Reflections & Regrets From Our First Year

February 07, 2022

Reflections & Regrets From Our First Year

Wholly cow, we made it through our first year!

Nothing worth doing is easy, and they were right! It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been bloody well worth it.

Starting any small business is hard, particularly when one doesn’t know anything about commercial brewing or hospitality… Then throw in the huge upfront investment needed for the kit, and sprinkle in a bit of global pandemic...

It’s been a ride!

It’s a weird feeling, looking back on pictures of our opening day it feels like both yesterday and a lifetime ago…

If you’ll indulge me, I’d love to share some of what we’ve learned over this past year. Because when we started Bucketty’s we really didn’t know shit about shit and I’m proud to say we now know a little about a little.

In no particular order, here’s some of the reflections and regrets since we opened in Feb 2021.

 

Our team is everything. It’s a cliché, but without the hard work and dedication from our team, this wouldn’t have worked. Each week we enter the gauntlet together, doing our best, spilling a lot of sweat, blood and tears as we try to keep our ship afloat and on course.

It was intense in those early days. I distinctly remember a moment a week out from opening when I wasn’t sure we’d make it. So I pulled out a big piece of MDF, and called the troops to down tools. We crowded around, covered in sawdust, paint and oil, then assigned every critical task needed for us to get our occupation certificate and open the doors.

The pressure and comradery was electrifying. I may have been the captain of the ship, but we were all rowing together, putting in some big hours. Dan, Tony D and I all lost about 10kgs each throughout that period I reckon.

Similarly, with our original venue manager Scotty and now Alex & Bree, these guys live Bucketty’s along with Lexi and I. Working hard and doing whatever it takes. Building this team of smart, like-minded hardworking legends is the biggest contributor to our success.

It’s not perfect, but at the end of the day we all trust and respect each other, aligned in a common goal. To produce delicious fresh beers, create an incredible experience in our tap room and have a blast while doing it.   

 

Everyone loves an authentic story. Getting the local beaches community excited about Bucketty’s has been at the front of my mind since we signed the lease on the building.

How do you get people excited to come to a warehouse in the middle of a hot industrial estate on their weekend to drink your beer?

Tell your story consistently and transparently.

Aussies love to support anyone having a crack, and starting a brewery is kinda cool. It’s one of those things that you might pipe dream about with your mates over a few pints. But it’s also really fucking hard.

And we’ve shared the ups and downs of the journey with you guys throughout. I’m blown away by the number of punters that stop me in the tap room to let me know they’ve read our entire blog, or follow us religiously on social media.

Talking about the brewery or my experience on camera isn’t comfortable, but I’ve seen how powerful it can be in getting people invested in our story. So I do it anyway.

A craft brewery isn’t a logo, can design or slick insta feed. It’s real people having a go and attempting to live out their dream. Getting my mug in front of the camera has helped tell that story without needing to spend money on marketing or outsourcing to an expensive Instagram wizard.

 

Wholesale beer is a mugs game.

I’ve detailed the challenges of supplying wholesale beer to bottle shops and pubs in a previous post and the more I learn, the more it confuses me… Why do so many breweries put their energy into ranging their beers in every conceivable outlet?

One of my disappointments this year has been the lack of interest in our beers from bottle shops.

Before we opened, I’d hear stories from other breweries that were struggling to keep up with demand, working their canning machines like a master whipping his ox.  Pallets of cases flying out the door to all corners of the state. So, I naively assumed we’d have outlets beating down our door too.

However it hasn’t worked out that way… As of writing this post, we’re stocked in about 6 bottle shops who place an average order of 5-10 cases once per month. That’s it. Bottle shop sales account for less than 1% of our revenue.  

To try and remedy the situation, I dusted off my salesmen suit from a previous life to try and drum up business at one point, only to be met with a mix of “meh… drop off some free tasters and we’ll see”, to complete radio silence.

Even after we’d created a bit of a name for ourselves, nothing changed…

Which I reckon is totally weird, because our beer is pretty bloody good!

No bullshit. Bucketty’s has the best beer in Brookvale according to industry beer rating app Untappd and we’ve won a bunch of bronze, silver and gold medals from independent judging panels.  So, the beer quality isn’t the issue.

Maybe our beer’s too expensive? But it’s barely worth doing if we squeeze our margins further…

I must be missing something. 

Maybe other breweries are willing to sell beer at breakeven because their end goal is capturing market share and being acquired by a conglomerate for a big bag of money? Possible. But I’ll be buggered if that’s the end goal. Sounds like a bloody nightmare, more likely to make you divorced and broke.

I’d then ask a follow up question - After they’ve got their big bag of money, then what?

If it was me, I’d probably use it to start a brewery.

 

We should have bought a bigger brewhouse

Our 3 vessel 1,000L brewhouse cost in the order of $250k, however an extra $50-75k would have allowed us to increase the size to 1,500L and significantly reduce the labour on each brew.

We didn’t have the money at the time, but in hindsight I wish we’d found a way.

In the past 12 months we’ve added extra tanks on 3 separate occasions, increasing storage capacity from 5,000L to 15,000L. “Great problem to have!” everyone keeps telling us, however there’s not much extra effort required to brew 1,500L over 1,000L.

If we had slightly bigger tanks, we’d reduce the number of brews and the labour cost on each brew would drop by close to 30%.

It’s now common for us to do 2 brews in a day and it’s a big 9-10hr day for the brewers. I see them savouring that knock off pint more than normal on a double brew day!  

 

We should have taken a longer lease

We signed a 5 x 5 year lease on our current building. And when we signed, the owner was willing to offer a 7 + 7 year deal.

However, at the time we thought there was a chance it could go belly up and I didn’t want us to be on the hook for $160k per year for 7 years if we were struggling to survive.

We also didn’t think the upfront cost would be so high. Our budget was around $750k, but in the end it was over 7 figures by opening day (I don’t like to down the figure because it still causes a nervous twitch in my left eye).

I’m worried about the owner turning the screws on us once we’re at the tail end of the lease. We’ve built this awesome brewery in the perfect building and if we’d signed the 7 + 7 year lease it’d be a lot more comfortable.

 

What's in store for Year 2? 

We'd like to elevating the status of our beers to be considered among the other primo craft beer brands in Australia, hopefully winning swag of medals at industry awards in the process. 

We'd also like to get the tap room going in Bucketty, shipping the beer up from Brookvale to get around the zoning issue that had the original application knocked back. 

Whatever we end up doing, it'll be epic fun. Thanks for reading along with us!