What We Learned in Our First Year of Business
Some time has passed since the last blog post. Like, five months. We blame it on kicking things into high gear as we launched distribution in Indianapolis and also looked ahead into spring and summer, our busiest season. With all that going on, quite a landmark has passed without much mention: we celebrated one year of business on June 25th, 2017!
Over the last couple of weeks, we've been reflecting on the year that passed (in a whirlwind!). Here are some of the most important things we learned in our first year of business, from the practical to the personal:
Make your tasting room amazing. The tasting room should be the hub of your business. It's where people get to try all of your products on your terms. It increases the likelihood that they'll find something they love, they'll get talk to knowledgeable staff about your products, and they'll experience the ambiance you've spent so much time creating. If a customer tries a cider at a bar and doesn't like it, she'll probably be willing to try a different one later on down the line. But if a customer comes to your tasting room and has a bad experience, you've probably lost her for life.
Creating a beautiful brand and space is worth the time and money. We've already talked about how we outsourced our logo design and tasting room design to professionals. It was money spent up front, but it was totally worth it. We sell more merchandise because our brand is beautiful. People recognize our logo, even if they haven't had our ciders before. And the number of people who visit and mention that they came in because a friend took a picture of our tasting room and posted it on social media has been SHOCKING. You can't pay for that kind of advertising. Almost every picture looks like this:
Get the right people on your team. We have really lucked out with having an amazing staff. First and foremost we've tried to make Ash & Elm Cider Co. a great place to work by valuing the individual strengths of each employee, asking for their feedback (and listening to it!), and having fun together.
There were a few months toward the beginning of our business that we realized our pay scale may have been set up differently than it could have been, because we based our employee pay on talking to brewery friends who did predominantly carry-out sales. Our tasting room was closer to a restaurant than a taproom, so our employees were getting a lot of tips, rather than solely their hourly pay. We considered several options to bring them closer to industry standards but after a while we realized, you know what? This is a GREAT problem to have, and providing better pay to employees encourages them to stay with us and work hard. The amount of pride, dedication, and buy-in we have from our team is truly gratifying.
Recognize when it's time to shift your focus. As a first-time business owner and also the only owner around day-to-day (this is Andrea writing - Aaron still has his day job), my 'job' has changed a LOT over the past year. After we opened, my focus was on figuring out recipes, how to run a kitchen, creating systems to make sure things ran smoothly, and making sure we were staffed every night. I worked in the tasting room about 20-30 hours a week. I was In Charge of Everything. Then I realized that our team knows what they're doing, and me being involved in the day-to-day operations made their jobs less interesting and kept me from doing other important things. So, I've shifted again. Now, I'm trying to grow external sales and distribution. I'm focusing on creating strategic partnerships. I'm looking up from the day-to-day and looking out into the future. I don't actually know what's going on in our tasting room every day. I regularly get asked about events we're hosting that I didn't even know were in the works, and that's the way it should be after a year.
Learn when it's time to stop. I actually only had four items for this list. So, I'll stop here.
Thanks for following along with us on our first year of business, and now that I've shifted my focus away from the daily operations, look forward to more frequent blogs and updates on our website again! Cheers!