Adjusting Strategy to Localize Consumer Experience

About six years ago, RJ Rockers was pumping out around 10,000 barrels of product. “Local” to the Spartansburg, South Carolina brewery was Charlotte and Asheville. Yet, the market has changed and so has the brewery as its management team has made the conscious decision to localize down to a 60-mile radius while amping up the on-site consumer experience.

Speaking to Brewer about a week before the COVID-19 mandated shutdown of on-premise facilities, the ownership — founder Mark Johnsen, co-owner John Bauknight, and Chief Hospitality Officer Adam Ashcraft — explained how the brewery has set up the veteran brewery for the future by focusing on consumer experience in both the taproom and recently re-branded adjacent restaurant.

“Friday and Saturday are where we seem to make our hay,” Bauknight said, but he noted how a Tuesday night at the brewery’s taproom has a running club, a ping-pong club, and karaoke all on the same day.

“It’s not a huge volume night for us, but it’s fun to see the different dynamics​,” he said​​, noting it comes down to asking yourself ‘​What’s the experience? And what can you do to make people want to come in?​’

The newest venture is adding a tenant to the basement of the taproom where the brewery mothballed its bottling line in lieu of mobile canning while adding an axe-throwing venue.

​”I think ​it’s ​a great addition, even though they’re a tenant in the building​,” ​Bauknight​ said. ​”​One of their entrances will be through our space. We did that on purpose so the folks come through here that may say, ​’​Wow, I didn’t even know you were here.​'”​

The moves came as more and more breweries came online. Losing market share outside of Spartansburg saw the brewery peel off tanks and add more tables to its taproom while cutting production numbers down to around 5,000 barrels instead of trying to sell 10,000 barrels across the Carolinas and into the South.

“It is nice to come in here almost any time, you’ll see kids running around, dogs … it’s such a community environment,” said Ashcraft, who joined the team in January to help recreate the restaurant, which was formerly named The Silo at RJ Rockers.

“It wasn’t a fantastic failure, just very confusing to folks,” ​Bauknight​ said. “Double social media handles … it was just really confusing to the consumer.”

The brewery put in a stage just this past year, so there is now live music on Thursday, Fridays, and Saturday.

“The business model, for us, is a swing from being a production brewery — just blasting beer all over the place — to really focus in on that 60-90 mile radius and being really good at what we do here with special events.

“We’ve got space to do things.”

Bauknight said that Ashcraft’s lifelong experiences in hospitality and restaurants is where they see the future of the businesses.

“Growing the restaurant and taproom and being a really great community place is now the goal.

“I think that what’s great for John and Mark is that they listen to the people that come in,” Ashcraft said. “I think that’s why RJ Rockers has always stayed relevant is that that we partner with everybody that comes in. They have a voice and we listen to what they’re saying.”

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