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Featured Business: Brú Brewery
Name: Daire Harlin, co-founder of Brú Brewery, which brews handmade craft beer in Meath
Tapping into your network is one vital piece of advice for any would-be entrepreneur. When Daire Harlin — who was working in law at the time — decided he wanted to do something in the craft brewing business, he got in touch with Patrick Hurley who he knew worked in a distillers.
Daire had played rugby with Patrick’s brother. He was the first one he rang when he decided to do something with his idea. The result is Brú Brewery, based in Trim, Co Meath.
At Brú Brewery Daire looks after all bottle sales domestically and all export sales, while Patrick is responsible for domestic draught.
Having come up with the concept in 2010, they started selling in September 2013 and one full year later Brú is sitting on the shelves of most major off licences in the country. O’Brien’s and Next Door off licences, Musgraves stores (Supervalu and Centra) and most good independent off licences now stock Brú.
The company is going from strength to strength and plans to launch a flagship beer “Brú”, which will be rolled out exclusively on draught.
According to Daire, the consumer move towards craft beers is coming off the back of what happened with wine in past years. Back in the 80s it was all about Blue Nun; now there is a huge choice of wines on offer in off licenses.
One reason craft beer is growing is from a cost focus point of view. People are trying to have a little bit of quality in their lives; a bottle of craft beer is not all that expensive, yet it gives a perception this person knows what they’re talking about and that they are drinking quality/premium stuff.
“As people experience new tastes, they realise beer can taste like something other than cold fizzy water. Once your palate gets educated, it’s incredible how much you like these new flavours,” says Daire.
The long-term goal is to have a brewery and a distillery — at the moment Daire feels that there’s not enough Irish whiskey being made to meet the demands of the market and they would like to step into distilling that in the next 12-18 months — once the brewery is looking after itself.
Interview with Daire Harlin
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I was home brewing for a number of years. I decided to take the next step. I could see where the world beers market was going. The macro beer sales (the big name brands) had been losing 8% market share year on year for the last number of years and yet people haven’t been drinking a whole lot less — they’ve been moving over to new brands. Wine has done a lot of damage to macro beer sales and people are moving towards craft beers. I would hope the craft beer market in Ireland would grow to about 10% of total beer sales. We’re at a couple of per cent now and there’s room for growth there.
How did you initially fund your business?
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
We have. We set up the brewery to brew lager initially. We now have about eight different beers out on the market — a lager being one of those. We’re hoping in the next 12-18 months to enter the pub trade to some degree in Galway, Cork or Dublin. On top of that, we do a lot of contract brewing. We brew beers for other people in our facility. It’s a good way of making cashflow and utilising the equipment we have.
What have been the highlights to date?
I get a massive kick out of making beer and people drinking it and enjoying it. It’s also great to see something grow out of nothing. We’ve five people employed here now, we’ve created three jobs. There’s a bit of satisfaction in that.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
I enjoy the responsibility of having to do things, having to make things work and constantly having to think on your feet. One of the things I enjoy most about being a small business owner is you don’t have money to throw at problems. You have to come up with creative solutions on how to fix them. I enjoy the struggle. I really enjoy trying to make things work.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I don’t really have a work-life balance at the moment. I have a work balance. I’m fortunate what I do for a living is quite a social thing anyway. There’s plenty of nights out, but it’s all work.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I find a lot of what the breweries have done in the States very inspiring. I would take a lot of inspiration from anybody for what they’ve done if they’ve gone out and done it for themselves. I get an immense satisfaction out of doing things for myself. My dad has an auctioneers firm in Navan. I’ve grown up in a self-employed family. I think it is a contagious thing.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
As regards our process itself, what we offer is entirely handmade. Our quality control is via our taste buds. We don’t have any automation at all in the brewery itself. We really brought it back to basics with the way things used to be done. Our beer tastes less processed and better for that. As regards running the business side of things, we recently got audited for VAT by Revenue and up until that we didn’t have a piece of software in place. When we got notification of the audit we put Sage in place and it made doing the accounts much easier and saves hours and hours every day.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
The way we’re doing things at the moment is we’re hands on and we don’t have a marketing budget, so we’re doing tasting nights and shows. We’re very hands on then with what people want. We’re out there physically meeting people. There’s no distance between us and the consumer. We are the consumer.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Sales are tough. I’m not a salesman and I find sales tough. Keeping up with cashflow isn’t easy.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Red tape and paperwork. We’re very lucky we have a good relationship with Revenue here in our Revenue district. I have friends in other Revenue districts and it’s a nightmare. We’re looking at export and getting through the red tape on that. It is nigh on impossible, only for I have a background in law and am used to dealing with paperwork — otherwise I think it would be impossible. With the grant funding, the goal posts are constantly changing and as a result small businesses are struggling.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I love having a bargain/deal. I love the haggle. We’ve a distributor I love hammering out deals with him and love hammering out deals from an export point of view. The quantities you’re talking about are just mental — 500 or 600 kegs at a time. We’ve stuff going into the UK, Canada, the US and Denmark.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
Hopefully there’s a pay day somewhere down the road. We have to keep hoping that will happen for us. I would like to think that after our first year of trading we will be solvent and not have lost money. We are going to re-invest everything and hopefully year three or year four it will pay off.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
We were ambitious from the start so we didn’t start out with a little brewery that couldn’t brew anything. We started out with a brewery we thought could scale up quite easily. We have a brew size of 2,500 litres every time we brew. We’ve increased our production capacity 100% since we started. That’s using cashflow to buy equipment. We’re hoping this year that we will have surpassed 45,000 litres a month, and moving on into next year, double what we’re doing now.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
Money is the obstacle to growth at the moment. We’re trying to export off our own bat. We approached Enterprise Ireland and were told we’re not big enough, so we’ve decided to do it all ourselves.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
We’ve to watch what’s going on globally. We really need to focus on growing the marketing rather than the beer itself. The beer will grow organically if we put the right procedures in place and staff behind it.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I love the challenge of it – at the end of the day I don’t have any further form of income. I have to make it work. We’ve responsibilities — we’ve people to pay wages to and suppliers to pay.
What’s your vision for the future?
I would hope we will double, if not treble, production capacity in the brewery and get distilling. I’ve a number of ideas in the pipeline. The number one focus is the brewery — get the brewery up and running and get it looking after itself and then try to get everything else working off the back of that.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
No we don’t — there’s not too many people who know how to run a brewery. We very much started out trying not to rely on anyone.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Don’t look at the clock. Just because it’s 5 o’clock in the evening, doesn’t mean you should be going home. If there’s a job to be done, the job needs to be done. I firmly believe if you work hard, good things will come.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Don’t fear failure. If this brewery goes belly up in the next couple of months, so what – at the end of the day we’ve had a really good run of it. I have really enjoyed the last 12-18 months and will have learnt a huge amount from it. If you talk to anybody in business they will all have failed a couple of times anyway. A lot of people would love to have a business and can’t see past the weekly wage on a Friday. They are terrified to do anything outside of the weekly wage. I genuinely think if you give something your heart and your soul you have a fair ol’ chance of making it.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
“Fortune favours the brave” is the one you have to have.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I don’t think we’ve made a huge amount of mistakes. We’re going to have to make mistakes at some stage. Everything we’ve done so far I’m happy with.
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