Endings and beginnings

Endings and beginnings

Flight of Four, tasting paddleThis month we started offering a Flight of Four at the beer store. Folks can order it almost anytime during business hours: Monday thru Saturday opening to 7:30; Sunday to 4:30 p.m.

Flights departing anytime, nearly sixty hours of serving the public in a new way. I was worried; I still am worried about how to effectively serve during solo times of increased business.

Lunchtime jugglings of greeting, checkout, growler orders, growler fills, stock checks, packaging, stocking, picking packs, answering questions and offering guidance can already be a bear of a load when you’re solo. And to add on-demand flights. What could we handle? Multiple choices? No. One predefined flight. It’s got to be affordable, with good range of flavor/style.

A few weeks ago, an ending to The Sip

A final Wednesday “Sip! Sip!” — two samples for a buck. We offered these Wednesday night sampling hours for six years: 2007 to 2013. A dozen folks would stop in and sip on our Staff Picks.

The value of money paid for two choice beers was really great. I included tax in the amount, and posting such tax-included notice on the wall (“Posing is a legal requirement when you include tax,” instructed the Auditor sent by the Washington State Department of Revenue.), which meant we were really only getting 90-some cents to cover the price of overhead; beers, cups, cracker packs.

The problem? Nearly every week we subsidized the costs; “going negative.”
This needed to end.

Everyone wants something for free

Everyone loves free stuff. Free food samples, so good. If you shop at Costco, likely you feel this way. My specialty beer store is fairly near to Costco (across the street). Costco, land of the free food samples. Costco, where you can get full just by visiting each of the sample stations.

Free neither creates loyalty nor increases sales

People visit my store, asking for samples. We experimented with free samples a few years ago. The result? I gave away a lot of tastes to people who didn’t buy anything. I gave away tastes also to a lot of people who’d buy one small bottle using a credit card. By the time you calculate cost of samples, merchant fees, and other overhead (such as additional staff needed to pour), you end up going totally “in the red” negative!

(Sure, there are folks who sampled for free who bought a lot of beer, but they’d of bought a lot even without the sample. And should the margin from their sale really be applied to cover the added “red”? Not such good business.)

Researching and trying out different models for in-store tastings — with careful consideration to overhead and customer relations — been a real “Business 101: Trial & Errors” learning experience.

Now something new: Flights on demand take off

To offer tasting all the time, on-demand is adding another task to an already-busy staff. But to allow customers to taste when they’re visiting: “To enjoy a beer, while shopping for beer.” It’s a big thing. It’s important to a lot of customers.

So this month we began something new: a Flight of Four.

Introducing the Flight of Four

We start with a one-day trial, then immediately jump in both feet: “Flights of Four, $4.50.” (Tax excluded this time.)

The business goal: To taste “in the black.”

The goal: To introduce people to a wide range of flavors in beer, to the many styles of beer.

An unexpected ending; a new beginning must happen fast

The same week we introduce Flights of Four, a long-time staffer announces an immediate change of careers, from Beer Clerk to Loss Prevention. We knew it was coming, expecting notice but, perhaps, not that short.

I am tasked with finding a new hire “immediately.”

I revisit the stack of submitted resumes. First, eliminating those who can’t work the position hours. Second, looking at previous sales and industry experience. The ability to check I.D.s, which means sometimes refusing sales to a person who immediately becomes defensive and hostile can be difficult.

For interview, I call in a fellow who’s been regularly checking in for opportunities to work at the store.

He’s eager and upbeat.

C, thinking ahead to the Fourth of July holiday rushes, wants to get the new hire in and trained fast. I agree. There’s possibility and potential here. What will be, will be. “Que sera sera.”

With every ending, a new beginning.

Learning processes, starting anew

We’ve set up the processes at the store so any one of us can walk in, quickly assess, and know what needs to be done. No need for written nor verbal communication. A quick look around and any of us can pickup where the other left off. For some new staff, this is a tall order. They want to do their own thing, not learning our subtle cues and patterns. Their flat-out refusal, or inability to grasp and understand throws everyone else off. It makes more work for their co-workers.

Yoda advisesTo correctly label and place back stock means knowing things like, “Who makes this beer?” “What’s the name of this beer?” “Where is this beer from?” “How fast does this beer sell?” and “Is this a popular beer, in high demand?” These are things that take months to learn. It’s important that a new employee be able to pick up these things fast. If they don’t know the difference between “Mac & Jack’s” (the brewery) and “African Amber” (the beer), you worry how fast they’ll catch on to the 1,200 products in-store, plus the thousands more rotating in-and-out through throughout the year.

When one is learning the processes …and especially if one is slow to learning the processes… It can be a painful time for co-workers, causing them to dig deeper. It can also be a painful time for customers, causing them to wait longer.

“This does not good customer service make,” I imagine Yoda sharing wisdom.

The number of people who know craft beer, are comfortable with working in constraints of the law, and can handle challenging situations and people and who are available to work the hours the store needs them is few.

So we need to compromise on something.

Anyone can learn about beer, but not everyone has beer passion

Beer knowledge. If the passion for beer is there, this will come. They’ll need to research and read on their own time, and listen and learn from co-workers. To not have an employee who will provide bullshit answers just to give an answer. A person who can navigate and reason through strange customer questions.

Beginning the education process

Learning on the job means you’ve got to have the quality of humility.

“Which is darker: An amber or a lager?” asks a customer.

The question, oblique.

I immediately look to see if they’ve got the two beers in question in-hand. No lager in hand. I would respond, “Which lager?” If they want to learn about beer, and I’ve got the timing ability to discuss in more depth, I’d walk them to the Beer Styles poster on the wall, show them SRMs and talk about how the depth of the roast of grains is like the depth of a coffee roast, the colors and tastes of toasted bread,…how they relate to toasted grains, to flavors and colors of lager… that sot of thing. I’d walk them around the shop and point out a lovely rainbow of lager flavors.

How will the new staffer, this boy so green in craft beer knowledge answer?

One of his favorite beers, Mac & Jack’s (African Amber) an amber; a beer that he drinks most regularly (due to price), Corona a lager. Based simply on this knowledge, I’d guess he’d simply answer, “Amber. Amber ale is darker than a lager.”

Waivering on an answer, he responds “Lager.”

The customer asks a follow-up question, which garners this response: ^Shrug^




Fast to give a response, without understanding the question.

More beginnings than I expected.


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