From niche beer brand to global bar operator, BrewDog has been at the vanguard of the craft beer revolution. As it nears the milestone of 100 bars, its Retail CEO David McDowall shared some of the secrets of its success in conversation with CGA vice president Peter Martin at the 2019 Casual Dining show. Here’s what he had to say.
On… expansion plans
BrewDog now has 84 bars worldwide, and will open “30 odd” a year from here on, McDowall said. For the first time in its history this year, overseas openings will exceed UK launches—a significant tipping point for the business. But McDowall added that it was tempting to fate to set long-term targets. “It’s dangerous to put a number against it… consumers and the market will dictate how far we can go.”
On… new immersive BrewDog concepts
BrewDog has pushed well beyond the straightforward bar concept, into super-sized brewpub venues and, in Ohio, its own 32-room hotel, with views of brewing facilities and beer fridges in the showers. “We’re in the business of building truly immersive beer experiences and [the hotel] felt like the right thing to do,” McDowall said.
On… trusting instinct
BrewDog has cultivated a punk ethos as it has grown, and continues to plough its own furrow. “You’ll never see a focus group in a BrewDog business meeting—we brew the beers we want to drink,” said McDowall. But behind the scenes there is a meticulous approach, he added. “There’s a gung-ho public facing attitude to us… but there’s also a disciplined, rigorous approach to how we grow.”
On… growing big but thinking small
McDowall was happy to admit that fast-growing businesses make lots of mistakes, but their greatest risk lies in over-reaching. “Where businesses get slightly lost is when they think big before they are big,” he said. “The bigger e get the smaller we need to act.”
Many brands have followed BrewDog’s charge into the craft beer sector, but McDowall said they were all helping to build the market. “We’ve always taken the view that we’re a small part in a growing a category… when others come in we welcome it… and it forces us to carry on getting better.”
On… finding the right people
BrewDog hires on attitude as much as talent, McDowall said, aiming to recruit staff who fit its culture. “We want to work with people who believe in the same things we do—it’s as simple as that.”
BrewDog has funded much of its growth through ‘Equity for Punks’ crowdfunding—and it has massively improved brand loyalty, said McDowall. “We don’t view it as a fundraising process but as a community building process… an opportunity to build a phenomenal community of people who share our beliefs.”
On… staying close to the ground
All leaders should stay in touch with frontline staff and customers, McDowall said—especially when their business is growing fast. “I still do a shift behind a bar each month and talk to customers… it’s the best night of the month,” he said. “The further away the decision-makers in a business get from the action, the more the rot sets in.”