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Jan 31

For the love of beer

The SessionEarlier this week I made a proclamation on my facebook page:

Yesterday I realized what my New Years Resolution should be: To rediscover joy. After I spoke at a conference last year, a person in the audience commented on my “frustration.” Yesterday I read an article that cited me as “arguing” a point. I have become more cynical. I am tired.

Weighted down by the challenges of running a small business, I’ve gotten tied up in dealing with weirdness and criticisms and lost sight of my loves: Beer, family, friends.

When Ryan over at Montana Beer Blog chose “How We Love Beer” as the topic for The Session #72, the timing couldn’t have been better. This week’s been full of introspective thought and review.

Loving a career in beer

When we first opened our beer store, January 2007, there were only a handful of craft beer retailers in Washington State. Rare and limited releases were relatively easy to attain and seldom did we need to place bottle limits. Dogfish 120 was part of the regulars on our shelves and Pliny the Elder was popular enough to have a four per person daily limit and would linger in the cooler up to four days, allowing beer lovers a few days to plan their visit. My husband and I opened the shop together, ran it all, just the two of us. I fervently researched and sampled beers to assure each beer had a descriptive price tag. We created a place for beer lovers, much like ourselves. A store with the biggest selection of beer in the state, all available for individual purchase — mix & match packs. We started our cellaring program. Crowds of people thronged in for our tasting events. We had become stewards of beer.

Our very first customer, Peter, became a dear friend and joined us at the shop; selling and talking beer, pouring samples. Then we transitioned into staff. First one. Then a seasonal. Several come and gone. In six years, sixteen have worked with us. Now, one full-time and four part-time, in addition to my husband and me. More people to look out for, more to help keep the shop running. More people in our lives who share our passion, a love of beer.

Thousands of wonderful people have entered our doors, all sharing in our love of beer. Regulars have gotten to know us, as we’ve them. Some days it’s like working at Cheers, where the inner dynamics at the shop are in full-force, much laughter and joy, beer in and out, great customer conversations… what’s going on in their life, beers they’re enjoying, places they’ve been, what’s happening on our end. The interchange, the fun, the love, it all shines thru.

This week I also realized you know you’re a regular when the whole staff shouts out at you, “Norm!” “Tiffany!” “Dale!” “Mike!” “Frank!” “Peter!” “Trevor!” “Kimberly!” “Levi!” “Dan!” “Josh!” “Chris!” “Jim!” “Betty!” “Brent!” “Roz!” “Joe!” “Rich!” “… !”

Losing track of my love

As years go by, grocery stores edge in on craft beer, seeing the popularity rise, they want a cut. More beer stores open. The tavern-beer store hybrid becomes prolific. Laws change. Big box retailers open. Customers we may have seen weekly or monthly come less; a family trip to visit Old Faithful comes to mind, my dad says “It’s not as regular as it once was.” We meet new customers, some become regulars. Others visit periodically. Some love our shop, others like it, while others…well…

As our shop has grown in popularity, I read and hear more put-downs. I consider why competitors and customers feel they need to attack. For what… jealousy? hate? personal gain? Does picking on someone/something else make them feel better? Publicly crying out my business flaws, even personal shortcomings. Disapproval. Public disapproval. This is hard to take, as someone who seeks approval. Some praise other businesses while putting down mine. I wonder, “Why not just praise where you want, without putting down another? We work hard for you, for our customers. We are here for you, we’re fellow craft beer lovers!” Yet you can’t respond to negative reviews like this… or can you?? All I know is it hurts my feelings, and I’ve got a hard time keeping these feelings at bay. I try to focus on what’s important: The majority of beer lovers, while still attempting to satisfy the individual, and sharing all of this delicious craft beer. I try to not let public shamings get me down (but I fail; it does). I try to forgive those who curse and spew. I discover ego-centrists, aka “The Unpleasables.” I never was prepared for them. For this. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I have/had no thick skin. Feeling: Defeated. Frustrated. Lost. Feelings that overpowered my love. I lost track. I lost focus. Where did my beer focus go, where is my love: Beer?

