Last week, an incredibly popular craft brewery in Asheville, Wicked Weed, was acquired by Anheuser-Busch, enraging craft beer drinkers, and leading to lots of chatter on Twitter – some of which was vitriolic to put it nicely. The purchase of craft brewers by AB or other “non-craft” entities is not new, and mirrors a trend we are seeing in the wine world too. We were absolutely shocked when one of our favorite family-owned vineyards, Vietti, sold last year to an American family who built their wealth through a convenience store chain called Kum & Go (I can’t even with that name). Francois Pinault has been buying up wineries as well, like Chateau Latour and Araujo. Acquisitions are everywhere, and the trend shows no sign of stopping.
While I am in no way trying to wade into the scrum (craft beer drinkers are fervent!), as small business owners in the beverage industry, TJ and I have what may be a completely different perspective on these sales than consumers do. So I thought I’d put it out there for consideration. I’m not trying to change any minds here, but maybe just ask that people consider all sides before railing against the Wicked Weed founders so hatefully. (And yes, I understand what AB does to try and make it hard for the craft beer industry, believe me…imagine working with them from our side. It’s not fun.),
First and foremost, these acquisitions always suck for the consumer. They really can feel like a betrayal, and I want to acknowledge that people feel this way. That’s absolutely your right, and your right to spend your money on brands that represent your values.
But I think what gets lost in that feeling of resentment is an understanding of what the business owner has been dealing with for years, decades, or, in the case of established wineries, generations. THIS SH*T IS HARD. When you are a small business entrepreneur, every good day is your reward, but every bad day is yours to deal with as well. And the hard days outnumber the easy ones, always. There are constant, stressful funding stream issues, even when your business is in the black. Growth often means foregoing your paycheck in order to plow your money back into your business. There are weeks, months, and sometimes years when everyone gets paid except for you.
You never get to leave work at the door – the phone is always on, the responsibility always hovering over you. It interferes with your marriage, your relationship with your children, your time spent with friends. It’s a constant, never ending pressure. And always there is the expectation of growth, more jobs created, higher salaries given, fresh ideas, innovation, and creativity.
So why do we do it? Because, at the end of the day, we love it. Small business owners love the thrill, the adrenaline, and the hustle – not to mention the sense of accomplishment. We wouldn’t have it any other way because we’re a little bit crazy – in a good way. If, as a group, we have one Achilles Heel, it’s that we crave growth, and growth is impossible without more money, and often hard without investors. There comes a time when for the sake of yourself, your family, your spirit, and your business, you simply can’t self-fund any longer. There comes a time when the right choice for your business and the people that you employ is to take on an investor. We as consumers may not like that reality, but we shouldn’t punish people because they’ve built an incredible business, want to be able to grow it, and maybe take a paid vacation once a year. We don’t really believe that small business owners should never get paid back for the sweat equity, do we? That would be like offering to work for your boss for free, just for the fun of it. I don’t see a lot of us making that offer!
The founders of Wicked Weed have made it clear that they think this investment will help them grow, help them hire more people, help their brand to become one of the best, help them to be more charitable…the list goes on and on. They’ve looked at all sides of the decision and decided that it’s the right choice for their business – key word, THEIR. We might disagree, but shouldn’t we at least give this all a minute before we brand them as traitors and rip our support away while calling them every name in the book?
I know a lot of you will say that other breweries have grown without taking AB money, and that is absolutely true. But there are many different paths in life, and I would simply suggest that until we’ve walked them all, let’s not judge…at least not quite so loudly on Twitter!
Comments welcome below. Thanks as always for letting us share our thoughts!