The Gap: Our 2019 NC Craft Brewers Conference Recap

Alright, so we’re a week back from the NC Craft Brewers Conference…

And what an amazing conference! The NC Brewers Guild knows how to put on an A+ performance.

nc craft brewers conference presentation image
Me dropping knowledge on an unsuspecting NC Craft Brewers Conference crowd.

Today I want to recap a few takeaways that I think reflect that state of the industry as a whole. Shoot, this may the precursor to my 2020 Craft Predictions.

Here’s what we saw:

Takeaway #1: 80/20 still rules the day

The large majority (roughly 200 out of 300) of the craft breweries in North Carolina produce less than 1,000 BBL. These businesses and fall squarely in the Proof of Concept category. For most, they’ll remain here in “labor of love” territory.

For some, it remains to be seen if they can break through, expand, and evolve. But for the most part our industry is still one with a flood a nanos, a small intermediate category of standouts who are off to the races in terms of growth, and a select few in each region that have achieved either incumbent (got there first) or pro (broke through on disciplined growth) status… and garner the lion’s share of attention and profits.

Takeaway #2: Brewery owners crave strategic direction…

But in SPECIFICS, not generalities.

Some of the questions we heard during the presentations:

“What are your recommendations for how to incorporate strategic planning into the day-to-day?”

“How do you get your team engaged in the process?”

“What should we be doing with our investor pool? Specifically should we be pulling investors into our vision and planning process? Should we involve them in developing and sharing our why?”

“How do we know when it’s time to stop something that isn’t working in the taproom (or anywhere else in the business for that matter), or when it’s time to push through?”

Most of you are creatives. You have a clear and compelling vision for the future of your product, who you want to serve, and the impact you want your brand to have.

The gap then, is in the systems perspective. The more mechanical, structural, day-to-day operations view of the business (the financials, the technology, the people management, the development and execution of the sales strategy, etc.).

This stuff comes naturally to the non-creatives: the MBAs, the COOs, the management consultants… ya know, the crew that would be (for the most part) royally screwed if they were put in charge of coming up with a can release concept, but thrive on numbers, flow charts, and accountabilities.

This is a puzzle piece most are missing. Which brings us to…

Takeaway #3: The presentations were HEAVY on sales, numbers, benchmarks, business development

Discussion of taproom events and “throat share” and outside sales compensation and territory expansion abound… with a full 60%+ of the this year’s NC Craft Brewers Conference sessions dedicated to growth, taproom, sales, and operations.

Conclusion: most breweries have the product handled. They’ve gone from 0 to 1 on the back of some recipes that people dig and built out the portfolio from there. Yes, there’s always new ground to cover and improvements to make…

But on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “holy hell we have no idea what we’re doing” and 5 being “we’ve got this,” technical brewing is at 4 and operations, strategy, and sales and marketing are just barely at a 2 (being generous here).

And kudos to Rich Greene, Jasmine Bamlet and Lisa Parker at the NCCBG for putting the focus on the needs in this area. Because bringing that 2 up to a 4 is the essential next step forward for most to bring their vision to fruition and build a sustainable, profitable business here to stay for the long haul.

Stir up any strong opinions for you?

Email me at and gimme your take.

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