Our 2006 vision & dream: Running a shop together, sharing a passion for beer with others, creating a nice place full of properly stored beer. Sharing our love of beer. Creating all this, for the love of beer.

The reality: Less together. Growing apart? I allowed customers’ personal criticisms of his demeanor cloud my love of family. I had never planned for name-calling: Beer Nazi. Dick. Asshole. I see the flaws, but honestly don’t believe he is deserving of such bad names, these horrible negative labels. I also see the hard work, the love, the care, the battles. He works so hard to jockey into position, to make sure our customers, our regulars, our supporters, are provided with rarities, new beers, regular beers. And he suffers through: Threats. Cussing. Name calling. He comes in each day, puts personal feelings aside, and works hard for even those people. C’s told me that people think he’s mad even when he’s not…I guess that’s what happens when your mouth naturally curves down…not something in my genes…but I never really understood until now. There are guys who give attitude right away, without a word spoken. Others react poorly to his delivery: Concise, short, factual. They show that look, as if slapped across the face. Bad feelings, from his curt words. Most desire to be handled with kid mittens. This verbal delivery needs to be neatly tied with threads of soft angora. After all, abrasion causes sores, irritation and hostile feelings.

My focus became: To find help to work with customers; to establish and maintain a good team of beer clerks.

We thought running a store would bring us closer, but with more responsibilities there is less time together (outside the business). Virtually no time for beer festivals, for visiting breweries, for hanging out with family, with friends. Now my job, managing rotations: Stock, staff. While still doing other tasks: Customer service, marketing, bookkeeping, marketing, POS management, reporting, legal,… having our website stolen. Registered trademarks and copyrights disregarded. Badmouthed by other small businesses. Put down in online reviews. Cursed at. Spit on. Ignored. Disrespected. Somehow in all this, I realized my loves had got pushed aside for worry, for frustration. I noticed my voice, instead of reflecting kindness, had become more argumentative, laced with disappointment.

Somewhere in all this “business” of running a beer business, I lost track of my loves.

Love, refocused

So, now today is January 31, and I’ve finally discovered my New Year’s Resolution: To rediscover joy. In this, a return to focus on the things important: Work & live for the love of beer. For it is beer that keeps my family afloat.

Beer is this wonderful beverage that spurs creativity. It relaxes. It’s happy to play centerfield, sit in wait on the benches, or cheer you on as you pursue your dreams, as you live your life. It is liquid bread. It is refreshment. It is by my side daily. Yes, daily. Just like my husband and my dogs. My constants in life. My lifeblood. My daily bread.

I can’t think of many more products that I believe in more.

Yes, beer is THAT great!!

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter, 2007So, I’m lifting my glass (a snifter filled with a 2007 Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter) to this:

  • All the brewers out there: May you always be filled with passion and innovation, and have plenty of hops, malts and water. And may your yeasts never intermix. Unless you want them to.
  • My fellow beer drinkers: Though our paths, preferences and personalities may differ, we all share a great love for beer. May the best beer you ever drink be the one in your hand. I wish your tastebuds many wonderful journeys in the world of craft beer.
  • My husband and business partner: Though we have different ways of doing things, our goal is the same. Thank you for having my back, and I’ll try not to be so “odd” while being myself.
  • My staff: Thank you. Keep up the good work. Let’s try a delicious craft beer tonight!

3 comments

  1. Bryan

    Thank you for such a well-thought and introspective post on this. It’s easy to tell you have great passion for beer and the business of beer, which I’m sure will keep your spirits afloat! (That, and some really great beer)

    Cheers

  2. beerbecue

    Nice post. I appreciate you (even though I’m thousands of miles away), and I’m sure there are many of your customers who do, too. Hang in there. Being a small business owner has to be tough, even when peddling something you love. I don’t think I have the gumption for it…nor the self discipline to refrain from drinking all the product.

  3. Ryan N.

    A terrific post! Thanks for sharing and for your point of view, which, I think, goes unheard all too often. We beer consumers need to step back and consider the small businesses that link us to the beer makers. Cheers!

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