Making Local Ties to New Markets

Photographs of Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis, MN. All images by Eliesa Johnson and The Restaurant Project ® .

Tom Whisenand​ thinks it’s​ amazing that ​a brewery had not yet cross pollinated by opening a facility in both Wisconsin and Minnesota​. The co-founder and Director of Operations for Minneapolis’ Indeed Brewing is doing just that with plans to open a second brewery in Milwaukee in the second quarter of 2019.

​​”A lot of it sort of shows up in rivalry whether it be the Vikings and the Packers​,​​ ​but it’s not a rivalry where people are beating each other up in the stands. It’s a friendly rivalry​,” he said​. ​”There’s always been a lot of Wisconsin kids that go to the University of Minnesota and a lot of Minnesota kids go to the University of Wisconsin and it’s just a very strong cultural​,​ family​​ and social connection between the two states and that’s really kind of what we’re building off of I think.​”

The idea came about around two years ago and Whisenand​ said it just kept sounding more and more like a good idea, both anecdotally and on paper. After talking to area breweries, retailers and distributors in Milwaukee, the brewery closed on a location in November.

It also adds a lot of flexibility and nimbleness to innovate, he added. The plan is for a 10-barrel brewhouse in Milwaukee that will be more experimental while Indeed will sell packaged product that are made in Minneapolis. The brewery is updating its branding to include both Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

“At the same time we can bring our kind of well-known taproom experience to Milwaukee,” Whisenand said. “We think it’s unique and it will fit well with the culture there. And we can take our charitable giving program that we do in Minneapolis and bring that to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, which we are excited about.”

​Entering a new market is always precarious, but being an outsider from another state can be a challenge, especially in a local-centric area like Wisconsin. ​

​”We’ve always kind of coveted Wisconsin as an opportunity to expand to in the future,” Whisenand said. “But it wasn’t something that we ever wanted to rush and we’ve always known since we started the brewery six years ago that eventually we wanted to sell beer in Wisconsin.

“We watched over the years as other Minnesota breweries or other regional breweries expanded their distribution into Wisconsin and we’ve just never thought that it looked like it was going very well for any of them. We just didn’t want to go into Wisconsin with blind faith that we’d be successful and we’ve always kind of wondered what would it take to be successful there.”

Whisenand said the brewery’s coming in “totally knowing that we are not necessarily local and that’s going to take time to sort of prove that we are truly committed to the market.”

“This isn’t some Panera Bread expansion. This is going to take years before we really look elsewhere,” he said. “A lot of our staff is from Wisconsin or has a direct family or social connections to Wisconsin and Milwaukee. But I think we have a good plan and we have honest intentions that will help us do that.”

He added that seeing how others did it drove the thought process over the years.

“Our brewery has always been really focused on not expanding far and wide for no reason,” Whisenand​ said. He added it was starting to get to be time where Minnesota was going good. They have made improvements to the brewery in Minneapolis to ensure quality of packaged products by upgrading to a 21-head rotary KHS can filler.

“So we get basic get no DO pickup, and that gave us confidence to send our beer further away,” Whisenand​ said.

Indeed started spending more time in Wisconsin and with 70 percent of their current volume being self-distributed packaging, they felt comfortable with a similar model for Wisconsin.

So in early 2018, they hired a sales rep in Milwaukee and gave him a cargo van. Then they had the same cargo van in Minneapolis and they figured out how to self distribute legally in Wisconsin.

“[We] had him go out and start putting our beer into the the right places,” Whisenand​ said. “About once a week we would drive a van out about halfway and swap vans.”

It was keying on building some relationships locally and at the same time there were exploring the idea of opening a brewery in Wisconsin.

“The further along we went the more and more it just made sense,” Whisenand​ said. “It was for a lot of reasons — not only just because we think it would help us be successful in the market in Wisconsin. Not only as a taproom, but also as a distributing brewery.”