New craft beer enterprise relies on unique business model
Imagine yourself as a young entrepreneur, hoping to one day see your vision become a reality. For Mount Royal University student Quinn Wilton, his dream and vision became a reality that started in a classroom.
Wilton, 22, fell in love with the idea of brewing his own craft beer when he toured the Steam Whistle brewery in Toronto in May 2013. This experience inspired him to launch The Well Brewing Company, Alberta’s first membership driven brewery.
His idea sprouted from knowledge of the community support agriculture model.
“I figured, ‘Why can’t this model be applied to other industries?’” says Wilton. “And why can’t it be applied to beer?”
Wilton says the membership model has been embraced by beer drinkers.
“The membership approach really resonates with people because it’s something that hasn’t been done to this level before,” says Wilton.
The Well Brewing Company may have found the golden coin when it comes to two big problems starting a brewery: breweries are very expensive to launch, and it can be tough generating customers for a new product.
Ray DePaul, director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University, was first attracted to Wilton’s model because it appeared to solve both problems.
“The model right now is they can contract out brewing to a lot of the existing breweries so they don’t actually have to buy all the equipment, so now it’s not that expensive to start,” says DePaul. “So now how do you get customers? The subscription membership model solves that.”
Wilton was accepted into DePaul’s launch pad accelerator course at Mount Royal, where he was able to grow his company and seek insight from DePaul while talking to beer drinkers in order to understand what they weren’t getting already.
The Well Brewing Company saw success quickly. It was accepted into the Alberta BoostR program sponsored by ATB Financial, a kick-starter program limited to Albertans. The company raised $3,000 within the first 3½ days and ended up with $9,000 when the fundraiser ended about a month later.
However, no success story is without its share of failures. Wilton says that the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) looked into his business and found a glitch in the plan. AGLC decided it is illegal to promise to produce beer without a license. The Well Brewing Company had to immediately take the campaign down and give back the $9,000.
“I love the fact that they did what they did,” says DePaul. “I love the fact that they went out and made an error of commission as opposed to omission.”
DePaul says a lot of would-be entrepreneurs don’t even try after hitting a bump in the road.
“The fact that Quinn went out and actually launched this thing and got slapped by the authorities just says that they’re moving forward,” says DePaul. “Now they have their attention, so I think it’s wonderful and I think if you sit back and wait for things to come to you they are never going to happen.”
Wilton is now working with the AGLC to get the proper licensing. He says the AGLC has been very willing to work with him and help move the project forward.
Wilton held his first membership meeting at the end of January.
The idea going forward is to have three different types of beer at each brewing event.
Then together, members can determine what the first batch will be.
“The beautiful thing about being membership-based is I don’t know what the beer will taste like,” says Wilton. “It will be up to our members to decide.”
Wilton is optimistic about this approach to brewing because the business model is new to the Calgary craft beer market. He says there is just a general curiosity around the idea.
DePaul believes Wilton’s advantage is generational, as well as being content to starting off small.
“I think he’s taking on something that I’m not too sure the big boys could do what he’s talking about doing,” says DePaul. “I think there is always an opportunity for a new generation, regardless of what era, to solve problems that the older generation doesn’t even understand and to see them as opportunities.”
Thumbnail courtesy of Angie Lang.
- By Angie Lang