Crafting Help For Small Businesses

By Michele Parente
The San Diego Union-Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While it was decades ago, the trials and tribulations of starting a business are vivid for Jim Koch. That’s one of the reasons the “Sam Adams” founder is doing what he can to help small businesses launch and succeed. His “Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program,” provides micro-loans and mentoring to small business owners in the food and beverage industry.

The San Diego Union-Tribune

Back in 1984, when Jim Koch started brewing beer out of his kitchen, he thought he had the recipe for success — a quality product and passion.

But when he officially founded the Boston Beer Co., he realized his recipe for Samuel Adams Boston Lager was missing a couple of ingredients.

“I had a JD from Harvard, an MBA from Harvard, yet I didn’t know how to set up a payroll, how to make a sales call, how to negotiate a lease, how to get PR, 20 things like that that were very important,” Koch said in an interview.

He also didn’t have any financing. “Nobody would give me a loan when I started Sam Adams. Every bank turned me down,” he said.
“That’s what it’s like to be a very small business.”

Today, Sam Adams notches $950 million in annual sales and though that represents just 1 percent of total beer sales in the U.S., the company is a giant in the craft beer world.

Despite its size, Koch insists the company remains committed to its modest roots and in 2008 launched the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program, which provides microloans and mentoring to small business owners in the food and beverage industry.

On July 25, the program will come to San Diego for one of four regional pitch room competitions and free speed coaching sessions with experts in the fields of marketing and e-commerce, packaging, sales and distribution, business financing and law.

Small business owners chosen for the pitch competition — think “Shark Tank” without the shark-ish behavior — will have two minutes to pitch a panel on their product or business concept to win a chance to move on to the final round in Boston, in December. The national winner takes home a $10,000 business grant, plus personalized coaching sessions from Sam Adams executives and employees.

Koch said to date, Brewing the American Dream, in partnership with microlender Accion, has loaned about $10 million to 1,000 small businesses across the country. The program has coached approximately 5,000 businesses.

One of those was ChuckAlek, a small, Ramona-based craft brewery.

ChuckAlek’s co-owners and husband-and-wife team, Marta Jankowska and Grant Fraley, were participating in American Dream in 2014 when they were selected for some special treatment: the 2015 Samuel Adams Craft Beer Experienceship, a yearlong mentoring program.

The couple received all-expense-paid trips to Boston, where they met with company officials — including Koch — about everything from marketing to financing. ChuckAlek brewed a collaboration beer with Sam Adams, and got to enter and attend the Great American Beer Festival contest, the country’s biggest, in Denver. Janakoska was also sent on a tour of breweries in Bavaria with the Pink Boots Society, a beer industry group for women.

Reflecting recently on all the high-flying hoopla of the Experienceship, Jankowska said she and Fraley came away with more than just padded frequent-flier accounts.

“Jim (Koch) really honed in very quickly on our business plan and how we were going to grow,” Jankowska said. “He didn’t just say, ‘dream big,’ he was very specific: ‘What are your revenue streams, what are your numbers, how much beer do you plan to produce, and how many people do you need in the door to be profitable?'”

Among the mentoring the couple received were meetings with the Sam Adams PR and marketing team on label design and how to maximize social media, and the sales team for help in building their own retail infrastructure and distribution.

Since then, Fraley and Jankowska have made two substantive changes to how they operate their business and their strategy for how to make it grow. They’ve diversified the kind of beer they brew — adding tentpole beers, or more crowd-pleasing styles, to attract new customers — and, opening a second location, the ChuckAlek Biergarten, in beer-centric North Park, earlier this year.

“Our motto is we make old school brews for new school palates, but Jim was honest with us that today’s market doesn’t favor those types of styles. He said, ‘You have to come up with a cash cow and use that to help you follow your passion.’ We had a pretty difficult road accepting that’s how it works.”

The couple decided to brew sour blonde beers, introducing a new fruit flavor each month and found that customers will try them and if they like them, move on to ChuckAlek’s porters, ales and lagers rooted in traditional European beers.

Jankowska noted that the most popular of the sour blondes is the watermelon flavored.

“We never would have made that before going to Boston,” she said, laughing.

“I think having that nudge from Jim — ‘look, you need to do this’ — helped us,” she said.

The Experienceship experience, she said, “moved our business forward in leaps and bounds. I had no idea what to expect, but I couldn’t even begin to image this.”

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