Do you want to know what it takes to grow a successful, sustainable business? In the first episode of ‘Behind The Experience’ we speak with Guy Greenstone to find out what it took to build international businesses includes the Great Australian Beer Spectacular, Stomping Ground Brewery and The Local Taphouse. Guy shares what drives the core of his businesses and how they’re able to continually grow his brands authentically with the power of brand experiences.
“The thing that people really crave and look for these days is less about material possessions and the best car and the best gadget. What they’re really looking for is a lifetime worth of incredible experiences.”
Guy and his business partners recently sold their International venture, GABS and we find out how they maintain the integrity of the brand in this process.
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Read the full interview.
Mark: You’re listening to ‘Behind The Experience’ where we talk with the experience industry's best talent and interview forward-thinking leaders of innovative, purpose-driven brands making an impact with brand experiences. I’m your host Mark Bennedick, co-founder and Director of Sense Group here in Sydney. Today we’re joined by Guy Greenstone. Welcome to the show, Guy.
Guy: G’day Mark, I’m good thanks. Thanks for having me.
Mark: And great to have you on. We’re excited to talk to you about the awesome work that you’ve been doing. You’ve got a serious portfolio of achievements… plenty of more to come, I’m sure. Not only are you one of the founding directors of GABS but you also co-founded Stomping Ground Brewery which is becoming hugely popular and we’ve seen it all around the traps very much lately and The Local Taphouse in Melbourne. Don’t you think you could fit more into your day, mate?
Guy: Well, it’s a bit of a busy schedule, but luckily it’s not all about me. We’ve got lots of people that are very engaged and do their bit as well.
Mark: Tell us about your team. It seems that Stomping Ground Brewery seems to be your main focus these days but tell us about the team. Who are the people helping drive all of this behind the scenes as well as yourself?
Guy: Cheers. Yeah, you’re right. Stomping Ground is a pretty major focus as well as The Taphouse. GABS has been something we’ve been - for those of you who don’t know, the Great Australasian Beer Spectacular - something that’s been going for nine festivals, nine annual festivals, now in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. The big news is that we actually just sold the festival, mainly so that we could just focus on Stomping Ground. We didn’t quite have the bandwidth, that you just alluded to, to do everything and it was about a seven month process. We were approached by a few people but we really kind of gelled well with the guy that actually ended up buying it. A bloke called Mike Bray who is into the event space and marketing and really got it and was passionate about the vision. So that’s something that we’ll still be involved in and it’s a relatively small team year round. That was Craig Williams and Ruta Marcinkus who go over with the company and will stay involved, hopefully for a long time and we’ll still stay engaged with for the next couple of years. That leads us onto Stomping Ground and The Local Taphouse which are effectively the same company. Stomping Ground acquired The Local Taphouse three years ago and that’s now a team of about 100… just over 100. We’re about to open a couple of new sites. You asked about what’s going to keep us busy so we’ve got two new sites opening up; one in Morrabbin at an old tobacco factory and that’ll open up towards the end of Feb and we’ve got another site that’s opening up in the airport which’ll open up late January at the Melbourne Airport at the domestic terminal, Virgin Terminal 3. Then we’ll swell to about 150-160 in the next few months and really it is something that we’re enormously proud of in terms of the team we’ve created. We couldn’t do half of the things we do without such an amazing, and engaged, and committed, hardworking team.
The people involved are my two business partners, Justin Joiner and the other one is Steve Jeffares. We’ve been working together for 12 years all three of us and from when we started The Local Taphouse to when we started GABS to when we started Stomping Ground. Then we’ve had a whole bunch of people join us since. We actually had a meeting literally a week ago where we all sat around the table with the head of each department and there were 11 people sitting around the table. It was a bit of an amazing moment for us you know. For people that had started something from nothing to look around the table and see some high caliber people talk about their leadership and their team and how engaged their team are, the challenges, the opportunities that they face in their particular department. It was I suppose a surreal experience.
Mark: That’s pretty exciting isn’t it. It’s funny you say that it’s twelve years because I know it’s exactly 12 years that Sense Group has been in business as well and the growth is exciting and seeing the people come onboard that are helping create a vision and build a vision that you have in your mind and seeing them grow and develop… it’s a pretty exciting thing. A few pinch me moments there, it sounds like for yourself. How did you actually get into the world of craft beer? How did you get into that world?
Guy: Good question. I started off… I had by beer epiphany when I was snowboarding in Canada.
Mark: A beer epiphany, I like that.
