Lager Lessons: What Beer Can Teach You About Business

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I just finished reading Quench Your Own Thirst by Jim Koch, the owner, and brewer at Boston Beer Company. If you remember from the beginning of the year, I spoke about goals and how to set attainable ones.  

This year one of my goals was to read a book per month. I’ll let you know I got off to a great start. I read a book a month until about April. Then life happened, business got crazy and I no longer wanted to come home and read like a good business person should.

A couple months ago I was talking to one of my mentors and he told me that he just read a book. I stopped him mid-sentence and asked him how he finds time to read when he’s running a business and how he feels like reading when he gets home. He told me he doesn’t. I looked at him a little weird and he answered with one word that is now music (or words) to my ears… Audible.

Audible is an audiobook site subscription that offers tons of books for affordable prices. I looked into this and suddenly I was reading (or listening) to three… THREE books per month. I have never done that before. Especially when I was working full time.

Back to the beer now.

I recently finished Jim Koch’s book and it is now one of my favorite books. Not only does he go through his trials and errors but he tells you throughout the book how he learned from them. He gets deep with you on what makes his beer different and shares with you how his beer pioneered the craft brewing industry.

Just do it

Jim wasn’t a sales person and now that he had his beer he needed to sell it. He knew he needed to but approaching people he didn’t know to tell them about a product he was so passionate about… What if they didn’t like it? What if they told me to just get out?

Then the phone rang. It was his uncle. His uncle asked, “Jim what are you doing now?” Jim said, “Sitting here working.” What he really meant was procrastinating and doing office work that he dreamt up. His uncle proceeded to tell him that with a good product and no sales there was no product.

The conversation ended, Jim took a deep breath, loaded up his briefcase with beer, ice packs and cups and started towards his first bar.

What this should tell you is that even Jim Koch didn’t want to do cold calling or drops, whatever you call it. But after his uncle’s advice, he went out and sold his first beer. Here’s the story of that below.

His first sale

He got there and walked in saw someone behind the bar and started with his pitch, “Hi, my name’s Jim Koch and I’m the owner and brewer of Boston Beer Company. We have a new beer that’s full of flavor called Samuel Adams.”

He noticed the guy was nodding his head and he hadn’t kicked him out so he continued. “Our beer is made from ingredients we hand select and is full of flavor. Would you like to try a sample?”

Now he saw another person rush out and say, “Umm can I help you?”

It turns out Jim was talking to a bar back who didn’t speak English. A bar back is the person who stocked the ice and cleaned up- not exactly his best contact.

The owner was the one who ran out probably wondering who the guy in a suit with a briefcase was doing taking to one of his employees who happened to not speak English.

So Jim started again, let him taste the beer and landed his first sale. He was so excited he went back to the office to call his partner who was equally as excited. She said, “Jim that’s great! How many cases did he buy?” Jim thought for a minute and said, “Shoot!” He was so excited about the sale he forgot to ask him how many cases he wanted. And that was the beginning.

If that doesn’t make you laugh, I don’t know what will. Honestly, when I listened to that part I felt relieved. There were so many times I could have done something better, asked more questions or even not forgotten what I needed to say. The first time is always the hardest and he directly relayed that.

How He Started

Jim Koch was working for a consulting company and most would say it was a promising job, but he kept his eye on the beer industry. His father, his father’s father, and even his fathers, fathers father had all been brewers. He was the sixth generation brewer so he grew up with the craft all around him.

One night he came home to tell his dad, “Dad, I’ve decided to quit my job and pursue brewing like you.” His dad turned to him and said, “Jim, you’ve done a lot of stupid things but this one is the dumbest of all!”

Before you judge his dad for having such little faith, you must know that his family never made much money off of brewing. They worked for others and his dad hopped from brewery to brewery.

Jim sat his dad down and explained that there was a huge opportunity within the beer realm. He believed that people didn’t want tasteless and bland beer, they wanted beer with flavor, beer with personality and a beer that spoke to them.

After the conversation, his dad got up, looked at him and said, “Jim, if you’re going to do this I know just where to start.

He motioned for him to follow and went upstairs to the attic. He dug through the old papers and exclaimed, “Here it is!” with a proud look on his face. It was an old family beer recipe from the 1800s.

This was their first beer, Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

I thought his start was one of the best parts of the book. His family thought he’d be the first one to go to college and get a job in the corporate world, but he always kept his eye on the beer industry. Taking his past knowledge and relating it to an industry where he saw a niche is true innovation.

Trial And Error

Throughout the book, Jim spoke about trials and tribulations. He mentioned he tried to make a drink with beer and tea. The first name bombed and they lost money on it. Then, a year or so later, they rebranded it and called it Twisted Tea. It then hit the ground running.

From this story, he advised trying things again if they don’t work the first time. In the original version of the tea, they had someone’s name in it. A rock band also had that name and ended up sending the a cease and desist for the name usage. They gave it some time, studied the market again, rebranded and launched it. In 2013, Twisted Tea brought in over $82 million dollars in sales. Talk about a comeback.

Even though this seems more like a book review than an actual blog post, I have to tell you that these stories are just scratching the surface. The book goes into further detail about when he took on Anheuser-Busch, how he escaped a bad, really bad, PR episode and how he overcame many failures to become the billionaire he is today. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “We may not take ourselves seriously but we do take our beer seriously.” 

Cheers.  

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