Using Market Changes to Innovate Your Brewery

Matt Swihart calls it cautious optimism. ​The owner and Brewmaster for Hood River’s Double Mountain want​s​ to grow ​and be able to provide ​opportunities to ​his​ staff​, ​grow their careers and get equity.

​”[But] we’re not trying to expand into 40 states​,” he points out​. ​Swihart has seen fast, expansive territory reaches while working at Full Sail, and he knows it won’t work for him. ​

​”​They were looking for a very large footprint across the United States. ​And it really kind of bit them​,” he said​.​ “It made a giant impression and I don’t​ want to have to compete with those guys.

​”​If I’m a volume player chasing six-pack sales around the country​,​ I didn’t want to do that.​”

Instead, the goal for Double Mountain — which opened in 2007 — is to be in beer bars and sell a few beers in bottles at a higher margin while​ being known as a quality producer.

​”I’m OK being a small fish small pond​,” Swihart said.​

​Yet the push-and-pull of balancing between wanting to stick to a core of brands but also be new and fresh to consumers is always on Swihart’s mind.

​”That’s that’s the ebb and flow, and that’s the tension​,” he pondered​. ​”​You look at Sierra Nevada … ​brands have been around for a long time and they haven’t jumped all over the place and they have this consistent message and look. I want to be around a hundred years and want my​ kids and grandkids to run the place at some point​ without being super flighty.

​”You hear a lot of talk of people abandoning the idea of ​flagship and consistent brands. We’re trying to march between supporting what we’ve already created​ … staying true to the few beers that we make​​​ and having a line of beers that we can play with and see what sticks.​”

Double Mountain replaced ​its main IPA ​that ​did well for​ eight years​ after seeing a slow decline in sales and released a newer IPA to watch sales climb again.

“OK. Is that going to stick?​​ Or do I have​ ​to change that​,” he pondered​. ​”It’s tricky.​”

For newer breweries, even debating the focus between being draft​ ​or a package brewery has a very immediate impact.

​Double Mountain’s model ​was to look at 5-10​% ​growth in a year.

​”That’s been our general trajectory. We never wanted to be a national player​,” Swihart said, mentioning that being in three states is a good territory reach​. ​”I think that’ll pay off over time.​”

Swihart still feels slow and steady ​is still the best way for consistent growth and not taking on massive debt.

​”​I own most of my own company so it makes me flexible, and it makes me weather flat growth or even a little decline​,” he said​. ​”When it picks back up I’m ready to go and I’m not over-leveraged.

​”​I don’t have to answer to an investment or a corporate group because they need a certain amount of return. Or a banker pulling my loan because I’m not making payments.​”​

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