Small businesses can give a lot to a community and in turn, those communities help support those businesses.
Community involvement helps further distinguish your business from competitors and helps create customer loyalty.
At Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri, owner and operator Jeff Schrag sees it as their responsibility to the community to help local non-profits move further with their missions.
By donating free beer to various fundraising events and charities, Mother’s has established itself as a community-minded brewery. They hate to say no to anyone and this unique perspective paired with a fantastic product has helped Mother’s establish itself as a must-visit location for beer lovers.
Today, we are happy to share with you our interview with Jeff Schrag of Mother’s Brewing Company’s as the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.
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A summary of our interview with Jeff Schrag of Mother’s Brewing Company is below.
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- How did this get started, how did you come about this idea?
- Which one of the many beers you offer here is your favorite?
- You take great pride of being part of the Springfield community here. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? How does that manifest in your business and what you do everyday?
- What kind of events do you sponsor? Do you have any particular story that jumps to mind?
- How does your community involvement impact your hiring?
- What is your training process?
- Do you prefer people with no prior brewery experience?
- Have you ever had a situation where you had somebody who was a good employee who maybe because of cultural fit issues it didn’t work out? How do you handle that?
- Does working in the alcohol industry make it easier or harder to find people?
- Tell about your beautiful patio and outdoor area. What happens here when it’s 80 degrees on a Saturday in Springfield, Missouri?
- What are some of the oddest or wackiest things you’ve seen?
- Do you also host music events?
- Can you think of a time when things just went sideways and how did you handle that challenge?
- If you were to think about one lesson or one piece of advice that you’d give to small business folks given your experience what would that be?
- Where do you see your business going in the next 10 years?
- What’s it like to do business in Springfield, Missouri? What’s your relationship with other business folks around here?
- Where can people find your business?
Tell me a little bit more about Mother’s. How did this get started, how did you come about this idea?
Jeff Schrag: I’m a serial entrepreneur. I have lots of other businesses or have had over the years. I got to that point in my life where I had one more business in me.
I did a bunch of soul searching. I thought, “Maybe I could brew as good a beer as anybody anywhere right here in Downtown Springfield.” That was kind of the Genesis of it. That was the day after Thanksgiving, 2008.
I always had a little fantasy about working in alcohol. I’m a good drinker, and I enjoy a good drink.
Which one of the many beers you offer here is your favorite?
Jeff Schrag: It’s a sad story, but Sandy is my favorite beer. We only brew a batch every year for me now. It started out as our summer seasonal and did not sell well. Sandy is my mother’s name. I love that beer. It’s a hoppy wheat. It just did not sell.
You take great pride of being part of the Springfield community here. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? How does that manifest in your business and what you do everyday?
Jeff Schrag: I come from the community newspaper background and a good community newspaper can really help build a community, bring folks together. I had no idea what a good community-minded brewery can do to bring folks together in a community. I don’t know what Springfield did for free beer for fundraisers and charities before we came along.
We donate, I mean, I’d say a significant part of Anne’s job, who you met, is just handling donation requests and getting stuff out. We love that. I love that when people have these fundraisers and these special events that we’re a part of it. That what can give back literally a glass at a time to the community.
What kind of events do you sponsor? Do you have any particular story that jumps to mind? What was the first time that you did a sponsorship of an event and then how did it feel and how did that spark you to do more?
Jeff Schrag: It just doesn’t matter. Hate to say, we almost don’t tell anybody no. We really enjoy that. We just think it’s our job in the community to help all these not for profits move further in their mission.
One story that jumps to mind is about a wedding. Somebody came to me, and told me it was his son’s wedding. We were just getting ready to open up. He just begged me, “Is there anyway I can get some beer for my son’s wedding? It’d mean so much to him and everything.” That one rings, because we had to do all these different things.
Boy, the first fundraiser or the first donated beer thing that I really remember was the first Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Great big event. Not only did we have free beer, we had some neons that we sat on top where the beer was. They got dark to show this film and our neons were glowing on the side and I was like, “Wow!”
How does your community involvement impact your hiring?
Jeff Schrag: Yeah, the interesting thing is a lot of folks really enjoy working at a brewery and enjoy the whole concept. Great people have really literally knocked down our door to come and see. We’ve had a number of people, this is going to be funny to any business owner, who came and volunteered first hoping they would get a position. It’s just amazing, and a dream for me.
What is your training process? Let’s say you have one of these volunteers who has shown an interest in your business and then they get hired full-time. How do you want to instill the sense of community in people as they join your company?
Jeff Schrag: A lot of folks, when they come here, they’ve had some interest in craft beer. Sometimes it’s drinking, sometimes it’s a destination career, sometimes as a home brewer, something allied. They come with some knowledge. Right now no one who works at the brewery has ever worked at a brewery before. We do a lot of training from the ground up.
Do you prefer people with no prior brewery experience?
