03 April 2019

5 lessons in the craft of growth

Ever since its first day of trading in 2011, Magic Rock Brewing’s craft beers have enjoyed high demand. With the business poised for mainstream success, founder Richard Burhouse reflects on the milestones in the company’s rapid growth.

Influenced by the US craft beer scene, Magic Rock was a hit even before consumers were able to sample its products. Eight years on, the company produces 2.7 million pints a year and has supermarket deals in its sights.

1. Offer experiences, not just products

One of the major staging posts in the company's growth was the opening of a new premises in 2015, enabling the firm to mingle directly with its customer base. The brewery features a Taproom, where drinkers can buy the company’s freshest products while watching the brewers at work.

Hosting regular events, the 4,000 sq ft facility helps to deepen connections between brand and consumers, says Burhouse: “Although the capacity is only 200 at any one time, on a busy Saturday we might have 1,200 people through the doors over the course of a day.”

The venture has helped to strengthen brand loyalty by adding a dimension of direct contact and experience for customers within travelling distance.

2. Invest for the medium term

If he has one regret about the company’s development, Burhouse acknowledges that Magic Rock might have grown even faster if it had taken bolder moves.

“In a production industry, any expansion takes a long time from planning to coming online. We found that as soon as we’d expanded, we were already at capacity: we spent our first four years telling people we hadn’t got any beer,” he recalls.

This underlines the need to think well ahead and invest with confidence in the future market. On the positive side, the products’ scarcity only seemed to make the brand more desirable to consumers.

Burhouse also concedes that the Taproom proposition might have been even more successful in Leeds, with its vibrant nightlife, than in his home town. “But I’m proud of where I’m from, and we wanted the authenticity of the Huddersfield connection,” he adds.

In a production industry, any expansion takes a long time from planning to coming online. We found that as soon as we’d expanded, we were already at capacity: we spent our first four years telling people we hadn’t got any beer.

Richard Burhouse, Founder, Magic Rock Brewing

3. Nourish your community

Beer festivals have become hugely popular. Magic Rock is invited to more events than it can attend, but the opening of the Taproom enabled the company to put its own spin on the format.

“It’s a double-edged sword, because it demands a lot of organisation,” Burhouse admits. “But we did feel there was a shortage of brewery-run, as opposed to commercially-organised, festivals.”

Burhouse believes that recognising and celebrating his brand’s community only works to Magic Rock’s advantage. Involving the community as a whole – even including rival providers – provides an opportunity to showcase their products to a wider audience.

SeshFest, first staged in 2018, puts local brewing traditions front and centre, to the point of featuring brands that could be seen as competitors.

“We invited a lot of the more traditional breweries who had inspired us, such as Timothy Taylor, as a way of bringing old and new together and celebrating the drinking culture,” says Burhouse.

4. Export needn’t be a major expense

Many businesses gear up to invest heavily in export efforts. However, in the social media age, brands can acquire an overseas customer base more easily. Magic Rock is a case in point.

Social media activity feeds demand from abroad, says Burhouse: “We don’t do a massive amount of brand-building in these territories. In most countries there’s an importer servicing a number of craft beer bars.”

The need for freshness means that the top demand is among countries close to home, including Ireland, Spain, Holland and France. With the importers arranging pallet shipments, the effort on Magic Rock’s side is minimal.

While this kind of arrangement might not be viable for every type of business, online activity can be a good way of testing overseas demand and starting distribution on a small scale.

5. Be prepared for watershed growth

The brewery’s next target is the high street. Like any business leader contemplating a move from niche to mainstream, Burhouse knows that choosing the right moment is key.

Up to now, demand for Magic Rock products has consistently outstripped supply. That will no longer be an option once contracts with national outlets are signed.

Now, with an £850,000 investment in a new canning line facilitated by HSBC UK, Magic Rock is finally in a position to can all the beer it can make. The new line increases capacity fivefold, filling over 15,000 cans an hour. Planned automation will improve brewing efficiency too.

Burhouse is confident that the business will have the capacity to succeed in this new phase of growth. But the prospect of supermarket deals is a significant transition for the structure of a company that is still only 35-strong.

“When we started, each person knew about all aspects of the business. Now we’ve had to departmentalise, while striving to avoid cliques,” Burhouse says.

He recognises that filling key roles will be vital to continued success: “I’m talking to supermarkets, but without the tactical experience of a sales director. To avoid getting tripped up, we now need to inject new skills into the business.”

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