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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Craft Beer's Revolving Door

For quite some time, I've been perplexed about a theme I've seen playing out in my local pub. When I first started showing up 10 or so years ago, I saw the same faces for years at a time. There was very little turnover in the bar or the attached bottleshop.

That scenario has flipped in recent times. Faces come and go with increased frequency. Why have things changed so dramatically? Why have we gone from a situation where people stuck around for years to one in which they often come and go in a year or less?

The answer, of course, is opportunity. Craft beer was a modest growth industry until about 10 years ago. Nationwide, we had 1,521 craft breweries and brewpubs in 2008. By late 2017, that number had ballooned to 6,266. And that's not counting the many craft beer-focused taprooms and bars.

The consequence of the exponential growth is a corresponding increase in opportunity. These businesses don't run themselves. Many of the best opportunities are skilled positions in breweries, equipment manufacturing, etc. But the list extends to all corners of the industry.

That essentially means there's a lot of horizontal and upward mobility in craft beer. We regularly see brewers jumping from place to place...or starting their own gig. We see keg washers moving on to become assistant brewers and, sometimes, head brewers. Wild times.

In the case of my local, most of the folks who come and go stay within the craft beer space. Some have gone on to work for distributors or become brand reps or even assistant brewers. They use their acquired knowledge and experience to leverage a better role.

There's great incentive to move on if you work in retail. It isn't like being a bartender, where tips can make up for a crappy hourly wage. That's not the case with the folks who work in bottleships or craft-centric retail stores. The hourly wage in those place is low.

How low? Starting pay at my bottleshop is $12/hour. Not close to a living wage. Keep in mind that doing the job well requires significant beer knowledge and expertise. Customers constantly ask for advice and bottleshop folks need to be able to make informed suggestions.

What these folks soon find out is that their knowledge is worth more somewhere else. Prior to the craft explosion, there wasn't much opportunity in craft beer. People were stuck. Today, folks who work in retail can and do make the jump to better situations. Thus, the revolving door.

On a related note, Jeff Alworth is currently researching a piece that will explore brewer pay. Brewers are some of the best-paid people in craft beer, but I won't be surprised to learn that, as a group, they are underpaid in relation to their value. That's why so many open their own breweries.

Look for Jeff's piece in the next week or so. Should be solid stuff.

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