Small Business Spotlight of the Week: Penn Brewery

For some reason (probably age discrimination), I have the reputation at the office for being a booze hound. But in reality, I have one true love: beer.  If you haven’t gotten the memo, craft beer is is a huge movement in the United States.  The Brewer’s Association reports that in 2011, craft beer had blossomed into an $8.7 billion industry. There were almost 2,000 craft breweries or brew pubs in operation, which is the highest that’s number been since the 1880’s.  That means no matter what region you live in, there’s probably a local brew pub with unique brews, meads, and barley wines to try.

If you live on the East Coast, you should check out this week’s spotlight: Penn Brewery.   Founded in 1986– when craft beer was in its infancy– Penn Brewery consistently produces quality and interesting beers, from Czech-style pilsners to chocolate stouts. Beer Advocate (my website obsession) ranked the brewery overall as exceptional. Penn Brewery and its restaurant are located in Pittsburgh, but you can find where to buy it here.

Co-owner and director of marketing, Linda, talked to me some more about what’s brewing at Penn:

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

I co-own a microbrewery & restaurant and also serve as its marketing director.  I am responsible for our advertising, public relations, our mailers, our label designs, promotions, and many of our online programs, including our website. I spend much of my day writing.

What are some industry specific challenges you faced?

The craft beer industry is growing rapidly, and that means that there are literally thousands of beer brands that we compete against.  Because craft beer consumers like variety and are always eager to try something new, we must constantly develop new products to keep our line fresh.  Another challenge that we face is that beer is a regulated industry, both at the national and state levels, meaning that we have many, many legal guidelines to take into consideration when we manufacture, market, and sell our products.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

Simply learning about beer and the beer industry.  Although I’d had more than twenty years of packaged goods marketing experience when I got involved with Penn Brewery, I had never worked in the beer industry itself.

What made you use crowdSPRING? 

Because Penn Brewery is a small business, we need to be especially careful about controlling our costs.  Yet we don’t want cost control to equal subpar quality.  CrowdSPRING attracted me because I loved the idea of getting professional design work at a price I knew I could afford.  I also liked the opportunity it afforded me to tap into a large talent pool and choose from among many different design concepts

What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?

I seemed to become a lot more popular once I owned a brewery! People are always eager to talk about beer and learn more about it, and they’re also very curious about what it’s like to be a woman in the beer industry.  I once even received a (tongue-in-cheek) marriage proposal from a man when he heard what I did for a living – and his wife was standing right next to him at the time!  I always say that buying a brewery did more for my social interaction skills than Dale Carnegie was ever able to.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

Yes.  I would have spent more time doing due diligence about the industry and the business structure, particularly the financials.  While you can certainly never anticipate every hiccup that will happen with your business, it’s always valuable to do scenario planning in advance and anticipate how you would handle various twists and turns.  That can help to minimize stress and anxiety, which can be extremely distracting to running the business.

How do you see your company growing in the future?

 We are based in Pittsburgh, but we sell in several additional states.  I anticipate driving growth by increasing brand awareness and trial in these outlying markets, as well as expanding distribution into new areas.

 Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.  

Work hard, and bring your checkbook.

Penn Brewery’s call for a 25th anniversary t-shirt logo received 39 entries.