Transcript 146: Putting People First and Brewing Great Beer, with Suzanne Olson

Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome. You’ve arrived at destination on the left with Nicole Mahoney, learn from the experience of travel and tourism experts who use collaboration and creativity to attract more visitors, strengthen their marketing programs and reimagine how their industry does business. Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney host

Speaker 2: 00:20 destination on the left. I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences of professionals in the industry and that is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guest, Suzanne Olson. Suzanne’s family owns red shed brewing in Cooperstown, New York, a craft farm brewery dedicated to making fresh handcrafted Ailes using local New York hops and grains as a New York state farm. Brewer red shed beers feature the best of locally grown hops and ingredients and the recipes they develop are designed to bring out the best of the region where they are located. Suzanne’s Day job is senior director of service excellence at Basset health healthcare network and she has held positions as director of customer service strategy at the grocery store chain giant and is marketing media and publications manager at UCLA. Susanne brings her decades of experience in marketing and customer service. To her role at red shed brewing.

Speaker 2: 01:17 Thank you so much for joining me, Suzanne. Thanks Nicole. Thanks for having me. And you have such an impressive, uh, and varied background and I’m, I’m really excited for our listeners to learn from you today. Um, especially with this, the whole idea about service excellence and what that means. So I’m, I’m excited to learn from you about that, but before we dive in, can you share a little bit more about your story and your journey and how you got to where you are today? Sure. I’d be happy to. So, um, so I’ve always been in marketing and customer experience and so my husband and I have been living in Pittsburgh and I was working for the grocery change. I in Eagle. Yeah. And at the time my dad had been living in Cherry valley, which is right outside Cooperstown and he had been a home brewer for many years, maybe over 10 years.

Speaker 2: 02:08 And He, um, he started brewing beer outside Cooperstown. And when you brew Beer, you brew a lot of it. And so he started selling it to locals because he didn’t want all the beer that he was brewing. It was too much. And it started getting popular. And so one day he called me and he said, you know, I really think that you and David, my husband should move up to Cooperstown and helped me with this brewery. Okay. And I had loved marketing, I loved my job and I was hesitant to do so. [inaudible] giant Eagle was going through some changes and I had been doing what I had been doing for over 10 years. And so I said, okay, I’ll consider it and you know, the stars aligned and we thought about it more. And we said, yeah, that’s what we’re going to do. So we packed it up, we moved from Pittsburgh with our two young boys and my husband quit his job and we moved up to Cherry Valley to help my dad with a brewery.

Speaker 2: 03:14 And so the brewery was started in 2015 and we moved up in the winter of 2017 and [inaudible] it really was at that time, more of a hobby brewery. And so in the last two years we’ve really taken it to a new level. We upgraded our brewhouse. We do from a two barrel system to a 10 barrel system. We are distributing now in five counties. We have a tap room that’s outside Cooperstown that all has a new food truck and we are serving 13 of our own beers. And like you said, we’re a farm brewery. So all of our beers are brewed with um, New York state ingredients. And some of our beers are a hundred percent New York, so they’re very much representative of the region and supporting local farmers in the area. And so it’s been really exciting to, to have this experience. And um, it’s really through, well we’ve learned a lot about the brewing industry and a lot about the hospitality industry.

Speaker 2: 04:21 Yeah, I think a, I think that’s awesome. And more than what an adventure for you and your husband to just kind of take that leap of faith and, and quit your jobs and relocate and dive right into this new business and this new industry. Um, I just think is so inspiring and really amazing that you were able to do that. Yes, it’s been, it’s been, it’s been great. And, um, like you said, I, I do continue to work at the hospital, which is on Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown in service excellence because I really love customer experience. Um, I love creating great experiences for people and so, um, [inaudible] totally leave that type of work to go into brewing exclusively. I needed a little bit of a separation. Absolutely. Well also, I’m sure working in a family owned business with your father and your husband, you need a little bit of a break from that too.