Guy: We often talk about the ‘Aha! Moment’ when you kind of all of a sudden realise when this is what you’re passionate about. I was snowboarding in Canada, visiting a friend over there and he introduced me to this thing called “microbrews” and this thing had all this flavour. We just sort of brought it in to the lodge about halfway down the mountain and he said “Oh, you gotta try this” and pulled out this really malt-driven beer. I was like, “wow this is amazing. It’s got so much flavour”. Ever since then I’ve just been seeking out some flavoursome beers and my first job out of Uni, I qualified as a chemical engineer from the University of New South Wales and my first job out of Uni was with a brewery, a massive brewery in Sydney and I was working in the brewing department as a brewing engineer, working on various parts of the process. I just fell in love with the stuff and kept on seeking out the small batch, interesting styles and at the time there wasn’t a lot going around, you know, in ‘99 from Australia anyway. There were a few but it wasn’t like it is today. I just kind of gravitated towards the stuff that had more flavour and a bit more of a story behind it and just fell in love with the stuff.
Mark: It’s interesting and it seems these days everything is about craft beer in the industry. The days VB and you, everyone had a choice of three - five beers… it’s really branched out and some of the big players are acquiring all of these smaller craft breweries as well. You just see them a lot more around on the taps of your local pubs and I guess I’m pretty interested to talk about Stomping Ground itself. You know, it’s a great brand you’ve built; the visual of the brand, the flavour of the beer, and the way in which you’re rolling it out is really unique and really interesting. Coming from an experience point of view, which is obviously where we come from as a business too, I’m interested to talk a little bit about experience and how you’ve integrated that with the brands. Are you giving your drinkers more than just what’s in the can itself?
You’ve mentioned there, you’ve got the airport business part of it opening up, your two different warehouse locations as well… talk me through some of the interesting ideas you’ve employ now one day thinking to employ with the brand itself and the way people interact with the brand.
Guy: Sure, no worries. As you’ve alluded to, experience really is a key thing and it’s a buzzword that gets bandaged around a lot when people talk about experience but experience for us and what that means… the thing that people really crave and look for these days is less about material possessions and the best car and the best gadget. What they’re really looking for is a lifetime worth of incredible experiences. As people that have come from the hospitality background, creating and developing a fantastic experience for our guests is something that has always been really important to us. When we sat around developing the Stomping Ground and what it was going to stand for and what it was all about, experience was something we spoke about a lot. It was about how do we ensure that our consumers and our customers really experience our brand in the way that we want them to experience it and furthermore how do the people that work with us as in our staff and what’s their experience working with us and with our brand and what about our suppliers and what about our customers? So consumers and customers being two different sort of groups; one being the end drinker and one being the retailer or hospitality venue that buys our beer wholesale. So experience is really a huge part of the conversation in pretty much everything we do and as you kind of alluded to it’s about every single touchpoint. For us it all started with the end use of the product. When people are sitting down and having a beer, how can we provide an exceptional experience that consistent time and time again? That kind of colours everything we really do, from the quality of the actual product and the beer and the liquid itself, which is almost table stakes, that’s part of the overall experience but another part is the packaging and what it stands for and the glass that it’s presented in, the environment, the music, the lighting, the customer service… that’s a part of the experience; someone handing it [beer] over to you with a smile, someone telling you a little bit about it, someone giving some information - not shoving it down your throat - but giving you enough information that’s as much as you’re interested in but no more. It’s really about creating an experience in every way, shape, or form that you can with each one of those groups, whether it’s your customers, consumers or staff, suppliers etc. I guess we’ve focused on really every single touchpoint trying to make each interaction as pain free as possible, as positive as possible. It really kind of informs the way you think about these things. I think, from the feedback that we got from the beer hall, the best expression of experience for us was to create a beer hall and environment that we control as much of that experience as we can. Rather than leaving it the hands of someone else we wanted to at least have one outlet where we could present the brand and the product in an environment that we really designed to the nth degree, that could really exemplify a product and the brand in its best possible light and that was really, really important to us. That’s how the concept of Stomping Ground beer hall and brewery, or brewery and beer hall came about. We really wanted to be able to provide that experience first hand ourselves.
Mark: And some of the philosophies you have there, I must say they’re quite similar to when we’re talking to multinational, huge companies as well. It’s not necessarily these big wow-song-and-dance moments, it's these small little details, every little touchpoint people can experience and have the feel of that brand… or even what you were saying, just a simple, little smile from the person handing the beer across, down to small little design notes or packaging. I think that’s a really interesting point that experience is a conglomeration of experience things, not necessarily on simple moment in time.
