11 tips for making your craft rebound work for you

Breweries, taprooms and pubs are slowly (and we mean slowly) getting back to business—but it is not business as usual. Who knows if it ever will be. Many brewers have scrambled to make at least some sales since the pandemic shuttered bars and businesses. Without much warning, they made changes on the fly and had to learn what worked and what didn’t as they tested their ideas in real time.

Reopening is a different story. You know it is coming. So plan for it.

Before you swing your doors open—at least all the way—gather your team and create a firm strategy for regaining your footing in an economy that is sure to recover very slowly.

Here are 11 tips for making a solid sales plan that will help your brewery recover:

1. Brainstorm

Often, the most creative solutions come from employees who work on the front lines. They know what is working and what is not. They hear customers and vendors talking. Gather your team and bat around ideas. Require attendance. Close the doors. Spend all day. Allow for pie-in-the-sky talk; some sliver of an out-there idea might actually be practical. Write every idea on a white board or flip chart so it is visible and does not get forgotten. Tweak the ideas. Talk about them. Truly consider them. If you rule out any suggestions, have a good reason.

2. Research

Find out what other brewers are doing. Call acquaintances you have met at conventions. Read articles about innovators in the field. It is possible your brewery needs to reinvent itself to survive government restrictions and reluctant patrons. If another brewer has a great idea that might work for your shop, get in touch.

3. Innovate

Pre-pandemic operations inevitably will look different post-pandemic. Resist the temptation to stick with what worked before, even though that is the comfortable option. Chances are, it will not work anymore—at least in the short-term.

Instead, look for new ways to sell your product. Look for a new audience of buyers. Some brewers are successfully selling their craft beers online, directly to consumers. Others—in areas where to-go brew is legal—have started curbside service. Consider it. Decide if it is for you. Plan your strategy. Try it.

4. Comply

Know precisely what your state and local governments are allowing and not allowing—and then follow the law to the letter. Among the worst things that can happen: You get shut down as soon as you reopen, especially if you sell your brew in a pub or taproom, beer lovers need to feel safe and relaxed. A government sanction will chase those paying customers away.

5. Delay

It might sound counterintuitive, but do not do too much too soon. Do not open until you are ready. In your plan, include a realistic timeline for opening, bringing employees back to work, introducing new features or products, offering specials and hosting events. Phase in your new processes and ideas. You do not have to do it all on the first day, but you should know—on the first day—what you will be doing over the coming months.

Once you put your plan into action, you and your staff will learn from experience what is working and what is not. One of the best ways to know that is to ask your customers, distributors and vendors for their opinions.

6. Add

If you have a pub or taproom and indoor seating is not allowed, add outdoor seating. Create a full menu of gourmet snacks to pair with flights. Expand your food menu. Introduce a new brew. “New” is enticing to existing customers and could bring in some beer lovers who want more than you used to offer.

A caveat: Do not throw spaghetti at the wall and hope something sticks. Introduce changes only once you have thought them through and feel well prepared to deliver on your promises.

7. Localize

Consumers have a soft spot for local businesses and many are going out of their way to patronize them. Target your own neighborhood with ads in local media; fliers; social media posts; and even car wraps to let the hometown crowd know you’re back in business. Offer special perks to those with local addresses.

8. Overthink

Delve into the weeds with your plan. Do not stop with the idea. If you are going to add patio seating, it is not enough to know that. Also plan for how many tables will fit according to social distancing rules; whether you need umbrellas or patio heaters; how your staff will accommodate customers if it rains; which hours you will be open; and who will prepare and serve the food and beer.

9. Anticipate

A good plan takes today’s circumstances into consideration. A great one anticipates what’s next and helps the business prepare for it.

What will your brewery do if the pandemic worsens over the winter, as some health experts are predicting? How will your business survive if the governor orders it to close again? If fewer customers than expected show up when you reopen, how will you attract more? If sales to distributors remain slim, how will you get them to buy more?

Plan how your company will react and respond to the unexpected: huge crowds; lack of business; sick employees; understocked vendors.

10. Write

A well thought-out plan in your head will never be as successful as one that you write down. Create a written plan. Circulate it among the staff for feedback. Tweak it as needed. Put it in order so everyone will know what to do first and what is coming up.

11. Rewrite

A sales or business plan should always be flexible enough to change when something unexpected occurs; when an idea winds up falling flat; or when a new opportunity presents itself.

During these uncertain times, revisit your plan every couple of weeks. Evaluate how the planned activities are working. Look at the next steps of your strategy. Do they still make sense?

Once you put your plan into action, you and your staff will learn from experience what is working and what is not. One of the best ways to know that is to ask your customers, distributors and vendors for their opinions.

That is also one of the nicest ways to show your appreciation to customers—especially those who choose your business once they have options again. Include them in your plan so you will know what they like and want. And then plan to give it to them.

Dr. Cindy McGovern is known as the “First Lady of Sales.” She speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership, and is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller “Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work.” Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales management and consulting firm in San Francisco.