Speaker 2: 05:16 I’m sure it’s exactly right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’m, I’d really like to hear a little bit more about, um, customer experience and kind of your, your viewpoint of that there, there is a lot of talk about, you know, um, visitor experience. For example, you know, in the hospitality industry or in the tourism industry, and I know there’s a lot of crossover from the work that you’ve done in your career into hospitality. Are you seeing that or how are you seeing that cross over from, you know, your corporate life and now into your brewery life? So the grocery chain I worked for was very progressive and especially in retail, which is very competitive. Um, you have to put the customer at the center of what you’re doing. Um, and also the team members or whoever works with you, the, your culture is really important to customer experience.

Speaker 2: 06:08 And so, um, that is, well, that’s where I’ve really seen brewing and a lot of industries going is thinking about their culture, what the culture and how that aligns to the brand. And then also how that culture translates into the interaction you have, you know, whether it be at your store or your hotel or your brewery. And so at red shed, what I’ve, I took all that learning that I had in terms of operations and service and training and has really tried to bring that to life for the brewery. And what’s been interesting for me is that, um, you know, working for a large organization, which was 37,000 people is very different from working with [inaudible] a family group and you know, 14 team members, which are mostly part time. Um, so there’s things that I know I should be doing that I don’t do and that’s really hard for me.

Speaker 2: 07:11 Okay. Anyways, so with customer experience, I really emphasize the fact that we put this, the customer at the center of what we’re doing and we put people first. And so I have seen that, you know, that’s something that we really try to impress. But I’ve seen really successful businesses [inaudible] as their mantra as well. And when you put the customer and people first, the profits will come because you have engaged people who care about your business and who want to make it better with you. Absolutely. And, and I love that. Um, you pointed out the difference between, you know, working for this large chain, 37,000 team members, um, to a small 14, you know, member team and kind of, I’m trying to balance that. But what I really love about it is that you are the small business and you are thinking about your culture and how that impacts everything else that you do.

Speaker 2: 08:10 And I think a lot of times small business, you know, it’s hard when you’re wearing so many hats, right? And in the business to be focused on maybe some of those higher level initiatives that are really gonna set you up for success, like focusing in on that culture. Is that, is that right? That’s exactly right. And you know, what’s been, so like I talked about the gap between knowing and doing, um, you know, I know that training is incredibly important because it sets expectations and it, it just aligns everybody on it creates standards and standards are the essence of efficiency. So I know this, but we’re moving so quickly, you know, especially now in the summer being a tourist town. Yeah, it’s really hard to dedicate yourself to training because when are you going to do it? We’re open seven days a week, 11 to 11.

Speaker 2: 09:03 And so we’ve had to shut our place down to give people the training that they need. And that’s really tough for a small business, but it’s really necessary in order for them to be successful. Yeah. And I think that sends such a strong message to your team that this is important, so important that we recognize we need to carve time out for it and we do need to close. Maybe we aren’t serving our customers for that, you know, those couple of hours or whatever it is that you have to close to get through that. Um, I think that’s great. And I, you know, I grew up in a retail business myself and we were open seven days a week. And, uh, I remember having those struggles. I worked for my father. I actually, and I remember taking the same thing back then in that retail business, trying to convince dad that we needed to close so we could get everybody trained and on the same page.

Speaker 2: 09:54 So I can relate to how difficult that is in your retail environment. So it is, it definitely is. Yeah. That’s fabulous. Yeah. You know what, we’ve also, um, you know, the, the heart of what we’re doing is we’ve designed our brewery around the customer and you know, so when we think about, that’s really how I’ve embedded my customer experience and customer service background is that we don’t brew for ourselves per se. We brew for what we feel the customer needs and wants. And so, and we include our people in that process as well, you know, in terms of their ideas. We try to anyways, what’s an example of how that kind of manifest itself? You know, the designing the brewery around the customer. So our tap room in Cooperstown, um, because we’re a, because Cooperstown is a tourist destination centered around baseball, we have what we as cool, we have Cooperstown dreams park, which is a, a place where 80 teams at a time come every Friday and play each other in a tournament.