Jeff Schrag: That’s a great question. I don’t know if it’s ideal. Our sales manager has never worked at a brewery either. Obviously I must prefer it, because I keep doing it. It’s really interesting. We’ve got some really good folks on our crews who have grown up in their beer industry knowledge here. Yeah, there’s that concept of teach them the culture first and then teach them the job second and you might end up being more successful that way. I haven’t really thought about it, so great question. Yeah, I must clearly prefer that.
Now the upside and the downside of this is people feel a great deal of ownership. When things aren’t going like they think they should they’re really free to throw in opinions. Sometimes when you’re sitting there with a big decision or a big change people are really free to tell you what they think and they get pretty passionate. It’s a double-edged sword, right?
When that happens, you just try to move them as slowly as you can toward where we’re going to go. First of all, you let everybody speak up, because you never know where a great idea’s going to come from. Then with consensus it’s almost like different people are voting and you’re listen to what they say and as different ideas have gained strength then you hopefully try to go that way. Now it gets tricky when you firmly believe the brand requires another decision. Those are the hardest things we face.
We’re doing better and better at getting more information to the employees so that my coworkers can understand the decisions and hopefully make the decisions.
Have you ever had a situation where you had somebody who was a good employee who maybe because of cultural fit issues it didn’t work out? How do you handle that?
Jeff Schrag: Yeah, we’ve had that several times. It’s really painful, because I typically also develop some personal relationships with people. They become your friends. I have a friend that calls them “work family.” They become your “work family,” and that’s even more painful. Sometimes I’ve been able to keep good relationships with those folks after the separation from the business, sometimes not.
How do you handle it? The trick is to always handle it sooner rather than later. I don’t do a good job of that. I’m a non confrontational person and I spend too much time avoiding conflict. In the end, you look back and you realize you stressed yourself out so much more and you worked harder and made it more painful by not addressing a scenario quicker. As I grow and try to learn myself and get better myself that’s one of my key issues I’m trying to do better on.
Does working in the alcohol industry make it easier or harder to find people? I mean you were talking a little bit about people wanting to be a part of the brand and part of the community. I’m sure that beer sells. There’s probably also some challenges associated with that?
Jeff Schrag: We’ve had very few issues with people being attracted here because of being around beer all the time, and then having issues with being around beer all the time. We’ve only had a couple of those. It seems like it’s been better for us, that really good qualified people are willing to take a chance on us and take a chance on something more so than people who shouldn’t be here are here attracted to the alcohol. People’s affinity to beer has been an asset 90% of the time and a liability maybe 5%.
One other little funny thing. How much beer you can consume during the work day that’s a highly debated thing in craft beer. Other business friends of mine laugh at that. What we have gone to is 16 ounces while you’re working, per shift. Because we want the guys in the packaging line to be tasting the beer as they’re packaging it, because what if something bad happened mid-stream?
You got to have a little bit of that. Tasting is different than drinking. We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about that. There are breweries that don’t let you drink anything and there are breweries that are pretty open to how much you drink while you’re working. It’s an interesting thing about the beer industry.
Tell about your beautiful patio and outdoor area. What happens here when it’s 80 degrees on a Saturday in Springfield, Missouri?
Jeff Schrag: We are so lucky to have that. This is an old bakery. Luckily the bakery folks bought houses around it as they went for sale and tore them down with this thought maybe of expanding the bakery or something someday. We ended up with a five acre plot. We’ve got a couple acres fenced in in back. We have a couple of outdoor music festivals a year. On an average Saturday if the weather’s nice, we have picnic tables out there. People bring blankets, people bring chairs. We show movies out there when the weather’s nice.
We partner with a local theater, the Moxie. They’re the local arts theater and it’s a great fundraiser for them. They choose the movies. They do an online poll. They go through the licensing, all the stuff. You can pay for a movie a whole bunch of different ways. They figure out how to do all that. Then we work the event and we split the gate. They don’t have to show up or do anything. They just order the movie.
We typically show things like Spaceballs and old classics. My favorite old classic is Animal House. The Big Lebowski is always popular. We’ve shown that multiple times and we’ll do costume contests sometimes. People really get into the Big Lebowski.
What are some of the oddest or wackiest things you’ve seen?
Jeff Schrag: Yeah. People dressing up for events. I have found that to be really wacky. We do a big Oktoberfest. Ladies wear their dirndls obviously, and guys wear leaderhosen. People also dress up their pets, too.
In terms of just wacky stuff, I see people like carrying stuffed animals with them. That’s been interesting, or just people bringing beer apparatuses. Like those beer helmets with hoses coming out of them.
This is a place acceptable to bring those odd things that somebody may have given you or you may have bought at one time and never used, you can bring them out when we have these events.
Do you also host music events?
Jeff Schrag: We do a couple outdoor music festivals a year that bring in about 3,000 folks. We just open up the backyard, we bring in bands, local, regional bands. One of them we also do where non-profits can set up in the back. That works out really nice. We have food trucks and it’s a full day Saturday thing.
