Putting People First and Brewing Great Beer, with Suzanne Olson

Episode 146:

Creating a great customer experiences with hospitality, food and beverage has been a passion of Suzanne’s since her very first job. Suzanne is always looking for ways to bring new and interesting experiences to guests, and that is what she brings to Red Shed Brewery. As head of innovation and marketing, Suzanne seeks to be the connection between Red Shed and the brewing industry, working with her father Jack and brewers on interesting flavors and trends that use locally sourced New York hops and grains, and working with her husband David and tap room managers to understand the guests and clientele served to ensure that Red Shed remains connected with the community.

After graduating from the University in Arizona with a degree in Business Management, Suzanne worked at UCLA as Marketing, Media and Public Relations Manager. She moved to Pittsburgh, PA in 2002 and spent 14 years in the retail food industry working in food marketing, customer relationship marketing and finally found her calling being the head of customer experience for the chain of grocery, convenience and pharmacy locations. After getting married, having kids, and being convinced by her father Jack to bring her hospitality and food expertise to Cherry Valley, NY, Suzanne and the family took a leap of faith and joined the family business Red Shed Brewery in 2017.

Suzanne splits her time developing patient experience initiatives at Bassett Healthcare, teaching yoga and the brewery. Living up to the tagline of Local, Handcrafted, Fresh is Suzanne’s mission, and she wants to create that experience for her guests with each beer, flavor, experience and visit to the brewery.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Suzanne Olson of Red Shed Brewery about the customer experience and how to operate a business with a person-first mindset.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What leaders in large companies can learn about running small businesses and what that transition taught Suzanne
  • How a person-first approach benefited Suzanne’s brewery and what that philosophy looks like in practice
  • Using feedback to ensure your company is always growing and improving
  • Handling the “slow season” and getting creative with your destination
  • The effects of co-opetition and collaboration on Suzanne’s brewery and how to forge meaningful partnerships
  • What targeted marketing can do to help diversify your audiences or explore your niche

Putting the Customer First

Suzanne Olson is a strategic and innovative customer experience and marketing professional with 16 years of progressive experience and related education. She spent 14 years at Giant Eagle, a New England grocery chain, directing customer service and marketing strategies. She then transitioned from the large grocery chain to a small brewery, Red Shed, in upstate New York. I was so happy to talk to her and get a glimpse into this exciting industry!

Suzanne’s background means she has a special perspective on serving customers and giving them experiences to remember. Her switch from a company with 37,000 employees to a small brewery of 14 people gave her insight on operations, service, and training. She discovered how relevant company culture is to a smaller organization and resolved to put customers and people first.

Small businesses in the travel industry face unique challenges that large corporations don’t otherwise know about. It’s very easy to neglect things like training when running an in-season destination for seven days a week. Suzanne’s person-first approach is a great fix for this and other problems Red Shed has dealt with. Her company brews and works for the customer. As a result, the company has adapted to local tourism by implementing a beer garden, yard games, giant Jenga, tractor tires, and a family-friendly menu. The family focus carved out a niche for Red Shed that appeals to a broad range of customers who just want to relax.

Craft Brew Collaboration

Suzanne’s creative “customer-first” practices have put Red Shed ahead of the game. To help her along the way, Suzanne and her company have consistently asked for feedback to ensure they’re always improving and recreating their winning formula. This level of creativity and flexibility is extremely helpful for when Suzanne’s business faces its inevitable challenge: the slow season.

To shake things up, Red Shed “invents events,” as Suzanne puts it. Events such as a prom party and other fun festivities keep people interested, while new beers keep them coming back for more. Other features, like an Oktoberfest party with a variety of attractions, continue to draw new and diverse audiences. Targeted marketing helps Suzanne build a vision for Red Shed and the events and ideas she wants to try out. In the large market that is the brewery business, Suzanne has discovered the magic of collaboration. Red Shed’s one-of-a-kind brews are a great way for the brewery to partner and promote local farms and spotlight their ingredients.

Suzanne’s collaboration extends to the Destination Marketing Corporation of Otsego County, where she serves on the board. Suzanne regularly offers help to the DMCOC while informing them of Red Shed’s local events and plans. She reinforces transparency as a valuable trait for any destination or company to have. By staying transparent, partners like local restaurants trust Red Shed and work with them to the benefit of both companies.


Episode Transcript

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