Here’s our second edition of “Ask the expert” series with Ike Orcutt of Buckledown Brewing.
Once a month we post an interview with a successful restaurateur, chef, supplier, brewery professional or a hospitality industry authority. To keep things short and concise, some interviews may be split into two parts. If you enjoy the article, please share. If you’ve got a suggestion for an expert we should interview, let us know.
Founded in: 2013
Location: Lyons, IL
Number of employees: 7
Do you serve food, if so what kind?
We don’t have food but we do partner with local food trucks. We’ve got a rotating line-up of food trucks every Friday or Saturday. We also partner up with local restaurants to offer free happy-hour food every Thursday. We call it “Local Food Thursday” and it gives us a chance to promote other small, local businesses.
Our conversation with Ike.
Tell us about you and your role of brand building in your business. How did you end up in the brewing industry?
I’m the head brewer and founder at BuckleDown Brewing.
My main role is to ensure that all of the beer that leaves our brewery is of the highest possible quality and exceeds our drinkers’ expectations. We don’t see a brand as something existing on paper that you write down when you start a business — our brand is the products that we produce, the experience you have at our tap room, and the interactions you have with our employees. Our brand is all about working hard and having fun, it’s the BuckleDown ethos. And everything I do, every day, reflects that.
What’s a brand you admire outside of the brewing industry? And why?
I think it’s Elon Musk. Not necessarily Tesla or PayPal, but all of his ventures. I think he does a great job of stamping his values and personality on everything he does. And this stuff is mind blowing. The SpaceX and HyperLoop projects have the potential of changing the way we think about transportation.
How many brands do you have?
We have four year-round brands and a healthy portfolio of limited release and seasonal brews. In the last year we’ve made about 15 different beers.
Let’s focus on one of your brands. So tell me about what your brand stands for.
By far our most popular brand is our Belt & Suspenders IPA. It’s about 50% of our production and recently became available at the United Center (home of the Bulls and Blackhawks). Just like the BuckleDown brand, Belt & Suspenders is all about working hard and having fun. Our visual representation is a man with a lunchpail and fedora hat — definitely a bit of a throwback — wearing belt and suspenders as he strolls down the road.
What success makes you the most proud of in regards to your brand?
Getting past our first year was a big deal. I think especially in the Food & Beverage world where there are so many challenges to overcome. We had a massive event to commemorate the anniversary and got so much support from our local customers. It felt great to see the customers we care most about come out and support us. And it really energized us to do the hard work that a massive 2015 is going to require.
Is there a process you use when creating a brand?
There’s a bunch to this in our market. First we’ve got to come up with a brand that people like to drink — in our market people are really into hoppy beers and barrel-aged beers. So you need a recipe that fits consumer demand, while also standing out. Figuring out the beer itself is part 1. We then go about finding a name that fits the beer itself. It has to have a “cool” factor to it, it needs to be easy for people to remember and easy to order across a bar. Whenever possible we try to keep things concise — like Clencher (our double IPA) or Stomp Box (our American Stout). In our market there is also a huge intellectual property component. Before putting a product on the market we do a pretty exhaustive trademark search. If you don’t, you risk getting a cease and desist order and having to pull product off the shelves. A lot of the short, one-word names are already used and have trademark protection. So, it’s a pretty robust process and usually takes us about 6 months.
How did you come up with the driving concept behind that brand?
BuckleDown is really a representation of our worldview. As business owners, we aren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and get things done. I think that’s a very powerful part of our brand. It wasn’t born in an ad agency somewhere. We literally dug it out of the ground as we built our business.
Once the brand is mapped out, what do you think is the best place to invest in promoting it?
I like PR a lot. I’m not sure how effective print advertising is anymore. Everyone is so inundated with marketing messages that it’s really easy to get lost — especially if you don’t have a big budget. PR with a solid publication has good reach and offers more value than advertising. For us, Social Media is massive. It’s such a convenient way for us to broadcast a message, and such a convenient way for consumers to receive it. I think that convenience element is a big deal moving forward in talking to consumers.
Any lessons you’ve learned around building a brand?
You build your brand every single day. It’s not something that you write down and revisit a few times per year. Ultimately it’s a consumer that determines what your brand really means — so you’ve got to do the hard work to ensure they are receiving the right messages. This means effective training. It means, in our case, having an owner on the floor whenever we’re open. It means putting out the highest quality product. If you fail in any of these, you risk having consumers establish your brand for you — and broadcasting it to the world on Yelp.
How do you get and keep your employees engaged in the brand, being an ambassador and protecting it?
This is such a challenge. We probably don’t do as good a job here as we should. Where we try to focus on this is with solid hiring. Using the interview process to help evaluate candidates who share a similar work ethic and worldview. It’s been very challenging for us outside of the ownership group.
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