Insights you’ll take away from this episode:
- 3:06: Build with your community. If you need to get quick feedback on the quality of a product you want to take to market, consider the low-cost approach of tapping into your friends, family and neighbours. When John and Brett wanted feedback on their beers, they held tasting parties that included free beer. The only caveat was that attendees had to leave an honest review on everything they tried.
- 6:34: Be prepared to have open and tough conversations about your expectations for your business. The duo speak to the importance of coming to the table with your partners ready to discuss how much time and money everyone is truly able to invest.
- 12:57: Are your operations sized to meet the opportunity of your addressable market? Odd Company quickly realized that their production facility could only pour enough beer to serve loyal taproom customers, while further operational inefficiencies limited their output. To reach more customers, you may have to consider expansion, which comes with greater financial commitments. A new location should consider the ease of access for potential new customers.
- 16:47: Attractive rates are one part of choosing a financial partner. Consider the expertise and support they can provide on the back end.
- 19:49: Remain flexible, collaborative and confident. Plans don’t always work out, but if you have faith in the product you’re selling, adversity is much easier to overcome.
Brewery overcomes pandemic challenges to expand
The partners behind Odd Company Brewing started making beer in university as a more affordable way to drink more and experiment with new flavours. Now, the Edmonton company is preparing to open its second taproom and production space with the support of a specialized lending program for craft brewers through CWB Franchise Finance.
The path to this point hasn’t always been easy. Not long after opening Odd Company’s first taproom in Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood, the owners faced production constraints and the pandemic.
“Immediately we sat down and looked at each other and said, ‘We need to figure out something now or we won’t be able to pay rent,’” says co-owner Brett Loree about their reaction to the pandemic. He and John Toman, who manages Odd Company day-to-day, came up with the idea to deliver beer with an old Chevy pickup truck they’d previously used to haul concrete.
“We wrote on the side of it with dirt, took a picture of John hanging out of the window with gloves and a mask on, and said, ‘Hey, you guys can't leave your house, but we'll come to you,’” Loree tells Canadian Western Bank’s business podcast, Growth Decoder, about the creative pivot. “We didn't know if we were allowed to do it. We didn't know if people would be receptive to having beer from a little brewery show up on their doorstep.”
Luckily, people were receptive. Beer fans kept the truck busy over the weeks that followed, and when patios were allowed to open again, they showed up in all kinds of weather for pints in the open air. The partners expanded the patio as much as possible, but limited taproom and brewing space remained a challenge.
They had been cautious about investing in too large a space when they were first looking for a taproom spot. “Honestly, we were scared,” Loree says. “We had no clue what people were going to say to us.”
They hadn’t planned to focus on wholesale, and didn’t have the space. They ended up turning down multiple wholesale inquiries, which would have brought in revenue to help ease the pandemic pressure.
Odd Company’s second location will take them from 900 square feet of brewing space to 4,500. The decision to expand wasn’t made lightly; the owners considered whether to remain a small local business or adapt to serve a larger market. Despite the ongoing threat of the pandemic, they decided to push forward with the help of CWB.
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A development loan and streamlined financing helped Odd Company acquire a space large enough to accommodate new equipment that will increase production and account for future expansion. Working with a financial services partner that has a specialized understanding of the brewing industry was important to the owners, as they wanted a bank that could support them going forward.
“Odd Company has a quality product and brand, and that, along with their position in a developing market, gives them room to grow,” says Cam Moser, Senior Manager of Craft Brewery Finance. “They have great potential to expand locally in different value streams where they don’t have a heavy presence, as well as in adjacent provinces.”
Odd Company plans to open its second location in the spring of 2023, south of Whyte Avenue in an area dubbed Happy Beer Street because of all the craft breweries there.
Moser says the diverse backgrounds of the owners — two engineers, two chemists, an accountant and a realtor — have allowed them to contribute in different capacities to the company’s growth.
“It’s a cohesive group that is aligned in the scope and direction of their business,” Moser adds. “We're excited to help them reach their goals.”