Craze for craft beer leads to fast growth

29 April, 2016

London-based beer retailer We Brought Beer is set to open its third store in less than two years, while other craft beer specialists have also revealed plans for expansion.

We Brought Beer plans to open its new site in mid-May inside south London’s Tooting Market. The store will be considerably smaller than the company’s existing Clapham and Balham units, just a few square metres, but will still house 200 craft beers, three growler stations, home-brew kits and ingredients, with space for shoppers to congregate in the market.

Founder James Hickson told OLN: “We only sell craft beer and I have been pleased, and surprised, by how popular the first two shops have been and, more importantly, how adventurous people are. “We recommend some beers to try and before long customers are coming back week in and week out. Once you try the interesting beers that we sell it is hard to go back to the cheap stuff and people are prepared to pay more for these.”

Hickson said he had been in talks with Tooting Market for some time, waiting for an available unit. “When we got a call a couple of weeks ago I jumped at the chance. Tooting has a good demographic and we will be alongside some other recently opened brands which are a good fit for the business, such as Brickwood Coffee, which also has sites in Balham and Clapham, the gin bar Graveney Gin, wine bar Unwined and the soon-to-open pizza place Franco Manca.”

We Brought Beer has decided that, unlike its existing stores, its Tooting site will only stock canned craft beers.

“We sell more bottled beers but canned sales are increasing all the time,” said Hickson. “We felt cans were right for Tooting for a number of reasons. Eighteen months ago we would have struggled to find 50 different canned beers but now we believe we can easily find 200 to stock. Also, there is a huge interest in canned craft beer. We can now source more from America, plus there is now a good range from UK brewers and other places such as Japan. We want to showcase how many cans there are.

“People have warmed to cans. Also, we can fit more on shelf, which helps with this small unit, so there is an element of practicality about our decision.”

Growlers have been an important part of the business from the start and these will continue to feature in Tooting. “People like the theatre of growlers and they like the fact they can try before they buy,” said Hickson. “Ultimately for us it means we can sell loads of beer we couldn’t otherwise stock as these are beers you can’t find in bottles. In our current two stores growlers are almost the most important part of our business.”

We Brought Beer is also looking for bigger sites to match the original Balham unit, which is 500sq ft. “South west London is working out well for us but we might look more to the west, in areas such as Hammersmith, Shepherd’s Bush, Queen’s Park and Chiswick. We are not ruling out Dalston and Shoreditch but at the moment we have a niche in south west London. We are always looking at sites but we don’t feel any pressure to expand unless the site is right. We may turn to crowdfunding to aid expansion.”

The success of the We Brought Beer business follows a trend of expansion and new stores dedicated to selling craft beer. Craft beer store Bison Beer opened in April 2015 in Brighton and co-founder Jack Cregan said overall sales have been very good “and better than we predicted”.

He added: “We found the seasonal variations very interesting with the shop being very busy on sunny days and quite quiet when it’s raining. We also have a regular rush of growler fills on Fridays between 4pm and 7pm.”

Cregan said local beers and Bison’s own beer range have been selling well, and this is something it plans to expand. More recently the company has been working to develop its on-trade outlet, the Bison Arms, to complement the offtrade store.

Cregan said it is still considering expanding its offtrade concept into nearby Hove but only if the right site becomes available.

Meanwhile in Derby plans have been lodged with the city council for the opening of a speciality craft beer shop in Derby’s Friar Gate. The venue, called Suds & Soda, will comprise a craft beer shop and tasting bar stocked with products sourced from Hickson: cans are right for new Tooting Market venture microbreweries.

ODDBINS BEER CONCEPT TO ROLL OUT AS BREWDOG ALSO EXPANDS:

Oddbins, which set up its own craft beer shop in March last year, said sales have been strong since it opened and it is actively looking to roll out the concept.

Beer buyer Sarah Hamilton told OLN: “The Oddbins Beer Shop has had a very successful first year’s trading with sales exceeding our first year forecast. We installed a bottle filling station at the end of last year, allowing customers to fill litre bottles straight from kegs, and this now accounts for double-digit sales in the store.

“We have identified locations across the country where we believe the Oddbins Beer Shop would work and are currently in discussion and negotiations on two sites, which if all goes well we would open this year.”

The flagship store is based in the Blackheath area of south London. It sells only craft beer, although the store is Oddbins-branded.

Brewdog, which opened its first standalone Bottledog retail outlet in 2014 in London’s King’s Cross, has opened the latest in its portfolio at its new bar in Norwich, offering 365 beers. This brings the total number of shops attached to its bars to six.

Brewdog co-founder James Watt said: “Norwich has a brilliant heritage beer scene. This is a city passionate about beer and that’s why we’re so excited to launch a bar there.”




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