Meet Arbor Brewing Company: How Do You Grow A Local Business Brand?

Ann Arbor is a special town. There are very many local and small businesses that lace the downtown. Some of the more famous ones have been here for decades and almost define the brand of this little town. Most recently, I met up with one of the founders of the Arbor Brewing company, Rene Greff. The establishment is a well known Ann Arbor feature, and is found in any and every travel book you may read about this little town. Rene shared her insights on local businesses and also just how do you grow a local business brand…

how do you grow a local business brand ann arbor brewing company interview brandanew

About the Arbor Brewing Company

Here’s the site.

Arbor brewing company was set up in the summer of 1995 in Ann Arbor, Michigan by the husband-wife duo of Matt and Rene Greff. They were both interested in hand-crafted beer. They luckily found themselves setting up this new business at the helm of the initial growth curve of the micro-brewery comeback in the United States. It is the first brewpub set up in Ann Arbor and the fifth in Michigan. The Arbor Brewing company also has a microbrewery and has recently established global presence in India.

The Brewpub seems to promote local. I saw the “local business” badge on the door. Why is it important to support local business?

Rene: There’s a chart I’d like to show you, perhaps another time. But, there’s research to show that, for every $1 spent with local businesses, 73 cents come back to the community. When you are a local business, you also use local services. Your staff, the lawyers, marketing, all tends to come from the local community. So you are giving back and creating employment. This compares to 47 cents that are given back in case of big businesses.

You will see that people who like coming to the Brewpub are less likely to go to Starbucks. They’ll perhaps go to Sweet Waters instead. We have a great relationship with our community.

It’s kind of weird that of all places that may have been closer, the Arbor Brewing company is set up in India. Were you worried that you may not be able to control your global brand experiences?

Rene: It wasn’t an easy decision. But our partner, Gaurav was from U of M (University of Michigan) and had spent a lot of time at the Brewpub. He contacted us initially and we said no. But he asked us to plan a visit to India and then decide.

It was important to us that he didn’t just want to take over the beer. He knew that the brand experiences and what we had created here was made of the relationships we had with our staff, the way we built things, our service and our community involvement. He wanted to recreate that in Bangalore. We signed up for it, because we were convinced that he understood our brand philosophy.

How do you see your growth as a local business in the coming years?

Rene: This is what we will be doing for the rest of our lives. Once you have your own business, it is not possible to work as an employee with someone else. Besides, we love what we’re doing, so this is it. But we’re not a 10X business, this is a lifestyle company and we intend to keep it so. We are running at a capacity of 9000 barrels each year and through our distribution (now in Ohio, N Carolina and a couple more locations that are coming up…) we just aim to get that out. We intend to remain a local small business. It’s what we like.

But our partner in India has huge plans. We are planning to now open a microbrewery in Goa soon, so that’s where we will realize the big entrepreneurial dreams, perhaps.

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How did you choose Ann Arbor as a place to set up your local business in the Microbrewery business?

Rene: We were lucky to start our business at the same time that Brewpubs were legalized in Michigan. We were at the beginning of the cycle of huge growth. It’s hard to believe that in the 1980s, there were just 80 or so microbreweries in the United States. These started to grow back in the mid-90s when we began. There was another downward slump in early 2000 but again growth started back in mid 2000s. Our microbrewery began in 2001. So, we were at the beginning of both these growth curves. Currently, I’d imagine there are over 4000 microbreweries in the United States, so it’s a big market. We began at the right times.

We were both interested in craft beer and when were thinking about what’s going to work, we analyzed Denver, Colorado, where these Brewpubs were coming up. Ann Arbor was comparable in terms of its international and student demographic. The consumer segmentation felt right. We lived in Yipslanti and so it all fell together, here.

What’s the best part about owning a local business?

Rene: I’d have to say that it’s the relationships we’ve built over time- with our staff, and other people in the business. This is what we’ll be doing for our lifetimes, it’s all about the people and the community.

I’d like to thank Rene and Matt for their time and sharing their insights around local business growth and the Arbor Brewing company story with me.

As a small company owner and the service partner of Startups & small businesses, it’s always interesting to learn the many ways in which businesses think and plan. From local sourcing, to local staffing, small businesses can create their own brand that allows them to create a niche, any big brand would find hard to emulate. The strength of a local community creates a big barrier to entry for everyone including large brands. Whether you create your niche communities online or offline isn’t as relevant as the fact that you decide to invest in to make their experiences special.

Where will your small business start? 🙂


Upasna Kakroo

Upasna co-founded Brandanew in 2014 for the sheer love of storytelling and authentic connections. She has been blogging and documenting digital stories since 2003.