Lessons From A Micro-brewery Tour

A few months back we had a couple of friends come to town. Wanting to show them around, we stopped by Highland Brewery for a tour and maybe a post-tour tasting. Before moving to Asheville, NC I was not a fan of micro-brews. Maybe it’s the mountain air, or granola culture, but something got to me and I truly enjoy several of the local brews now.

Highland offers several variations of beers; I won’t attempt to describe their full offering here, as not to offend some aficionado. In general they distribute their product locally/regionally, with a mixture of retail outlets as well as brew pubs. Interestingly enough, they do have their products for sell local Wal-marts. I was unaware that there was a way to penetrate product entrance on a local level at the big box.

Highland offers tours at no charge several days per week, and it’s a great way to learn about science and art of brewing beer. They don’t charge for the tour, and at the conclusion there is a chance to have a free sample of their product, buy their logo’d gear and sample their full array of brews.

While I was there, I wondered is there anyway they could sell enough t-shirts, samples or take-away six packs to justify the expense of putting these tours on for free. In other words, is there a direct positive ROI for this activity? If you think about it, they don’t have the “exit-package” that the wineries in Napa do for a similar type tour. At the conclusion of many of Napa winery tours they often close you on wine-memberships, where they auto-ship 2-3 bottles every month or quarter in exchange for a small discount and privileges to get wines that may not be offered to the great unwashed. So assuming Highland can’t sell enough shrapnel to offset their costs, why would they do it?

For the love of beer?

To share their brewing techniques/secrets to potential competitors?

To create a group of home-brewers?

Artisans love to share?

Surely some of these would be drivers, but if you peel it back could it be that this is one very interesting way to build a brand? Could it be that a small micro-brewery might not have the resources to create a brand through advertising alone? Are they making a statement that educating consumers on not only your product, but your product formulation, manufacturing, and company culture is a great way to brand your company? Does looking under the hood of a company give you a greater appreciation of their product? Does consumers spending time with a company lead to developing a product usage relationship?

Whether these were intended consequences or just a small business wanting to share their baby with others, I think the value of something as simple as a factory tour, that doesn’t end in a situation that makes you feel like you are at a time-share presentation, can do enormous goodwill for your brand.