Building Base of Consumers Key to Solid Sales Growth for Bear Republic

Since opening in 1995, Bear Republic has seen its share of growth. Now the 44th largest craft brewery in the country, owner and founder Richard Norgrove knows what it takes to expand within his market and find new opportunities.

The Bear Republic team started with self distribution, but Norgrove recalls that as his brewery grew, needing distribution from an actual distributor was a quick realization.

Norgrove said when he and his father, also named Richard, was starting to be expected to deliver each day, it was getting to be too much.

“It’s a cost transfer business,” he said. “If I could transfer the cost of shipping and the delivery method then I could do a better job of managing the sales and be able to expand my own market.”

Everything old is new again, the veteran said. But now, instead of being the little guy, Norgrove is sort of in the middle, trying to fight perceptions put out by “crafty” beer while also feeling the nibbles from breweries less than 100,000 barrels per year. It’s never an easy sell, even for an established brewery.


“I have to remind people that what makes us special is we are family owned and we follow a process that we want to be true to. It’s about the quality,” he said. “For me, that is a big driving force of how we go into the next market. How someone is going to manage my product. You are selling liquid bread. You can’t just throw it out there and hope that someone manages it well. When you are ready to manage that portion of it I think is when you should consider distribution.”

Norgrove said a number of barrels can be one indicator of when it’s ready to hand over product and feel comfortable in distribution. He threw out the number of 15,000 barrels or less is where the profitability makes sense to start managing distribution.

“After that, you are investing in a completely separate arm and it’s a whole new business,” he said. “You really should be able to sell that in your backyard. We are getting back to this idea of having real regional breweries. We are going back to pre-prohibition days where [consumers] buy local beer.”

So, how do you gain traction long term and create a following?

“Putting a bottle in front of people regularly,” Norgrove said, indicating that rotating taps and specialties can be nice, but not a way to gain a base of fans.

“If you can establish some baseline locations where people want your product and you make a foothold, you just look to keep growing and work at taking the next step,” he said.

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