Growing pains are the hallmark of any small business, and the term in itself is indicative of that. If you have high demand for your product, you need to hire. If you outgrow your cooler space, you have to obtain a second one. If you’re hoping to produce, oh let’s say 25,000 barrels of beer someday, you’ll need to find a beer distributor to do some of the heavy lifting for you. Growth is good. Pain can be alleviated. Read how Insight Brewing Company of Minneapolis just blew out its first birthday candle, and how Bernick’s helped them celebrate.
An International Quest
I always like to ask the folks at breweries why beer? Because most of the time, they say it has everything to do with passion. Insight Brewing Company is no different; they just have a more global view on the beer they pour in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Insight’s Brewmaster Ilan Klages-Mundt traveled the world in college, and apprenticed and volunteered at a few different breweries. He exchanged his work ethic for a place to sleep in many instances, and gained unrivaled beer knowledge and exposure at Fuller’s in England, Kiuchi in Japan, and Fanø and Søgaards Bryghus in Denmark. Then, it was time to come home.
On Insight’s website they list their beers with a nod to the country that inspired the brew. Their Devil’s Companion is a London-style porter; The Garden of Hell Chicken is a pale ale with yuzu fruit – indigenous to Japan. Insight’s entire portfolio tells the stories of Ilan’s travel and foreign beer tales and elevates the brewery as one who’s doing something different. And doing something different in craft beer in Minnesota is important; there are 111 breweries expected to be open by the end of the year.
Standing Out Never Looked So Good
As for the genesis of Insight, Ilan met fellow co-owner Brian Berge, who has a background in consumer packaged goods marketing, at a northern brewer class. Kevin Hillard was a college acquaintance of Brian’s, and the two discussed the similar parallels they had starting at a new point in life, and both making beer on the side. Kevin took over the sales portion of Insight after investing in the start up. Fourth co-owner Eric Schmidt joined the roster a few months later initially as an investor with a propensity for logistics and operations. The four comprise Insight’s leadership team, and opened the largest start-up brewery in the state one year ago.
Their 19,300-square foot facility sits just off Highway 280 on East Hennepin in Minneapolis. Originally a boiler manufacturer, the building had sat vacant for eight years prior to Insight’s takeover. The last operation of the building was under Warren Shade, a company that produced window blinds. The guys at Insight chose the building’s location with a purpose – to utilize Minneapolis water due to its low mineral content and to find a building zoned for brewing and close to residential neighborhoods. They also chose the size of the building with intent, knowing their goals for growth and expansion could be met in the original facility’s blueprints. They didn’t want to face being hindered by capacity. Start small mentality. Insight’s size should allow them to produce up to 40,000 bbls (barrels) annually. For scope, Insight expects to produce 3,000 bbls this year.
When Growth Means Distribution Options
Kevin manages a sales team of three Insight employees, plus three brand ambassadors. The big days for sales are Mondays and Tuesdays, where the team is pulling doors, stopping in on accounts, and ensuring Insight beer is everywhere it’s supposed to be. The main goal of this operation is to remain top-of-mind when it comes to craft beer awareness, and to ensure all 220 of Insight’s accounts are well serviced, well stocked, and well loved. Insight spent until June 2015 self-distributing its product all over the state of Minnesota, with presence in Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Cloud, Rochester, Brainerd, Bemidji, and Duluth. Kevin recalls the effort it took to amass those 220 accounts in their service portfolio as “Herculean” considering it was a small contingency doing the work.
It was time for Insight Brewing Company to look for a distributor partner. They met with 11 different distributors, and felt they had endless options when it came to that aspect of their business. Kevin said, “What we learned is there’s a compromise to be made between joining forces with somebody who has a very established portfolio of brands, and somebody who is maybe an up-and-comer. What Bernick’s proved to us is that they were the up-and-coming partner that we were looking for. Through a combination of their awesome personalities, investment in our brewery, and the systems they had in place, we realized they were a great partner to have.”
The Bernick’s Difference in Action
As Insight enters its second year of existence, they recognize they have lofty goals, and choosing Bernick’s to help them achieve those goals makes sense. Kevin continued, “Bernick’s has really been nice about how we’re going to do this. We’ve got the hard-fought Minneapolis/St. Paul market, but we’ve also launched the rest of the state and increased volume in those outstate locations week by week. You can grow in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but it is what it is – a hard-fought battle. Some businesses have been reticent to create a new relationship with us, and Bernick’s has increased our exposure and enabled us to get back in front of some of those initial declines.”
So what’s next?
“As of November 10th, we just took possession of 500,000 cans to distribute three of our beers – Sunken City, Troll Way, and Hell Chicken – in 16oz cans. In fact, Bernick’s just picked up 1,000 cases if not more, from us today and they’re out the door.”
A Team and a Partnership
At Bernick’s, it’s never just about a route or a delivery guy. Kevin said, “We have a team at Bernick’s, and they are absolutely fantastic. From Dean Bernick who has been at a number of our events and has expressed his love and happiness to get involved from the tip-top, to Mike Brattensborg and Eric Swofford, who are our direct contacts, as well as John Ampe … we talk to all of them - which is really cool. We’re probably a little more hands-on than most. We’ve got our sales team riding along with theirs, trying to make their lives as easy as possible.”
Kevin continued, “As a career sales vet like myself, I know the partners I like, and the best are the ones who make my life easy. Basically, those partners gave me lay-ups, which makes me look good to my boss. That’s what we’re trying to do for Bernick’s. We’re trying to make them be able to do more with less as the good partner we are. Bernick’s has been absolutely critical in every event we’ve run since the end of June. For our anniversary party, they have a dual-side, eight-tap trailer that they’re lending us along with their generator. They’ve done some signage for us for festivities, and they have even driven traffic to those events.”
Kevin concluded, “The coolest thing about Bernick’s is after we had signed with them, we found out the Bernick’s team had asked all of their sales people, who do you want? Which brewery would you like us to go after? They all voted, and basically said, Insight. We felt like we were the pretty ones. We felt like they had chosen us just as much as we had chosen them. The important part is, it wasn’t just the higher-ups choosing, it was their team. The foot soldiers. The rubber that meets the road, which has made it really easy to be an excellent partner when you’ve got a willing and able participating team of partners that are out there every single day leveraging their relationships and sharing the good word of Bernick’s, and secondly, of Insight Brewing Company.”