We do these twice a year. Mother’s Day is our next one. The Saturday after Mother’s Day. Then our Oktoberfest is always the Saturday after Labor Day. It’s pretty early for an Oktoberfest, but everybody does an Oktoberfest. We just don’t want to bump anybody’s Oktoberfest.
I’m sure having been in business for as long as you have, there must have been times where things didn’t go well. Can you think of a time when things just went sideways and how did you handle that challenge?
Jeff Schrag: The worst moment that we’ve had here at the brewery was when we were going to change our packaging. It was time to update our packaging. We could not come to consensus on it and it became a really rough issue. It was so intense that in fact some people left, not specifically because of that, but in the aftermath of that. We just could not come together. I felt impotent as a leader. I’d go into those meetings, I’d leave with everybody hating me and it was a really rough deal.
There were a whole variety of options. The discussion was around what our goals were, what our premises were and everybody was a graphic designer. Everybody fancies themselves a marketer and an advertiser.
We just couldn’t come to consensus. We ended up bringing in a consultant from the outside to help on some other leadership things, other management things we had and bless his heart. The outside voice was able to get us together on the table. His thing was, “Let’s come up with a phrase that we can use.” It was that we’re a bunch of fun, clever, quirky folks who are just serious about the business of beer.
The consultant really helped us. I’ll give him a shout-out. His name was Spencer Harris. He worked for a local consulting company. He came in and led some really good meetings where people could first say what they wanted to say. People would invite him out for beers after work to talk about what’s going wrong here, and he was able to really help us come together and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. It was tremendously valuable. It was also humbling to have failed so badly that we needed something like that.
If you were to think about one lesson or one piece of advice that you’d give to small business folks given your experience what would that be?
Jeff Schrag: Authority is the only muscle that never needs to be flexed to stay in shape. That is from an old friend of mine. I firmly believe that. You don’t have to go around showing off your authority, because you’ve got it.
Where do you see your business going in the next 10 years? It seems like you’ve invested a lot of your soul and your energy into this business. Where do you want to see it go?
Jeff Schrag: Our hope is to sell deep instead of wide. That is to be in the smallest, smartest footprint that we can be. I’d like to grow to the capacity of this building. If I could just sell in the states around Missouri or a couple contiguous states, right now we’re in Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri, we’re not in Oklahoma. But those four states, if I could do everything I need to do to make this a good, viable, strong business, that’s very important to us is to be respected in the industry and to not cast our net too wide.
I’ve seen lots of craft breweries just go too far and wide from their home where people know who they are or at least have a connection. I’ve seen it not work out for a lot of folks, so I hope to learn from somebody else’s mistake for once.
What’s it like to do business in Springfield, Missouri? What’s your relationship with other business folks around here? For somebody who’s not from here, what is it like?
Jeff Schrag: We have a very collaborative community. Our different governmental entities work together pretty well and so do the different businesses. We only have one dominant industry, so that’s really nice that folks work together really well. I find it a very pleasant place to do business. Folks want to talk to you and help you. Not that people don’t compete in the same business against one another, but it’s been a really nice place to do business. We’re the fastest growing part of the state of Missouri. That’s really nice. As we continue to grow as a community.
Also, the growth of Northwest Arkansas, I believe, has helped us a great deal. That would be Bentonville and Fayetteville. There are a lot of ties between Springfield and that area. Then we’re really doing a lot, I believe, with nature around us that we have a beautiful area with lakes, with hiking, with natures beauty, and that’s been something that maybe Springfield’s been slow to embrace as an outdoor community and we’re really are starting to embrace that.
Where can people find your business?
Jeff Schrag: Mother’s Brewing Company. We’re for sale in all of Southern Missouri, which is everything south of I-70. Then in the whole Kansas City Metro Area. And we’re in all of Arkansas except Texarkana.
We are also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow us on one of those and you’ll get to see new releases, specialty beers, and especially things we’re doing here at the brewery. We’re pretty good about updating our accounts.
You can also buy some awesome swag with the Mother’s Brewing heart and beer logo…
Jeff Schrag: The heart logo has been probably the luckiest accident we’ve had. People relate to that. It was just a notion I had when we decided on the name Mother’s, which stands for love. We love this idea of a brewery, of craft beer. I sketched out this little heart tattoo, and said, “Wouldn’t this look great on top of our tap handles.” Well turns out it does look great on top of a row of tap handles. We worked with some artists to make a really nice rendering of the classic mom heart tattoo with our brewery name on it. People can remember it and people like it. That’s been pretty sweet.
Small businesses can only exist when there’s a local community to help support them. But any business has the power to also reach out and proactively help their community. These acts not only help the community thrive, but they can also impact your bottom line by helping establish a loyal customer base.
Mother’s Brewing Company is leading the way on this front in Springfield, Missouri. They help local charities out of a sense of duty to their community. This authenticity along with having a great product is helping with their continued success in the growing craft brewery market.
If you have any questions or comments about today’s episode, please leave them below.