Like the brewers who are our customers, our company has seen plenty of ups and downs over the years. Also like those brewers, we have had to get creative over the past few months to keep our customers supplied.
Our observation: We’ve seen as much change in the past two months as we saw in the previous 10 years. What follows is the perspective of a supplier to the craft beverage industry—specifically, this is the view from the team at Grandstand.
Realization: We're here. Now what?
The shutdown seemed to happen overnight. The initial shock and realization—“this is really happening”—took hold for the thousands of individuals working in the craft beverage industry. Then panic set in: How can we survive this shutdown when a majority of our business is tied up in the on-premise consumption of our product? How does this impact the people working in the industry? What about our vendors—even if we find short-term solutions, can they keep the supply chain open? The domino effect was evident.
For Grandstand, this worked both ways. When the shutdown became a reality, the first actions were assessment and evaluation. With a large part of our business reliant on the success of the craft beverage industry, we had to take action.
Even today it’s a balancing act. At what point in the supply chain will there be a stoppage? And how can the next entity in line quickly pivot to fill that gap, so that everyone downstream can maintain continuity?
At Grandstand, we first had to figure out how we could structure ourselves to survive. This wasn’t about reorganization. It was about trying to determine the comfort level of employees given the environment. Then it was about determining if we had a product that could help our customer base in the industry. The immediate need was to ensure that breweries survive.
Once you establish your bearings, it’s about communicating along the chain to set expectations for everyone. We’re open for you, lead times, safety measures—one cannot over-communicate. We can do our part to help navigate.
Collaboration: What can we learn from each other?
As suddenly as things changed in the beginning, the industry quickly began to rally together to find new, creative ways to get product to their customers. Selling beer to-go became the default; in many places where it wasn’t legal, officials adjusted the regulations to allow it. Some breweries joined forces for release events. Distilleries packaged cocktails to-go. Many in the industry co-marketed with bundled packages; festivals became virtual events; industry experts held at-home tastings; and all raced to produce hand sanitizer. Along the way, many in the industry have gone from a state of just trying to survive to one where sustainability is beginning to look more feasible.
So, we at Grandstand had to ask ourselves: How could we continue to serve the craft beer industry? What did brewers need that Grandstand could provide? We needed a plan to ensure that everyone had a viable product and company after the situation passes.
“You don’t think about making a profit in these situations,” says Chris Piper, president of Grandstand. “You think about how you can do your part to collectively get through this as businesses and as partners.” It takes assessing the situation and environment before communicating with customers to set expectations, allowing them to plan next steps.
Enter, the Growler.
The old standby that introduced many brewers to the industry—the familiar jug itself is essentially a symbol of the American microbrewing revolution—has faced its share of competition in recent years. New bottle designs such as Pallas, Boston Rounds, stainless—and of course, the aluminum crowler—all chipped away at the 64-ounce staple that had become a fixture in most breweries.
It really became about all bottles—32-ounce to two-liter. Anything that could be filled and sealed was the item of the day.
For Grandstand, it was a coordination of efforts with all suppliers. We modified our business model to quick-ship blank product out to brewers who needed it immediately. Knowing that each link in that chain just needed to hold, how could we coordinate with manufacturers to negotiate the best prices, so that brewery customers can stretch their much-needed dollar at this time?
We estimate that by working with manufacturers to get the costs down on products—and to discount those products the industry needed most—we have been able to pass a total savings of about $150,000 to our customers.
At times we had to tap our network to source items that would have seemed odd a few months ago—shifting from bottles with caps for beer, to bottles with pumps for hand sanitizer.
Operations: How do we adjust to make this sustainable?
Good news: Beer-to-go is here to stay. Many in the industry have adapted quickly to that model. However, there are pressing questions:
- What size of an operational structure do you have to have in order to remain sustainable and keep up with demand?
- How do you flex your operations to adapt to a rapidly evolving environment?
- Bottles were once the primary focus, but our customers were looking for ideas. How can they extend their intimate taproom experience to their customer’s homes? The demand was there.
- How can you structure the operational model to sustain… and then build as it grows?
Brand: How do we get back to positioning our brand for tomorrow?
Is brand part of your reopening strategy? What’s the path forward?
To many, it will seem counterintuitive—or even inappropriate—to think about how to merch in this environment. This is understandable. However, brand is powerful. Customers (and people in general) want to commemorate every aspect of their lives—events, milestones, accomplishments, celebrations. Honestly, a reopening event checks off all of these boxes. As states begin to reopen in phases, so too will craft breweries—sooner or later. Even if it can’t be a gathering, what are you doing for your reopening? What are you brewing to celebrate it?
For customers who believe in their local breweries and want to support them, this can be a crowdfunding project of sorts. Breweries should already have some form of brand awareness, established before everything shut down. So, how can you kit a welcome pack? A commemorative one-time growler, T-shirt, sticker, and koolie? The possibilities are many.
Breweries will reopen.
Hospitality won’t return as quickly as it seemed to vanish, but the ingenuity that propelled craft beer to its unique form of success is still there, coping with the unexpected.