Guy: Completely, 100% agree. Furthermore, I just want to add to that. Having the Local Taphouse a while, see what, 12 years now and then going on to creating GABS, it’s been a common theme throughout the different businesses that we’ve had to elevate that experience and not only how to make exceptional, but how to repeat it… how to do it on an ongoing basis that’s consistent. What sort of systems and processes do you need to have in place in order to be able to achieve that high level when you’re aiming to achieve excellence time and time again because it’s no good if someone comes in and has an incredible experience one time and then they come in a second time raving about it and it falls short of expectations because it hasn’t been consistent. It informs your whole business process really as well.
You’re talking there as well, you’re saying you have then end b2b customer and then there’s you know, the man on the street consumer, the kind of two different main channels of where you sell or have your beer experience. Do you find that in the b2b world, the experience is also important? I know that there is a bit of a trend in the b2b world to focus on the fact that emotion and experience does drive success and sales in the b2b market whereas people probably traditionally thought that it was a very rational-based market, very focused on price or whatever it might be, things that are necessarily more business focused, whereas emotion still comes into the b2b audience. Has that been the same do you think in what you do or is it really more about the consumer?
Guy: No, it’s 100% what’s important. Put it this way; when… our channel is through various marketing channels so when we talk about channel and channel strategy we go through independent retailers, we go through wholesalers, through distributors, we also go direct to on premise customers, direct to independent retailers and in a small way we go direct to consumers - I mean, we do through our hospitality channel anyway. Each one of those has its wants and needs. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes and thinking ‘what would you like if you were interacting with a business, say most of the channels I just mentioned are b2b channels for us, putting yourself in their shoes and saying ‘how can I make their experience of us and the brand as memorable, as pleasant, as engaging as possible so that we stand out compared with all our competitors’. When they say, ‘who are we going to call for this particular opportunity?’ they say, ‘well, we’re going to call Stomping Ground because they’re great to deal with’ or ‘we love dealing with them. They make things easy, life easy’. And that’s really important. You know, I say, sorry to keep jumping between B2B but with GABS it was the same thing; we have 180 different festival brewers that brew a beer especially for the event, we have 70+ exhibitors in each city and again it’s about making their experience fantastic. So how do we take all the pain points away from their experience with the whole process? How do we make it so easy that they just have to show up and their ice is there, their stand is there, the menus are already done so we’ve asked them to do things a minimum number of times and it just makes it smooth and easy. I’m just thinking you were comparing this with the big corporates and it seems in the digital world they talk about [interface] and user experience, it’s kind of an analogue version of user experience. That digital user experience is so important when you’re on an app and everything just seems to work. This is an analogue version of that. How do you just make everything work? How do you make everything simple? How do you make us easy to deal with? But it’s not - yes, we do use digital tools to help us, but it’s about the concept, an analogue version of the user experience.
Mark: Yeah, I mean we talk a lot about the human side of experience too and analogue definitely relates a lot more to the standard human emotion which some people tend to forget. They get focused on digital tools and numbers and all these things whereas sometimes you can just break it down to the simplicity of ‘oh, what would I want if I was there?’ Just a good time, chatting with friends, having a beer. It can be quite a simple thing and not to be over-thought sometimes as well. You talked there as well about jumping around your businesses. Which is great. We want to talk about it, they’re all really interesting in their own right. What i’m interested to hear about, is I guess, maybe as well, how is GABS and Stomping Ground and event the Local Taphouse, which is one of your first ventures, what are some of the lessons you’ve taken from - I think GABS particularly comes to mind, the Beer Spectacular which is an amazing festival - Have some of the experiences from that crossed over into Stomping Ground or are they quite separate in the way they’ve been developed? It feels to me there’s quite a collaboration, a neat collaboration and curation amongst those ecosystems of businesses.
