Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch inspires at MassChallenge
How do you inspire a room full of craft beer fans and entrepreneurs who are already brimming with enthusiasm and a highly-concentrated drive to succeed? Just let Greg Koch talk about what he does. Last night, Stone Brewing’s co-founder and CEO, Greg Koch, did just that as he stopped by MassChallenge to discuss the rise of Stone and his new book “The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.”.
Having listened to Greg speak before, we knew that those in attendance were in for an inspired, passionate speech about his brand, their social responsibility, his vision for his company, and how they do it the “Stone” way (my words, not his). Greg did not disappoint.
The audience was a blend of craft beer lovers and entrepreneurs, including Tim and Rich, who introduced Greg, from Pintley.
Greg began his talk with his favorite quote of his own. “Don’t be different to be different…be different to be better.” This philosophy carried all the way through his talk, pointing out that it wasn’t the easiest road to take in the beginning, but it was his and [co-founder] Steve Wagner’s road. By doing it their way, they maintained their relationships with their existing customers, and didn’t attract customers that would have little or no retention. They simply said, this is how we’re going to do it. If you like it, awesome, come along for the ride. If not, move on and we’ll find people who do. Greg pointed out that Stone Brewing is the 3rd most visited location in North County, behind only Legoland and one other. He pointed out that the Stone Bistro is the largest restaurant purchaser of local, small farm organic produce in San Diego County, and that their photovoltaic system size ranks in the top 15% in California. He talked about upcoming ventures, including doubling capacity at the brewery, the development of the Stone Hotel across from the Escondido brewery and of a downtown San Diego property, Liberty Station, and the purchase and sustainability of Stone Farms. All this, in the context that Stone has never discounted their beers and has never advertised.
Another segment of the talk focused on collaboration. Greg pointed out that Stone has 32 tap lines in the bistro, and at any given time only 8-10 (10, plus one Stone collaboration at the time of this writing) of those lines are Stone beers. The rest are made up of competitor’s beers, which he was quick to point out are not competitors at all. He talked about the collaborative nature of the brewing industry, and how one of the coolest parts of his job is getting to work with an old brewer friend he doesn’t see very often, or a brewer from Europe whom he admires.
Stone has become very well known for these collaboration beers. In addition to their collaborations with such well-known breweries as Dogfish Head (Milton, DE), Victory (Downington, PA), and Mikkeller Brewing, Denmark, Stone has also worked with several homebrewers who were able to come in and brew on the “big boy equipment”.
Sean asked Greg what he saw as the next big challenge for not only Stone but craft brewers as a whole, and Greg pointed to the challenge of continuing to do business ethically. Greg holds a very strong stance that Stone has never engaged in unethical business practices, noting that they in fact maintain a web site http://www.sellingcraftbeer.com. He talked about a specific example of the unethical practice of a brewery providing free kegs of beer to retailers in order to gain rights to control a tap at that retailer. By accepting the free keg of beer, the retailer basically sells his right to choose what goes on tap and gives up control of a portion of their business.
Craft beer accounts for only 5% of the total beer sales in the U.S., and the challenge is to continue to eat into the total market while remaining ethical.
In closing, Greg was asked what he would do if he caught his significant other drinking “fizzy yellow beer”, to which he quipped, “pre-screening”.
It was a speech I had heard before, but it carried no less weight this time, and clearly got through to those in attendance as the comments I overheard in line during the book signing were filled with enthusiasm, admiration, and genuine thanks for the inspiration he has given people.
If you love beer and/or entrepreneurialism, you owe it to yourself to listen to Greg. He is an inspiring leader who tells it like it is, makes no excuses for what he does, and lays out his path to success simply and succinctly.
Cheers to Greg and Stone Brewing Co. for doing it your way.