Doug Moody might have one of the best jobs anywhere.
As Senior Vice President of North Coast Brewing Company in the historic Northern California town of Fort Bragg, he sells a family of 11 artisan beers across the country with evocative names like Red Seal Ale, Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, and Scrimshaw Pilsner.
His job entails calling on restaurants and bars to talk shop, attending trade shows to let potential buyers and other brewers sample his beers.
We caught up with Doug after his latest road trip to ask him how his company has survived where others have failed.
ISBB: Your beers are now available in 47 states. What’s your secret to success?
Moody: I don’t think there’s any secret involved. We work hard to make the best beer we can make and realize there are no shortcuts. Our mantra is “quality forever!”
Our distributor partners know that when they order beer from North Coast, it’s consistent in quality, flavor, and freshness… in other words, they trust us. And that translates to the consumer. Once we get a consumer to try our beer, he or she buys it again and again.
What kinds of problems or growing pains has your brewery overcome?
We’re still trying to overcome the problems of having more demand than we can produce. We’ve had 20 percent-plus growth in each of the last three years and we’re up over 30 percent in the first five months of 2011. However, our physical limitations are a huge challenge. We’ve maximized space and are literally bursting at the seams.
We also have to deal with the tiny labor pool in Fort Bragg and the ever-present cash flow problems that come with fast growth spurts. We’ve been working very closely with our distributors to manage inventory and increase lead time on orders, but that’s a constant battle and our distributors need to be reminded that we can only make so much beer at any one time.
I will say that many of our distributors now “get it,” so if they give us six weeks’ lead time on an order, they can be confident it will be delivered on time. But our labor shortage here in Fort Bragg is just something we have to live with – it is what it is and we’re not going to relocate the brewery.
Tell us about a major problem, and what was the solution?
The single most important change we’ve made to accommodate our growth is to contract with off-site storage. Now, when we bottle and keg our beer, we load it directly onto a truck and deliver it to our storage facility in Petaluma, about 125 miles to the south and 40 miles north of San Francisco. This solved a couple of problems: It freed up space so we could add more production equipment and it keeps traffic down on our local roadways because our distributors pick up in Petaluma.
How does your craft brewery survive against the big boys like Anheuser-Busch and Miller?
We really don’t look at Bud, Miller, Coors, etc. as our competition. They all do something completely different from what we do and once a consumer tastes one of our beers, they totally understand.
The major domestic breweries do what they do remarkably well. We’re just in a totally different business. I do think that social media has been a major player in the growth of craft beer and certainly quickened the pace we now all operate at.
Craft beer sales have been growing steady for many years, but the recent spurt to double-digit growth owes a lot to consumer awareness being driven by social media. Plus, our website has been a terrific sales tool, especially for attracting distributors.
What have you learned from other successful craft brewers like Samuel Adams?
Sam Adams operates at such different economies of scale that it’s really hard to compare us in any way. So I think seeing mistakes other breweries have made has saved us much grief and money.
The single biggest thing we’ve learned is not to take giant steps, but baby steps. Being conservative and prudent in managing our business is a big part of why we’re still here. It may sound simplistic, but it really is true.
What’s the next step for North Coast Brewing Company?
Our next expansion phase, currently in progress, is the addition of two new 650-barrel fermenters, as well as upgrades on our bottling line, boiler, and a few cosmetic tweaks so we can resume public tours.
The new fermenters will allow us to produce approximately 65,000 barrels annually. We have also recently acquired an additional off-site 2,500-square foot building that we’ll be using exclusively for our barrel aging. We hope to have two or three barrel-aged beers each year going forward.
To read more about North Coast Brewing Company, visit its website.