Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Geoff Tait admits that when he started his own brewing company, he knew little about making beer – except how to enjoy the final product.
It's one thing to have a refreshing beer but quite another to compete in a niche market. Mr. Tait, 35, launched Triple Bogey Brewing & Golf Co. in July of 2013. His single product? A golf-themed blonde lager.
Response to his beer, called Triple Bogey and brewed on contract by Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Toronto, has been "unbelievable," he says. "I've gotten so many requests it's almost overwhelming."
Seventy-five golf courses in Ontario are ready to either pour Triple Bogey at their bars or sell cans to patrons. Mr. Tait aims to sign at least 25 more before golf season begins. In addition, two Toronto restaurants, including the trendy Rock Lobster just off Queen Street West, are offering it, with eight more in the queue.
This isn't Mr. Tait's first round in the world of entrepreneurship. His first big venture was Quagmire Golf, a clothing company launched in 2005. Quagmire's focus on fun and unique apparel shook up the industry and landed Mr. Tait and his business partner a deal with Arnold Palmer to rebrand the legend's clothing lineup in 2011.
Due to a fallout with his partner and other circumstances, Mr. Tait lost the license with Mr. Palmer, and Quagmire dissolved last year. Mr. Tait applied for a few jobs after that but admits working for someone else just wasn't for him. "It was time to follow my passion for beer and combine it with my passion for golf," he says.
The launch of Triple Bogey has not been without challenges, however, as golf season is closing in fast and Mr. Tait is ramping up his business so he can capitalize on the peak beer-drinking season.
"In the clothing world, we would take orders in the fall and ship in the spring for the season. In the beer business, it's a whole new ballgame when it comes to logistics, production and planning," he says.
Mr. Tait has purchased a delivery truck and was planning to do all the distribution himself. But he quickly realized he didn't have the capacity to do everything. He says he will do it for the first month, and then look at hiring one or two people.
Meanwhile, orders are coming in from across Canada including British Columbia and Alberta, and he has received queries from Florida as well. Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina has expressed interest in having some on tap before it plays host to the U.S. Open tournaments, both men's and women's, this summer.
"I've never had this much demand for a product before," he says. "I need to figure out how to handle it, and how to get going fast before someone else does it."
The Challenge: How can Mr. Tait ramp up his business, distribute his beer and promote it properly all in time for the peak summer season?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Matt Hassell, chief creative officer for advertising agency kbs+, Toronto
Your seasonality can be your strength. Maybe your beer should be a "limited time offer."
Being seasonal and maximizing that time means you need to be top-of-mind to consumers. There are simple things you can do. You could reach out to golf and/or beer influencers and send them a case and ask them via social media channels – Facebook, Twitter or even Instagram – what they thought. A stranger's recommendation is usually even more valuable than a brand's, and more trusted.
Richard Yip-Chuck, professor of business, Humber College, Toronto
There's tons of competition, and he's got to stand out somehow. Whatever his marketing budget is, he's got to use it fully. Get banners up in taverns, have taverns run promos. I'm always surprised at how little bar staff knows about the products they carry, so get them educated.
An entrepreneur can't do it all. I would suggest he hire an advertising agency right away to help him. Hiring an employee may be cheaper but also very risky. An agency would allow him to work with the advertising and marketing experts, but free him up to make sure the supply side is ready for sales. He's dead in the water if he takes a ton of sales but doesn't deliver.
Brent Mallard, senior manager of marketing and product for golf equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf Canada Ltd., Toronto
Triple Bogey is getting demand in a big way, quickly. It'll be important to provide a good purchasing experience, from the golf courses to the beer drinkers themselves – otherwise he'll lose people fast. The key is to generate as much awareness and consumer demand as possible leading into golf season. He can then follow up with events or promotions at bars or golf courses when the season starts. That will keep the momentum going.
Coming up with a long-term strategy for distribution without undersupplying is also important. Limiting the amount of volume in certain marketplaces as more of a seasonal play could be really beneficial.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Establishing your product as a "limited time offer" drives interest.
Don't spread yourself thin
An entrepreneur can't do it all. Invest in good people and make sure the supply side is running properly.
Promote, promote, promote
Top-of-mind equals tip-of-the-tongue. Make sure prospective consumers know about you.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.