Josh Patton | Crain's Charlotte

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Josh Patton

Background:  

Wooden Robot Brewery – founded by Josh Patton and Dan Wade, best friends since middle school – was named the North Carolina Brewery of the Year at the seventh annual N.C. Brewers and Music Festival in Huntersville. You can find Robot Brewing in Charlotte’s historic South End, where its experienced “beertenders” carry Cicerone Certification that denotes top-tier beer expertise and knowledge.

The Mistake:

Trying to be everything to everyone.

We were really fortunate in that we had a lot of success right out of the gate; we sold way more beer than we expected. As we were growing and getting into wholesaling, we were so excited that people were interested and wanted our product that we weren’t discerning about who we were working with. We were saying yes to everyone, which wasn’t sustainable.

It was difficult to keep up with production. We couldn’t brew beer fast enough. While it seems like a good problem to have, it’s never good when you don’t have enough beer. We have a taproom on site where we serve beer, and we almost completely ran out of beer on a Saturday. We couldn’t even open our own bar.

This was all in the space of less than a year. We hit it pretty big. We had done a lot to try to get the word out, and we were active in the local beer scene. But we were unprepared for how quickly it all ramped up. It was a wake-up call that we need to re-evaluate our wholesale strategy.

Learning to say no and growing smartly is what we need to do this time around.

The Lesson:

We did a complete account audit and have since shrunk the geographic area that we service to be more efficient. We’re also focusing on relationship-building with the places that really supported our brand. We wanted to deepen those relationships with the local places that really focus on quality beer

We prioritized the local establishments and the people who really cared about the product. We are very active in the community, so we selected establishments that are also local and engaged in the community. We reduced our wholesale customers from about 250 bars and restaurants to about 150. We’ve since increased just a bit, to about 175.

And that was the really tough part. We didn’t just drop the customers, or say that we didn’t have enough beer. We had a conversation and explained to them the challenges we were facing. Of course there were exceptions, but generally they respected the fact that we came to them and explained why we couldn’t provide any more beer. And they respected the fact that we were honest and forthcoming about it.

We are planning on expanding, but we’re going to let the supply side drive our wholesale growth, to make sure we have enough product to sell before we add any new customers. Learning to say no and growing smartly is what we need to do this time around, not trying to be everything to everyone.

 Follow Josh on Twitter at: @WoodenRobotAle

Pictured: Josh Patton | Photo courtesy of Wooden Robot Brewery. 

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