It’s involved a lot of luck, a lot of late nights, great partners and phenomenal team members.
When we look back on our COVID-19 journey, a few factors made us aware early on that what was happening was pretty significant. First, we have family members that live in Vietnam and Italy who were sharing with us their “boots on the ground experience.” Also, operating a brewery is not my full-time role — it’s more of my “evening job.” In my “day job,” I’m a partner and the chief investment officer at Bruton Chisnell Advisors, a financial advisory firm that serves both retirement plans and individual clients. With that, I was also doing a lot of studying and analysis to understand what was going on in the market and the global economy as a whole. The data was really starting to build and give indications that if we were going to act, we needed to act fast.
We were able to take these insights and translate them into how they would impact Ignite. We made a number of strategic pivots to ramp up a lot of components — such as inverting our business plan and preparing to sell cans at retail. Originally, we weren’t intending to launch canned products into grocery stores until later on — maybe two, three or four years from now. But, we saw the data and the writing on the wall, so to speak. We made a number of big bets, including designing a new line of packaging to be ready for market.
In mid-March, all bars and restaurants were restricted to take-out orders only, and no on-site consumption was allowed in the state of Ohio. We had to pivot, so we did. A couple of immediate changes included creating a process for in-house can filling, ramping up a new website in 36 hours for online ordering and adding home delivery.
Our taproom was closed for a little over two months and, in that time, we spent a lot of our energy working out how we would safely re-open. We doubled the size of our patio knowing that the open air environment would be important to our guests and were able to secure a bunch of ingredients and other packaging supplies to help us weather the storm. But, we still needed to work out the biggest challenge of all: How do we make this place safe for our guests while still delivering the experience they’re seeking? After all, at Ignite it’s not just about the beer itself; it’s about the whole community experience. That's where the technology component and the engagement with Insight came into play in a big way.
We’re very fortunate that our ownership team has a strong background in technology. I travel a lot (or used to) for work. Being constantly on the go, I need to be able to monitor how things are going across all aspects of the business — such as production rates or sales trends, the taproom experience and financials. However, rarely do I actually have my laptop in front of me. Because of this, my perspective is, if I can't run the business from my cell phone, I'm not doing something right. That’s become kind of a personal challenge to our team members.
Thankfully, we were already using the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor beverage coolers and items of that nature that could be tracked from a mobile device. Additionally, in the brewing industry, we’re constantly fighting scarcity. How do you solve that? By maximizing resources and seeking innovation. We have to seek that innovation in order to get more out of our equipment, get more out of our team members and create a better experience for everybody. So that’s what we’re doing.
A big “a-ha” moment was learning that for some of our most loyal guests we’re the only place they feel comfortable coming to. That's a great deal of weight on our shoulders! When someone tells you that your facility is the only place they're leaving their home for to enjoy a beverage and some company because you're following all the guidelines — making sure everything is spaced out, opening an expanded patio and outdoors space, and so on — it makes you feel like you have a great responsibility to consistently deliver (and over-deliver) on that experience. Because Ignite wants to make sure our customers continue to feel safe, we’ve introduced them to the fact that we have thermal imaging cameras that quietly and privately monitor temperatures and detect any issues.
The next “a-ha” came when so many of those people began asking, “Why aren’t more people doing this? How come this isn’t in our schools? How come this isn’t at major universities or grocery stores?”
In addition to being relevant during COVID-19, the thermal imaging solutions are also helpful for detecting and preventing the spread of illness during the flu season.
There are so many other use cases that exist. Ultimately, it helps us answer the question, ‘How do we make sure that we have a healthy experience for our guests, but enhance that experience in total?’
As always, make sure the team is aware of the goals and objectives, has visibility into the results to date, and understands their roles and responsibilities. Document, monitor, be wise and seek good counsel.
Also, the team you surround yourself with is important, as there’s no way everything can be accomplished by one person. If there’s a clear vision of the future and the goals that you’re collectively trying to accomplish, your team doesn’t just come along — they also push you to achieve those long-term goals and objectives. Our team is as invested in the success of the business as we are, and they take it upon themselves to make sure we continue to deliver phenomenal experiences day in and day out — both on the manufacturing front as well as customer and brand engagement. We're extremely grateful for our team and how they make us better every day.
Brewing in itself is such a scientific process. There are so many data points to monitor — tank monitoring, fermenter temperature control, where are we in the fermentation cycle, etc. — and there are so many opportunities to automate the process.
From a brewing operations and supply chain perspective, there’s a ton of data related to inventory controls, ingredient monitoring, costing analysis and so much more. Having that data at our fingertips allows us to analyze our operating costs, negotiate better ingredient contracts in the years ahead, plan more efficiently, and ultimately deliver a better margin and a better product.
And then there are the sales, marketing and client satisfaction data points that are important to understand and drive business results.
There are so many data points within the entire business ecosystem. The more access and information we have, the better we can compete in the broader marketplace.
We’re going to further leverage our tools, resources and team (which we’re so fortunate to have). These elements combined allow us to continue pushing up market.
One of our biggest goals for 2021 is also to continue building brand awareness while broadening our reach so that consumers can more easily find and enjoy Ignite beer. This includes securing distribution at more retailers so that we can meet consumers where they’re currently shopping and make the Ignite experience convenient for them. In addition, our goals include a focus on enhancing the safety of our team members and guests.