Start-up brewery: get the township on board

Finding a place for Zed’s Beer has been much more difficult than I had initially thought it would be.  Best advice?  Start with the Townships.

My initial idea was to look at the map of current and projected breweries in South Jersey, find a space where there was a gap, and concentrate there.  I actually found an old map in the car and marked where the current/future places were so I didn’t step on anyone’s shoulders.  And I found some good places—Deptford, Gloucester City, Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Marlton, Haddonfield, Moorestown, Washington Township and a bunch of others.  These were all townships that didn’t have a nano brewery within 4 or 5 miles.

So I started talking with real estate agents, looking at buildings, talking to them about what I wanted to do.  It was good practice for me to talk about the business and it helped me refine my positioning.  All the real estate agents I spoke with were very enthusiastic.  And I made the assumption that the townships would be as well—but there I was wrong.

Most of the townships I spoke with were friendly and one or two were actually helpful.  But I had a lot of education to do regarding my model, my possibilities and my philosophy.  The biggest hurdle was explaining that I could open a brewery and not need a liquor license.

Although I had a few townships not call me back, I only had one who was anywhere close to being rude.  A township manager of a traditionally dry town said that he would in no way ever entertain or even consider the possibility of bringing a nano brewery into his township on Main Street, period, end of sentence.  When I told him about how townships like Pittman and Collingswood were opening up breweries and why, he advised that he was not interested in being those townships.

I’ve had two Townships pursue me while I was looking—I even got a call from one of the Mayors advising that he would love a brewery in his township.  And one of the Township Managers gave me a tour of her Township and gave me some great introductions to landlords, allowing me to negotiate directly with the building owner.

So my advise when opening up a brewery?  Get the township on board first.  Explain to them what you want to do.  Get them to understand the concept.  But mostly, create in them an advocate—as a small business owner, you’ll need someone to hold your hand and help you navigate the system.  Townships love working with big box stores and chains—those people already know how to do everything.  As a small business owner, you have to have someone help you navigate the water.  And with the Township on board, things go much smoother.