Archive for September 2013

Butt Kicking 101


I met several people at this year’s National Homebrewers Conference in Philadelphia who are interested in opening their own brewery. One of them asked me what was the most important skill they would need.

I can think of many. Perseverance is a big one. You can’t let the enormity of things stop you and you need to keep putting one foot in front of the other if you are going to succeed in this business.

Usually I answer, “business skills.” People need to know how to run a manufacturing business (production brewery) or a retail alcohol/food business (brewpub or tasting room). I think most breweries fail from a lack of common business knowledge. I know that is where I am weakest and we have incurred some setbacks because of it.

Once, for whatever reason, I told one person that butt kicking was high on the list. Based on my recent experience, it is perhaps the most used skill in getting a new brewery built. Everyone acknowledges your deadlines/specifications/budget, but almost nobody wants to follow them. Perhaps they are too used to dealing with large corporations or the government, where money flows free and the person in charge is not the person supplying the money. That isn’t to say you can’t get people who will do great work at a fair price in a reasonable time. But if you’re going in with that expectation, you will be disappointed more often than not.

“Oh sure, that is no problem, we can do that,” is how the discussion goes before you sign a contract. But inevitably, delays, cost overages, failed parts, misunderstandings, and a whole pile of other stuff starts falling in your lap. You have no choice at that point. It is usually too late to switch to another vendor at that point if you want to open in the same decade you started.

And that is where your butt kicking skills come in, but you can’t just start swinging for the fences. Great butt kicking, the most effective butt kicking, is a skill, perhaps an art. Sometimes it just takes a little tap. If you are too hard, you ruin the relationship. Sometimes you need lots of little taps and other times you need one bigger thump. But whatever you do, back it up with the written word.

When you agree with someone to provide a service or sell you some product, put it in writing. Detail what it is you’re getting and detail what it is you will pay. The more detail the better. If they balk at putting what they’ve been saying down on paper, let them walk. Someone telling you the truth will not hesitate to put those same words on paper.

Keep in mind that your power comes from your own backbone and the fact that you hold the money. Never give anyone all the money up front or you will have given him or her all the power. Even when purchasing equipment, don’t accept anyone’s claim that 100% of the payment is due up front. See if they will take 50% down and 50% on receipt. Most significant purchases are done on terms, so don’t be afraid to ask.

And when it comes to needing to kick a little butt, realize that sometimes a gentle kick is more effective than a powerful one, but back it up with paper.