Guy: Yeah, there certainly is and at their heart and at their core are a couple of different things. One of them is great beer, you know the best beer that we can possibly find and interestingly there’s a common thread that weaves them all together and that is our sense of purpose. The one thing I’d say for any business to be successful is it really needs to have a strong sense of purpose and that sense of purpose and what it stands for is a thing that customers and consumers, staff and suppliers, and everybody can kind of jump in and relate to. There’s a great sort of Ted Talk on finding that “why”. It’s interesting because when my business partners and I sat down separately we went through this program, this process to kind of really, to dig out that kernel of why we really exist and what we came up with was that we really wanted to share our love. We’ve got so much passion for beer and craft beer and delicious beer. We wanted to share that love with as many people in our community as we possible could through exceptional experiences. The interesting thing was, that was common to our Local Taphouse, to GABS, and Stomping Ground. It’s really a common thread. We use each one of those words very carefully. My business partners and I wrote that down separately, slight variations of the end output but it was all the same thing; we wanted to share our love of great beer with as many people in our community as possible through exceptional experiences, consistently exceptional experiences. Love is a word of passionate and we wanted people to be passionate about what they did and what they were consuming and what we stood for. Share is about being inclusive and bringing everyone along for the ride. Great beer, we kind of use great beer because its front and centre of everything that we do and craft beer is quite a nebulous term. We tend to use independent beer a lot but at its core it's about great beer, it’s about beer that gets you excited, it's about beer that’s well-made and presented and delicious. And then we talk about community. As many people in our community as possible. We want to reach as many people as we possibly can and community is a word and again, it’s a bit of a buzzword but the authenticity behind that is about authentically building a community. Whether it’s at the neighbourhood level of Local Taphouse and Stomping Ground and the way they exist in their neighbourhood or whether it’s a little bit wider or even a bit narrower when you’re talking about your family, your working family and a bit wider when you start talking about the world and your place in it and how your responsibility to be sustainable and to think about the recycling and your impact on the planet… putting solar on the roof. That’s being a responsible member of the community. We’ve already spoken about exceptional experiences and having them be consistent, consistently exceptional experiences and what that’s all about. Interestingly, even though the manifestation of that sense of purpose was three distinct businesses… that was without question, the common thread through all three of them. What we’ve learnt is having that purpose, that strong sense of purpose, knowing why you exist is really important and something that you can really kind of rally behind and get employees to rally behind. You can behind and hold it up as something that we’re all striving to do.
Mark: Yeah, definitely. I think, I just heard what you talked about with community and I think also building people that are passionate about your brand. I mean, I find it amazing with GABS itself you had 170 festival beers and ciders, that are actually made by other craft brewers especially for GABS, is that right?
Guy: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Well, what we say is it has to be released for the very first time at GABS. Some people make it just for GABS and never to be seen again. Other people time their release so it’s released at GABS and can go on to be one of their seasonal beers or one of their regular beers. There’s a whole bunch of stories that go on throughout the nine-year history, the nine year festival of GABS where these beers have gone on to be pretty amazing beers and they’re regular parts of the Australian beer landscape and they make a beer especially for the event. It’s the only place you could assemble that number of beers that have never been released, never been tasted before and that’s part of the whole excitement. When you’re talking about experience and creating something that’s unique, the unique element of GABS is these festival beers and the fact that every year the festival renews because there’s a whole new stable of beers never been tried, never been tested before. There’s excitement around that, there’s buzz. ‘What’s this brewery done? What’s that brewery done? What’s the next big trend? How’s it all going to play out?’ There is some excitem-- there’s also some from the veterans, they become a little bit less excited about that and more excited about what is happening at the exhibitor stands but it means there’s always that sense of renewal and excitement.
Mark: Which is quite awesome. I mean, I’ve got to say that’s a bit of a trend where we’ve seen people are using events, experiences, retail as well as a platform for engagement. It’s a place where people can come and experience a brand. Then the limited edition releases, we’ve seen that with Nike doing it at events where they did a special limited edition release with a shoe which you could only purchase there in the moment at the event. It seems though as if that creates a lot of buzz, creates a lot of social sharing and people wanting to get some return on these investments or try and see some measurements around these kinds of things that they’re doing and investing in experiences, this social sharing comes off the back of unique experiences. Things like 170 unique beers being made and released at that festival itself is something that you can’t get anywhere else and that’s where a lot of the value comes in for these guys.
Guy: Absolutely and you’re right. That’s the whole, these experiences, branded experiences and experiencing the brand or the flip side of that is definitely a huge part. It’s increasingly cluttered marketing and advertising environment where it’s very hard to get some cut-through. One of the best ways to do that is to associate with an experience and then have your brand associated with this fantastic festival, this great time. From a Stomping Ground point of view when we’re partnering with other festivals we’re doing a couple of things; we’re allowing people to experience our brand in a great environment, then we’re also associating our brand with whatever brand or experiences we’re aligning with from a GABS point of view when we’ve got partners like Dan Murphy's, who is one of our partners on board, it’s a really fantastic way for them to really push their message about discovery and that aligns really well with what GABS is all about. People are discovering all the different beers. They’re explaining how their brand is all about discovery and so one of the ways we’ve helped to allow that manifest is we create a mixed six pack of GABS beers that have never been released before and we make them available as a limited release mixed six pack through Dan Murphy’s. And to your point of having this limited release sort of special offer, you know, that only gets released once a year, you’ll never get this assembly of beers together in one box again and that goes nuts every year. So they love that. It creates a real point of difference for them and our brewers love it because they get to participate and sell a fair bit of great beer through this sort of channel. And the consumers love it because they can get something they wouldn’t normally be able to get their hands on.
