Author Topic: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?  (Read 3200 times)

Offline Saccharomyces

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How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« on: August 16, 2020, 08:00:21 am »
There is a local home brewing store that has been in business since the nineties. It is physically closer today than a supplier I have been using since I started to brew in early 1993. I decided to visit their website today and was shocked to discover that they still appear to be structured like a 90s home brew store. Anyone who started in this hobby in the 90s knows what home brew stores were like at that point in time. Most stores were focused on selling all-in-one-box bottle-based gear kits and kit beer. Grain was only sold by the pound and hops were only sold by the ounce, usually years from their harvest date.

With that said, I know that there is more margin in grain by the pound and hops by the ounce; however, it it just seems like a recipe for limiting growth. Bulk base grain sales do not hurt a supplier’s bottom line, as bulk base grain buyers still purchase specialty grains by the pound.  What bulk base grain sales tend to do is lower the per bag price of grain affording the retailer an even larger margin on per pound sales. It also keeps experienced brewers from moving on. Their is something to be said about local convenience. Gear and base malt purchases are an experienced brewer’s largest expenditures. I am willing to a spend a few dollars more at a local store than go online. However, when base grain is three times the price of what it can be purchased online, one can cover the cost of shipping and still save 1/3rd.


Offline allenhuerta

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2020, 08:26:54 am »
I feel that's partly a generational thing. I've been brewing almost 11 years and I'm 33. When I first got into it I used nothing but Northern Brewer because there were no shops in my area. After I moved to a place that had a shop, I met a lot of people and visited, etc. Maybe my 20's mentality, I saw the price of stuff in store and decided online shopping was better for my situation. Though, everyone is all about shop and buy local. My favorite thing about going into the shop was actually talking and asking questions because in 2011 or so the forums were only so.. informative.. and everyone thinks they are right or they will flame you and call you a troll. So, I started getting some stuff in person, some still online. Years later, I know people that still go to shops that do not have good prices IMO because they don't trust the internet or stuff like that... Crazy for me to think of but hey, you do you. Relationships could have been built there and they don't want that to go away. Not just with brewing, there are a ton of businesses that just seem like they should not thrive or survive but they are doing just well. Long John Silvers, for example. I know everyone says it but right now is the time to give them any support you can consider. A lot of shops have closed and others aren't doing well. With e-commerce, maybe most will fall but only about 10%(maybe a little more) of all cash exchanges actually take place online.

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Offline Kevin

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2020, 08:51:09 am »
The only homebrew supply store in my area was like that as well... stuck in the 90's. Then two young guys opened up a small store on the other side of town. They offered excellent customer service, contemporary homebrew knowledge, community involvement and a 21st century online presence. After only a short time in business they grew and moved into a larger store and just a year or so after that expansion the older store stopped selling homebrew supplies. You can either lead, follow or get out of the way.
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Offline narvin

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2020, 09:23:38 am »
Not sure it’s a 90s thing at all. I know people who got into brewing recently with the pico brew and only wanted to order pre-measured ingredients, either recipe kits or made with the online recipe maker.  I think convenience is timeless, and focusing on bulk ingredients and DIY is the thing that will limit your business, especially if it is a brick and mortar store that caters more to a limited area.  People are lazy, and for every long time brewing expert there are 10 beginners.

Have you asked if they sell bulk grain?  I’ve seen places that don’t advertise but will sell it to you if you want it.

Offline Saccharomyces

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2020, 11:16:05 am »
Since you appear to be local, Narvin,  I have been buying from Maryland Homebrew since Don Breton (a.k.a. DonnyB) was selling out of his basement in his old house in Columbia. Don was very quick to understand how limiting catering to only beginners would be to his business plan.  I was one of his first bulk base grain purchasers.  Granted Christine has been running business for years and assumed ownership in 2017, but the business that they both built is still in business almost 28 years after it was founded.  Moving into an industrial park (actually two moves in the same industrial park) was very wise decision.  They can still sell to beginners, but their services have expanded to include other fermentation related hobbies and they sell many tons of grain each year.  Now, I have not checked to see if the store that has been in business since the 90s that appears to be stuck in the 90s sells base malt in bulk, but there is no mention of bulk pricing.  Granted, the store that appears to be stuck in the 90s is in an affluent area, but Maryland Homebrew is in Columbia and Howard County is the most affluent county in Maryland.  I like the convenience of a local store, but what keeps me going to a local store is competitive pricing and the community that grows out of a local store.

