'll be teaching another class in early December at Jimmy's No. 43, most likely.
Day 2: Wednesday, September 30
Erica is finishing up some sporadic freelance work, so that means I'm alone making kits and doing UPS. This isn't one of the more exciting parts of running a business. It consists of waking up early, putting specific amounts of grain into plastic bags, and tying on labels. Repeat a few hundred times and you have a business. I took inventory for the trip to our wholesalers tomorrow. I spent a while on the phone with UPS earlier finally getting a daily pickup account set up, so now shipping things won't mean filling the pickup truck to load up the UPS store with our boxes. They'll come to us, which is a big improvement.
I picked up some packing supplies after talking to UPS. More bubble wrap than I've seen in my apartment at once, but not for long. I got somewhere close to 20 packages out, which I felt pretty good about. It was important to make sure we didn't have any lingering orders, since we'll be out of town tomorrow. Other than that, once Erica finished her marketing moonlighting, we brewed two simultaneous test batches in my kitchen and bottled some older batches. We're getting our holiday flavors ready, and so far, they smell really good. We'll know soon how they'll taste; we think they'll be good.
Day 3: Thursday, October 1
Roadtrip. We are taking the truck up to Massachusetts and Rhode Island to do some large pick- ups from our wholesalers. Stephen's landlord hasn't been too keen on the whole business, so we've been forgoing freight deliveries until we move into the new larger elevator space next month. So it's Stephen behind the wheel, as I am still a bit terrified of driving the truck - especially in the city. The compromise is that I will respond to all the emails and send over the wholesale orders. Stephen worked it out so that we can use his iPhone as a wireless router when we are driving, so it's like a moving office. The only problem is my forever-dead laptop - we were hoping to get through a couple more weeks of sales before having to purchase a new one. And as much as using the truck as nap time sounds appealing to me, we both know we can't afford to lose any time so we stop off in Connecticut and buy a new 13-inch MacBook Pro - it's lovely.
I get started putting together the orders for our wholesaler; we need more parts for the kits, lots of special orders, a few emergency yeast packages which we normally buy directly from the manufacturer. We head to the MA wholesaler first (they are only 40 minutes away from each other) because they close earlier; load up the truck and promise that we will give them 24-hours notice next time and stop placing orders from the road. We're slightly worried that they aren't taking our holiday quantities that seriously, as we buy large amounts of the items that go into the kits and then low amounts for special orders. Need to remember to place some really large orders for delivery to the new place. Call the second wholesaler from the parking lot to make sure the order we placed through their main office got to them. Realize we got the closing times backwards and that the RI wholesaler is actually closing in 10 minutes and may not have the man power to get our 1200 pounds of grain to the loading dock - an order that hasn't yet been sent from headquarters.
What can we do? We can't go back without the grain; we need it for the Apple Crisp Ale we are coming out with this weekend. I call my mom on the MA North Shore and tell her we are staying there for the night. We figure while we are waiting for a call back (they are only calling if it can be done and as it is already 4 p.m. we are assuming it can't) we will head to Buzzards Bay Brewery to check it out and pick up a growler. Driving right past it we end up at a farm stand where we bought orchid apples and two pumpkins to improve our moods. Drive back and go up to a brewery that looks more like a farmhouse. Once inside things rapidly improve - we get an impromptu tour of their fabulous (and carbon-neutral) facility discuss contract brewing options (we think we will be serving up samples at the holiday market and are worried about how to produce that much) and fill up a growler. Heading out we get the best call ever - someone stayed late at the warehouse and our order is on the dock! I thank them profusely promising them beer and treats and first-borns.
We head back to RI to get our order. When we get to the loading dock we have another surprise - they have left out snacks for us! And a couple long sleeved shirts we load up the truck and head back to New York listening to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma on tape. We get back to Brooklyn at 1:30am - it's been one of our longest days. We drag up as much as we can handle. Park the car and pass out.
Day 4: Friday, October 2
The good thing about street cleaning is that it forces you to have an early start to your day. Stephen finds a new space for the truck and I start prepping for making kits and our new flavor: Apple Crisp Ale. We realize that in all the wholesaler confusion last night that we forgot we said we would drop off a small order. When he gets back, we put on the fifth season of "Charles in Charge" and get to work. We've been watching "Charles in Charge," starting from the beginning, as we make kits. Assembling the mixes always takes much longer than we think and all of a sudden it's after 6 p.m. - roommates are getting home - we're starving and we still aren't close to done. Order some food, crack open the Buzzard's Bay glower, and keep working until 11. Set the alarm for 6 a.m., knowing that we still have to put together the special orders and print out more instructions.
Day 5: Saturday, October 3
Market Day. People always tell us that it must be nice to only have to work two days a week. Of course if that were true, the last four entries would probably read more like "Day 1, went on a bike ride. Only working two days a week is great." That of course isn't the case. We do the market twice a week at the Brooklyn Flea. It's a curated market in the middle of Brooklyn that has some of the best vintage clothing, furniture, and record shops in the city for two days a week. It also showcases some of the best food proprietors in the city, so it's safe to say that we spend more than we should at the market, but we eat well and that's what's important (at least to our stomachs).
The weather today was pretty good, especially after last week, which was a bit soggier. Soggy days are never fun, but except for very exceptional exceptions, we try to come out no matter the weather, since we have special orders and kits sold for pickup. Most people brew Saturdays or Sundays, so they rely on us to have what they need to start brewing rain or shine.
We had just been placed in a shiny new corner spot, which is great for us because we get to have more inventory on the table and get to mill grain more comfortably using our table-mounted mill. The corner spot also allows customers to mill themselves - in case they want to feel as if they really did everything for the brew - which is a good feeling. I'm usually thrilled when people want to mill themselves, as it frees Erica and me up to get the person's hops and yeast from the cooler or help someone else if it's really busy.
It's interesting to see how the market days have progressed since we've started this venture. In the beginning, we had to explain to every single person exactly what these tiny bags of grain were on our table. Most people had never conceived of making beer in small apartments, so we would talk for five minutes, they would walk away, come back in 20 and either buy one or tell us they'd be back next week. Now that we've had a good deal of word-of-mouth and press attention, people have started coming to the market just to grab a kit, so it means we don't feel like we're making every sale ourselves at the stand. People are coming back for refills and telling their friends how good their beer came out, so I guess we should be paying them and not the other way around.
All in all, it was a good day; we sold out of most of our kits. The Well Made Tripel was the first to go followed by the Apple Crisp Ale, which we started with a lot more of since today was its coming out day. Selling out is great for really obvious reasons. Even better than making more money, is the joy of not carrying more things up the stairs at the end of the day. Soon we hope to have a freight elevator (and some employees), so my back won't hurt as much. Until then, we'll be working two days a week by ourselves, of course. Never mind the other five - those are just us having fun.
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