It’s a great time to brew craft beer in Australia. This tiny industry of little more than 300 businesses is bucking the downward trend in beer consumption nationally, with their sales increasing over the past five years. One of those brewers, Peter Philip of Wayward Brewing in Sydney, has learned several valuable lessons about what it takes to make a small business thrive in a competitive market.
“You need to surround yourself with people and partners who have a high tolerance for chaos,” the Canadian-born brewer says with a laugh. It sounds like a throw-away line but forging strong partnerships has underpinned his approach to business from the outset.
Share the vision
Wayward Brewing started out as an idea when Peter was a gypsy brewer in the Illawarra back in 2011. He was moving from brewery to brewery honing his skills when he met fellow brewer Shaun Bissett. They decided to combine their talents and craft their own range of beers. Wayward Brewing was born. It wasn’t long before this fortuitous partnership began to bear fruit with more and more people raising a glass to their achievements. But being a gypsy brewer was never the long game for Peter.
“Having my own brewery was always the dream,” he says. His willingness to partner with someone who shared his passion and determination from the outset enabled him to put his long-term goals into action.
Patience and persistence
“It took a lot longer than expected to find the right location,” he says. In fact, it took four years. “We had a whole bunch of false starts – locations fell through, landlords got the wobbles, council had issues. It was serendipity when we found the right place.”
Peter discovered a former wine cellar in Camperdown that seemed purpose-built for his brewery. The warehouse space was ideal for holding several large stainless steel vats as well as the machinery for the bottling line. Better still, the waxed white walls and dark timber beams gave the place an Old World sense of industry, which was perfect for the bar area he was envisioning – at atmospheric space where beer lovers could sample the full Wayward Brewery range and meet up for a tour of the facilities. But before a drop of beer could be poured there was a lot of work to be done.
Regulatory requirements are a necessary part of starting any brewery and dealing with councils takes time and patience. It would take a full year before the bar could be opened in 2015. That’s a year of paying rent and other expenses on a limited income. So his business plan in the early days was “survive before you can thrive”.
Learn to prioritise the most important tasks
Aside from forming strong partnerships, Peter highlights the importance being able to prioritise tasks on the go, and having the courage to make hard decisions day in, day out. “There have been times when my to-do list went over six pages with more than 300 items,” he says.
“I always tell my staff, you will have 50 things on your to-do list for this week but you will only have time to do 10 of them. The art of small business is deciding on the 40 things you won’t be able to do without causing more problems, and the 10 things you can do to move your business forward.”
It wasn’t long after the bar opened that Peter was already thinking how to streamline his operations. His solution was to automate his entire business. Every gram of grain that now passes through the brewing process is logged into an enterprise resource planning system called EKOS. This high-end solution extends from the state-of-the-art brewing vats to the bottling line, where their core and seasonal ranges are packaged for distribution to pubs and liquor stores across the city.
When Peter had EKOS installed, he realised his accounting system would need to be upgraded as well. The automation of his operations wouldn’t be complete unless his financial management synced seamlessly with every facet of his business. He opted for a cloud accounting solution, QuickBooks Online, which enables him to monitor the company’s finances in real time from his laptop. “I use it three or four times a day. I’m always creating invoices, checking figures.
“Cash is king in small business, so data and information is not a nice to have it’s a must-have,” he adds. “Quite often, small business starting out believe accounting is something you can do after hours or as a second priority, but it should be a first priority – know exactly where you are financially minute to minute – it’s a disaster if you don’t know where you are.”
Maintain a sustainable rate of growth
With the brewery and bottling line now running very smoothly, and the bar drawing an increasing number of punters, Wayward Brewery is ready to expand its operations beyond the Sydney metropolitan region. Peter is actively looking for export markets. It’s an exciting time for his company but he isn’t about to forget why he started out in the first place.
“Success for us is sustainable growth – not growing faster than we can handle. It’s all about making great beer and having fun doing it – the attitude is more about family than business.”
We say, “Cheers to that, Peter!”
 IBIS World Report “Craft Beer Production” September 2017, https://www.ibisworld.com.au/industry-trends/specialised-market-research-reports/consumer-goods-services/craft-beer-production.html