It’s a two-edged knife: Like so many emerging craft brewers across the U.S., Spokane’s No-Li Brewhouse has finally reached the point where it needs to spend a few million dollars if it wants to keep growing.
It’s just one of many tradeoffs that No-Li is facing as it continues to mature. How much of its impressive per-case margin should it give up as it moves to faster-selling packages? Which territories should it withdraw from to focus on its home base? When it does build a new brewery, how big should it go?
Those are all questions that co-founder John Bryant asks himself as he sits, sometimes deep into the night, crunching the numbers, pouring over balance sheets and assessing his company’s ability to expand.
“If our business keeps going the way it is, we are going to need to settle on a new piece of property this summer and break ground on a new brewery later this year,” Bryant told Brewbound.
In addition to being one of the fastest growing craft brands in the Pacific Northwest, No-Li, which sold about 10,000 barrels of beer in 2015, is also one the most profitable for distributors to carry: it had the highest average case equivalent price ($62.18 in Seattle) amongst craft brands selling in the Spokane, Seattle and Oregon markets, according to IRI scan data provided to the brewery by industry consultant Bump Williams.
With sales up over 50 percent in the first quarter of 2016, Bryant said he is currently looking at real estate options and planning to build a 60,000-barrel brewery. But before he started scouting those locations, he made a few significant portfolio adjustments that he believes will set the company up for many years of steady growth as it matures into a regional craft beer producer.
“There was an epic storm in Spokane last November and I had lost power at my house for seven days,” Bryant explained. “There was a lot of time to sit around and think. My wife and some of our key staff asked ourselves what do we want to be,and that storm caused us to look at our business and reflect.”
At the time, No-Li products were predominantly sold in 4-packs and 22 oz. bottles, formats that contributed to the company’s higher than average case price.
But as Bryant looked at No-Li’s future, he knew a broader transition into 6-packs was inevitable.
“I wanted to stay away from them as long as I could,” he said. “With 4-packs, you accept a lower velocity but your revenue is significantly greater. In this business, you’re not measuring barrels sold; you’re measuring revenue per barrel. As we’ve created more revenue, we can pay people more, hire more experience, invest in our lab, make better beer and build a stronger brand.”
No-Li is currently in the process of phasing out its 4-packs, Bryant said, and the company has simultaneously introduced rebranded 6-packs for core brands Poser Pale Ale, Crony Brown Ale and Slacker ‘Brass Ale.’
“We’re hell bent on creating a craft beer culture and economy in Spokane,” he said. “If we stayed small, my revenue would be at a set place, which is okay, but I am not ready to settle for that right now.”
The company has also picked up about 8,000 barrels of additional capacity via a contract brewing arrangement with nearby Orlison Brewing, where No-Li brews, ferments, and cans its Born & Raised IPA and Big Juicy IPA offerings.
All of these moves mean the company’s $50+ per case average could drop as much as $14 on some items, Bryant said, adding that he hopes to keep pricing in the “mid-to-high $40’s.” In other words, wholesalers won’t be making as much to deliver, at least initially, the same amount of No-Li beer to retailers.
For Bryant, it’s a short-term price to pay as the company starts chasing higher volumes.
“I think if you look at a dollar cost average, No-Li will still be on the top-side and velocity for a distributor will be 30-to-40 percent more now,” he said.
No-Li has also quietly pulled out of some markets over the last few months, Bryant said, including North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. The moves, he said, are intended to keep the company focused on growing sales close to home, where it is more profitable.
“There is a regional outline from your perimeter where you should focus, and we have been hard at work on that for about 18 months,” he said.
No-Li will continue to sell 22 oz. bottles of Born & Raised IPA, Spin Cycle Red, Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout & Jet Star Imperial IPA, Bryant said. It has also added Komrade Imperial IPA to “Expo Series” lineup.
No-Li by the numbers:
Q-1 2016, Pacific Northwest Markets:
- #1 highest (per SKU) gross dollar basket ring
- #1 retail sales growth
Q1 2016 IRI Scan (Seattle, Portland and Spokane):
- Spokane: Up 58.8 percent ($50.31 average case price; $13.85 greater than Spokane craft market)
- Seattle: Up 34.3 percent ($62.18 average case price; $23.49 greater than Seattle craft market)
- Oregon: Up 69.4 percent ($56.50 average case price; $19.04 greater than Oregon craft market)