Mark: Yeah, definitely and that’s what you’ve done at the festival itself. There’s another component which I think is amazingly incredibly intelligent which is you’ve created something around GABS as well called GABS Hottest 100. Sort of similar to Triple J Hottest 100, where I guess Australians the opportunity to back their favourite craft breweries. Can you tell me a bit about that? Was that just a fun idea that you guys came up with in the office one day? Or was it a conscious decision to try and think of a digital platform to help amplify and extend the value of the event outside just the moment of the event itself, something that can run over, pre or post the event to give it a longer, I guess tail of impact.
Guy: Yeah, exactly. Look, the way it all started actually is at the Local Taphouse. We had 20 different beers on tap and we go through about 400 different beers every single year and it started off in really early days as a bit of fun amongst staff and some customers to really vote for… you know, we had all these really great beers on tap so we started doing a voting things of you know, what was your favourites over the last 12 months? And it just gathered a lot of momentum. Fast forward, it’s now been going 11 or 12 years. When GABS came about, we at one point in time, several years ago felt that GABS was a much better vehicle to spread the Hottest 100 far and wide and get a wider audience and a greater audience to sort of get engaged and get talking about all these sort of great beers and push the barrel of better beer. It’s become a pretty amazing poll and a bit of a barometer for what’s success - well, what beers are doing well and resonating with the public. It is, the tractors complain that it’s a bit of a popularity contest. It absolutely is a popularity contest and definitely distribution and size does have an impact on how successful a beer will be in the poll. If it’s a very small beer that’s only ever available through one outlet, that makes it very difficult for it to poll but some of those beer still manage to get into the Hottest 100 which means you know they’ve really resonated. There’s always a challenge. You know, it’s really hard to please everybody but it’s a great barometer of what’s doing well out in the marketplace. To get in the top 100 these days with literally thousands of beers out there, thousands of beers, is no mean feit at all and it means that the beer has done exceptionally well. And yes, you’re right. It’s a great way of extending the festival and extending the reach beyond the exact time of the festival. It gives us a lot of opportunities to reach out and chat with our market and consumers and customers. It allows us to discuss this with retail. There’re a lot of retailers that use it to say what beers they should actually have on their shelves and fridges. Hospitality venues look at it as which breweries are doing really well and what they haven’t tried and might actually want to try because consumers are loving it. It’s been a great poll and it’s a really influential poll these days which is pretty humbling to see where it has come from and where it’s gotten to.
Mark: Well it’s a great industry and it really stood out to me. It’s a really smart piece of engagement and marketing at the same time. We are getting pretty close to time. I just wanted to ask you one or two very quick little things here. Where do you plan to focus most of your time moving forward? Is it going to be Stomping Ground? Do you have big plans for expanding that brand or are you just kind of organically feeling it out as you go? Where is your time kind of going to be focused on?
Guy: Yeah, look definitely Stomping Ground. We’ve got a couple of projects on the go that I just sort of alluded to which is Morrabbin at the old Phillip Morris tobacco factory in there which we’re going in as an anchor tenant in a fantastic sort of repurposed group of buildings. The airport as well, that’s going to be a real focus for us but then also just increasing our production. We want to max out our Collingwood production. We’ve got some growth there. Kicking a show on the road. I look after a few different parts of the business and as we get bigger I’ll be sort of handing them off to people who are much better at it than I am hopefully. There’s plenty on the go. We’ve got some great opportunities to do, you know, we love sort of doing branded events, we love participating in festivals, we like doing pop ups, the hospitality experience, but we also love partnering with great venues to create mutually beneficial outcomes. So Stomping Ground, our focus certainly in the very near future is to really try and stay as local as we can. It’s a market that’s really much more accessible to us. We don’t want to overreach and do anything half-heartedly. We want to sort of do it really well. We’re really, really focused on our Melbourne backyard for the foreseeable future but down the track you never know what happens. Our real focus is Melbourne for now and creating these great experiences and really building the brand and consumer awareness of our brand as well and continuously innovating in terms of product and limited releases. A lot of fun stuff.