It’s a little ridiculous all the hats a brewery owner has to wear just to keep their business going. Even before you first fire up the brewing system, you have to make hundreds of decisions, small and large. The initial planning stages can take months if not years, with questions about location, type of building and zoning restrictions, negotiating the lease, dealing with demo or build out, meeting electrical and plumbing codes, and then tap room design, managing employees, among dozens more topics, all before a single drop of beer is poured. Whether you’re only thinking about getting into the business or have been in operation for years, there is value in seeking out professional advice from brewery consultants.
These individuals range from wide ranging experts that can help you properly research, design, and install your brewing system, locate floor drains, suggest glycol systems, assist in drafting recipes and designing your portfolio, as well as come into your existing operation and help with small tweaks in production, distribution, or other management issues.
Many brewery workers have deep experience in all aspects of the business while others specialize in particular areas, such as draft systems installation and maintenance or designing hazy IPAs. In deciding which consultant to bring on board, let’s look at a few common questions you should consider.
What Do You Need Help With?
One of the first questions a consultant is going to ask is, “what are you looking for a consultant to help you with?” Before you start sending out emails and making calls to consultants, take time and identify your areas of greatest concern. Unless you’re looking to spend a lot of money (more than $100,000 in some cases) to have someone help you make every decision, focusing on a few key areas for assistance can save time and money. If you’re looking to open a new brewery and you lack prior operational experience, that might mean hiring someone to help you research, select, and ultimately assist in installing equipment. Or crafting a workable budget. You may be able to manage researching all the local regulations and state rules either yourself or with the assistance of a nearby attorney or any local or state brewers’ guilds. For more specific tasks, enlisting a consultant to help with concrete yet complicated tasks is where they add the most value.
Ask Others In The Industry
Once you have identified the areas you need help with, take a moment to determine who is best suited to assist you. Can the questions be answered by undertaking your own research? Or inquiring of the local brewers guild? If the list of questions is small enough or specific, you also should reach out to other brewers, whether in your home market or even across the country. Brewers routinely rely on one another to address issues of concern in their breweries. For those new to the trade, attending beer industry events, such as the Craft Brewers Conference, offers invaluable networking opportunities in advance of opening. The craft beer industry has a reputation for openness and sharing that is rarely found in other competitive industries. Many brewers are willing to give advice to aspiring brewers so long as the questions are focused. Respect their time and knowledgeable brewers will often respond in kind.
The First Meeting And Scope Of Work
Once you have narrowed your areas of inquiry, it’s time to make the approach and interview consultants. Just as with replacing a roof or buying a new car, it’s important to conduct a broad search and get several cost estimates. In the first conversation, you should ask the consultant about their background and experience in the brewing industry, specifically focusing on whether they have expertise in your areas of need. Ask what types of breweries they have worked or consulted for, including type of operation, size of system, locations, and the positions they have held. Make sure their experience and expertise align with your present needs. A brewery HR expert certainly can help your operation but not if you need someone to help select the most efficient hot liquor tank. Ask the consultant to discuss their approach to assessing a brewery’s needs, including their future operational requirements based on growth expectations. Inquire about their approach to working with clients, how they respond to feedback or concerns from clients, and how they work with clients to implement changes.
When conducting the interviews, it may seem obvious but fit and personal compatibility are key components to any successful consulting arrangement. Does the consultant appear easy to work with, do they answer questions directly and with authority, and will they work collaboratively with you and your staff? The consultant should also be able to address how they will communicate with you during the project, the types of progress reports to be expected, and when the project will be considered complete.
Though it can be an uncomfortable moment in the conversation for some, it’s also important to be direct and ask about the costs associated with their services. Ask about their fee structure, whether it’s on an hourly or project basis, and whether they require a retainer payment. Understanding the scope of your project is key to appreciating and analyzing the quoted fees. You will also want to confirm whether any other expenses, such as travel, are included in the quote or will be billed separately.
Also ask about the consultant’s availability to work on the project, as time sensitive projects may require advanced booking. The consultant should also be able to give you a timeline of how long the consulting engagement will last. The consultant should also be able to answer what deliverables and outcomes you can expect from their services.
Check Their References
Before you conclude your consultant interviews, be sure to ask them for references from other clients, especially those who have previously pursued projects similar to yours. There is often no better way to judge the fit of a consultant than to speak with others who have used their services. Follow-up with these references and ask for their advice on how to manage the project. Brewers are often friendly people and will tell you straight, whether good or bad. Conducting your due diligence in advance of hiring a consultant will help you avoid costly mistakes.