Meet the Instructors: Heather McClung, Business of Craft Beer

[Meet the Instructors is a series intended to introduce you to one of the greatest resources the University of Washington Tacoma Professional Development Center has to offer: its diverse team of veteran, industry-tested professionals. The Center’s professional development programs are designed to be rewarding, challenging and cutting-edge. Our instructors play no small part in that, ensuring students are exposed to the most current industry trends while remaining well-versed in the tried-and-true best practices of their professions. We’re excited to share our instructors with you, and their stories are a great place to start.]

For this installment of Meet the Instructors, we sat down with beer industry veteran Heather McClung. She has a wealth of knowledge, and a passion for teaching, that she’ll bring to Business of Craft Beer on Jan. 28. Read more about her here!

You’ve had a lot of different jobs, both as a teacher and in the beer industry – are you looking forward to combining those two interests as an instructor for Business of Craft Beer

I have always had a passion for education and it’s been interesting to see how education has morphed into management and other leadership roles, which basically accomplish the same goal: education. I was in grocery store management prior to getting my Master’s in teaching and remember thinking they should send all managers to teacher preparation, as the essence of the two professions share a lot of similarities.

What most excites you about this program as an instructor? What would most excite you as a student?

As an instructor, this class provides an opportunity to reflect upon my experience starting a brewery and be able to assist future entrepreneurs in avoiding common pitfalls. There were not that many breweries operating in Washington state when we began so there was a lot of on-the-job training and gleaning as much information from other mentor brewers as possible. Having a more mature industry allows for a more formal exchange of information which will in turn make our industry stronger with better tasting beer!

A student leaving the class at end of term will have had the opportunity to hear from a wide variety of craft beer industry professionals. They’ll be able to reflect upon common threads and synthesize the information to allow themselves to make educated business decisions. This will amount to a competitive advantage, as there are many brewery owners who begin their business as true DIY’ers and figure out how to run the business almost as an afterthought of their passion to make craft beer.

As we mentioned before, you’re not just this program’s instructor, but you’re also an industry vet – tell us a little bit about your experience in the world of craft beer.

I began Schooner EXACT in 2006 and we started selling in early 2007 to our neighborhood. Our start-up system was a glorified homebrew system: 20 gallon with two conical, jacketed fermenters. Operating as a nanobrewery for two years, we developed our reputation and began seeking investors. We moved to a bigger location with a bigger system and began our transition to a microbrewery. Around this time, I was elected as President of the Washington Brewers Guild, which forced me into the arena of public policy. This experience allowed me to form a deep understanding of how business is affected by their regulators and how business can in turn influence public policy and the manner in which their regulators interact with them. I came to understand the importance of businesses regularly connecting with their state and federal representatives. This advocacy on a state level led me to participate in the Brewers Association’s export development committee. The big picture perspective these opportunities afford are super valuable in being able to ascertain how the state’s breweries or your own brewery matches up to national/state trends.

Schooner EXACT – tell us a little about starting a brewing company. What does it take to succeed in a saturated market like the Seattle area?

First and foremost, it is important to make good beer. There are so many other breweries available that if you are making sub-standard beer with flaws, you might get a first sale because someone is willing to try you, but not the repeat sales necessary to grow your business. Secondly, you need to have a solid marketing plan. There are so many competitors, how are you going to differentiate yourself from the others? Thirdly, you need to understand how to run a business. Starting a brewery is so much more than being passionate about craft beer. A brewery will receive pressure from retailers, distributors, consumers, and non-profits to give away free product, merchandise, and sometimes cash. You need enough business savvy to discern when that makes financial sense and when you just negated the value of your sale.

How would you describe the local craft beer industry/community?

The local craft beer industry is still cooperative. The increasing competitive nature along with the sheer number of new entrants may be affecting this mentality slightly, but it still is a consistent component of the industry, which really makes it special. When everyone is lending their strengths, it really allows the industry to thrive, prosper and innovate.

What is the single most important piece of advice you could give someone entering the craft beer industry?

Before you begin, think about all the non-fun elements of your business; specifically the business entity structure, including a clear exit plan for partners that have a change of heart. You also want to think about investment capital; the brewing industry is extremely capital intensive, especially when you are continually growing. The business needs a solid growth plan, with a couple of contingency elements worked into the management. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the beer creation and selling and forget to be very intentional about the foundation in which all those other activities rely.

Business of Craft Beer – how unique is this program in the local industry?

Locally, I am unaware of another program quite like this learning opportunity. It will be a crash course in running a business, but it will provide enough depth and breadth to get people started on the right path with a competitive advantage over those whom are figuring it out or modifying systems along the way.

Who would benefit from a craft beer program like this?

Entrepreneurs considering entering the industry would benefit from the in-depth look and being able to ascertain if the risk-reward matches their expectations. Brewers who are already immersed in the industry and realize they have a couple of gaps of knowledge that need assistance. By going through the program, these operating brewers would have the operational experience to apply the learning in real-life scenarios. They would also gain a different perspective in which to be able to think critically about their own business. Brewery investors would benefit tremendously from this course, as the business dynamics of real estate or technology vary greatly from the business pressures in the brewing industry. Lastly, vendors of the brewing industry would be able to better understand the market pressures of their customers, which would allow them to better cater their services and products to match brewers’ needs.

What is your favorite beer?

No such thing as a favorite beer. There are too many delicious beers out there, that one must move towards my favorite beer for on the boat (Roger’s Pilsner), or favorite beer for backpacking (Hopvine or Fremont’s Lush IPA), or my favorite beer for a cold, rainy Seattle day (a Stout or Porter depending on how cold and how rainy). There is a beer for every occasion and every mood. It’s what makes living in a craft beer-centric city so great!

Interested in meeting Heather in class? Visit our Business of Craft Beer webpage.

Read about other craft beer instructors here:

Meet Christopher Smith (Fundamentals of Commercial Brewing), John Marti (Mastering Beer Styles) and Trevor Nichol (Mastering Beer Styles).

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