Offline narvin

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2020, 01:34:16 pm »
Since you appear to be local, Narvin,  I have been buying from Maryland Homebrew since Don Breton (a.k.a. DonnyB) was selling out of his basement in his old house in Columbia. Don was very quick to understand how limiting catering to only beginners would be to his business plan.  I was one of his first bulk base grain purchasers.  Granted Christine has been running business for years and assumed ownership in 2017, but the business that they both built is still in business almost 28 years after it was founded.  Moving into an industrial park (actually two moves in the same industrial park) was very wise decision.  They can still sell to beginners, but their services have expanded to include other fermentation related hobbies and they sell many tons of grain each year.  Now, I have not checked to see if the store that has been in business since the 90s that appears to be stuck in the 90s sells base malt in bulk, but there is no mention of bulk pricing.  Granted, the store that appears to be stuck in the 90s is in an affluent area, but Maryland Homebrew is in Columbia and Howard County is the most affluent county in Maryland.  I like the convenience of a local store, but what keeps me going to a local store is competitive pricing and the community that grows out of a local store.

Oh yeah, I love Maryland Homebrew.  It’s not as close to me as it used to be since I moved north of Baltimore, but I still go there for bulk grain and hops and for yeast.  I agree that selling bulk and to all levels of brewing experience keeps people coming back.  Even Picobrew had options for brewers to put together custom recipes and use their own ingredients.  I also think there will always be a large market for beginners with introductory all-in-one systems and kits. It’s just improved a lot since Mr. Beer.

Offline Bob357

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2020, 01:43:35 pm »
The first brick & mortar shop I did business with packaged their hops in zip lock bags and stored them in a glass fronted fridge. They stored dry yeasts in bins on the counter, had milled grains in covered bins that were not air tight and filled plastic jugs with LME. They had a deposit on the jugs that was waived if you returned a clean empty, and relied on the returns to be refillable without any further cleaning. They had their dogs running around in the shop and welcomed customers to bring their dogs in too.

I was getting some seriously degraded LME from them and decided to try MoreBeer instead. My beers greatly improved due to the fresher product that was stored and handled in the proper manner. I went into the original shop several years later and nothing had changed. They were the headquarters for the local Club and relied on that, customer loyalty and referrals for their business. When I went in on a weekend, half of their business appeared to be new brewers purchasing starter kits.

Their prices were hardly competitive and if you asked for help, they usually just continued to BS with one of their old customers or another employee. Their survival was likely due to the fact that they were the only game in town and on line sellers were few and far between. With a lot of mom & pop stores closing down lately, I see an instant replay coming.


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Offline ynotbrusum

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2020, 05:55:52 am »
I became friends with my LHBS family and they gladly order anything I need and price things reasonably.  They sell their own (award winning) recipe kits, along with the LD Carlson combos, but stock basic bulk grains For guys like me.  They say that business picked up recently, despite the restrictions due to the virus.  They switched to curbside pickup and limited in store visits, as well as outdoor seating for their cidery/winery operation.  The adaptability of small business allows them to stay in the game.
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Offline Lazy Ant Brewing

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2020, 12:47:09 pm »
In my area we had two stores that sold brewing ingredients as a sideline.  One has dropped out and the other is considering it.  Neither had a staff member with a tremendous amount of expertise in brewing and neither sold bulk grains at good prices.

I continue to buy full sacks of base grains from a local microbrewery at cost and order everything else online from the closest (130 miles away) retailer that has some brewing knowledge and is willing to talk me through any problems I encounter. 
It's easier to read brewing books and get information from the forum than to sacrifice virgins to appease the brewing gods when bad beer happens!

Offline Megary

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2020, 02:17:48 pm »
I just had my only LHBS go under.  The guy ran the place as a side business to his beer distributorship.  Not a bad idea as he didn't need the homebrew supplies to carry him but when I say side business, I mean way off to the side.  I wouldn't buy grains there because of the way they were bulk-stored in cheesy plastic containers and without any knowledge of how old they were.  They did have a pretty solid selection of hops and dried yeast with a smattering of White Labs to boot.  And enough periphery like brew-bags, water additives, hoses, siphons etc. to keep me coming back.  And the craft beer selection wasn't bad either so I always walked out with a couple of 6's as well. 

But he sold the place and the new owners aren't really sure what beer is, never mind homebrew.  So that's that.

I did manage to do my best to help clean the place out when the new owners were deep discounting all of the brew stuff.  I got 4 BIAB bags for $2 and more hops than I really know what to do with.


Offline joe_meadmaker

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2020, 06:12:40 pm »
With my LHBS I have always operated with the self imposed rule that anything I could purchase there, I would purchase there.  Their prices were always in the ballpark of what can be found online.  A bit more expensive with some things, but never enough that it was a problem for me.  The reason for always going to them is I like having a place where I can see in person what I'm buying before I buy it.  And if they ever did close down, I would miss that.  So my business goes to them.

Although they closed down because of COVID and haven't reopened yet.  I very much hope that they do.

Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2020, 09:53:39 pm »
The first homebrew shop I started frequenting was like this in 2009 when I started brewing but you could buy grain by the pound or even down to the ounce if you really wanted to. It wasn't cheap though. Hops were packaged by the ounce at a ridiculous $4/oz for the standard varieties with no idea how old they were. Lots of dusty equipment kits and even dustier ingredient kits. It was part of a general store that primarily catered to lawn and farm equipment but it much closer than anywhere else. I still use the brew bucket and black capper from the equipment kit I bought from them. Given how little they sold of brewing and winemaking equipment they would have gone out of business if not for the rest of the store. Basically they sold beer and wine stuff because the owner made beer and wine.

Most shops I've been in the past several years have capitulated in favor of bulk sales at a discount and even moved towards letting people buy bulk bags up front on an account and they can withdraw from their account as they need it. That's a brilliant way to get people who would otherwise buy bulk online to come in the shop frequently.
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Offline BrewBama

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2020, 04:10:44 am »
With my LHBS I have always operated with the self imposed rule that anything I could purchase there, I would purchase there.  Their prices were always in the ballpark of what can be found online.  A bit more expensive with some things, but never enough that it was a problem for me.  The reason for always going to them is I like having a place where I can see in person what I'm buying before I buy it.  And if they ever did close down, I would miss that.  So my business goes to them.


Even though it’s ~20 min drive, I tried to do this but it just didn’t seem to work out.

We have a herbal medicine store in town that has a small section of beer and wine making supplies. They started pretty strong but now it seems they’ve gone downhill. I’m sure the pandemic hasn’t helped.

I went in the other day and they had very little grain or hops to select from but had ~10 ea 10# bags of flaked corn and rye, big bags of charred oak chips, and turbo yeast. It’s frustrating to make the trip down there to find a sparse selection. Though they never had a huge selection, it seems they’ve shifted their customer base.

I anticipate their brewing supplies will disappear altogether after a while. I imagine it’s pretty hard to compete with shopping for everything under the sun from an easy chair with free shipping to the front door for about the same price. Fortunately, they did have the cleaner I like and some yeast nutrient.


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Offline goose

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Re: How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #13 on: August 18, 2020, 07:21:03 am »
I am fortunate to have a very good LHBS about 20 miles away.  They will order any special grain for me and give a discount to members of one of the brew clubs I belong to.  I had them order a bag of base malt for me that they normally do not carry and it ended up cheaper than a bag of the same malt I ordered from an online store and having to pay the shipping costs to boot.  they have been around a long time and thir customer service is excellent.
Yeah, it is about a half hour drive to get there but a number of us usually band together and one of us will make the trip to get the stuff.  I buy almost everything from them and only order things online that they don't carry.

To those of you who have either lost a LHBS to CVID-19 or due to attrician from the online retailers, I sympathize with you.
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Offline smkranz

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How do some home brewing suppliers stay in business?
« Reply #14 on: August 23, 2020, 10:54:40 pm »
Since you appear to be local, Narvin,  I have been buying from Maryland Homebrew since Don Breton (a.k.a. DonnyB) was selling out of his basement in his old house in Columbia. Don was very quick to understand how limiting catering to only beginners would be to his business plan.  I was one of his first bulk base grain purchasers.  Granted Christine has been running business for years and assumed ownership in 2017, but the business that they both built is still in business almost 28 years after it was founded.  Moving into an industrial park (actually two moves in the same industrial park) was very wise decision.  They can still sell to beginners, but their services have expanded to include other fermentation related hobbies and they sell many tons of grain each year.  Now, I have not checked to see if the store that has been in business since the 90s that appears to be stuck in the 90s sells base malt in bulk, but there is no mention of bulk pricing.  Granted, the store that appears to be stuck in the 90s is in an affluent area, but Maryland Homebrew is in Columbia and Howard County is the most affluent county in Maryland.  I like the convenience of a local store, but what keeps me going to a local store is competitive pricing and the community that grows out of a local store.
MDHB has bulk grain pricing, on pretty much anything.  Hope your new local shop can get onboard.

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« Last Edit: August 23, 2020, 11:02:25 pm by smkranz »
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