Speaker 2: 11:05 And the people who come to the tournament are, you know, they, they, this is their vacation. They’ve been saving up for years to come. Their boys are very excited to be here. And so they are looking for a taste of the region. And so our tap room is not just a place to drink beer. It’s a place where people can bring their families. We have, um, a huge beer garden. We have yard games, we have like giant Jenga and cornhole. We actually got some big tractor tires for the kids to play on. And we’ve designed an our menu to be more family friendly. And the feedback we hear is that not a lot of breweries are family focused, which I find really because, you know, as a mom I want to go somewhere where I can relax with my husband or my friends, you know, and not have to worry about my kids.

Speaker 2: 12:03 You know, like I want that. I want to feel relaxed, I want to be them to be able to play and, and I want to feel good. And that’s really what we’ve tried to do at the tap room. And we’ve gotten feedback that it, we’ve been successful in that people like to come to our place because they feel like they can relax. Yeah. Um, and I think that’s a great example. You know, really understanding the customer, the customer that’s coming to your community, that they are these, you know, these families are coming in for those baseball games and um, really thinking through, you know, how, how can we, um, accommodate them and really attract them. And I think those, that’s a really great example. I, I think maybe, you know, intuitively people might not think, oh, brewery, yeah, I’m going to take my kids there.

Speaker 2: 12:51 Right. But it is something that interests the adults. And so to be able to have that experience for the children as well, I think it’s really awesome. Yeah. It’s, um, it’s been, you know, it’s a lot of breweries are about the beer and we are about the beer too. You know, it’s on the wall it says local, handcrafted, fresh. That’s our tagline. We’re all about local beer, but we’re also about the local experience. And that’s what we’re trying to bring to the baseball families who have Ben, this is their vacation. We want them to have the best possible vacation they can. And we want to be part of that story. Absolutely. So I haven’t even asked you the first question that I ask all of my guests yet, but we’ve actually kind of gotten to it I think, which is, um, you know, thinking about creativity and how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry is.

Speaker 2: 13:45 And, and the first question is, what have you done to stand out from the crowd? And it sounds like this focus on the customer first and having them at the center, um, is really what’s working for you and giving you that competitive advantage. It is. Um, it has definitely helped, but you know, everybody can do it. So we’re always trying to get more creative and think about, you know, what are people, you know, feedback is incredibly important. So that’s one thing I learned in being in the service business is that if you don’t know, you can’t fix it. And so we are constantly asking our customers or guests, you know, how can we do better? What did you think of that? You know, how was the beer, which one was your favorite? And that’s how we continually improve. That’s how we get creative because we listened to what people want.

Speaker 2: 14:38 Yeah, I think that’s a, that’s such an important point that you are asking those questions and asking for that feedback and, and not just kind of, you know, stay staying still with the status quo. I think that’s, uh, a really great point. Um, and, and this next question is still on creativity, but when I love to ask my guests is to think about a time or, or a challenge that they may have faced and then maybe a creative solution that came from that. Is there a time or a particular challenge that you have faced and then maybe a creative way that you solve that you can share with us? So we are, because we’re in a, a tourist town, it’s a very seasonal business. And so, yeah, winter for us pretty much after October 15th to March is very slow to be quite honest. And you know, we, we brew beer and we brew it for restaurants and, um, restaurants around town and, and in our other counties, but they are also slowed down as well.

Speaker 2: 15:47 And so at our tap rooms specifically, we try to create our own excitement and our own events. So instead of just, you know, letting it ride and we have our regular events, like we have our Thursday trivia, we have our karaoke, we have our Saturday music, but we, we if invent events were almost like the hallmark of breweries. So, you know, we, we say, um, you know, we, we sit down and we try to think of fun things. And so last year, um, during November we had a prom party. So we had people calm in their old prom dresses. We had, um, you know, a king and queen of the Prom. And if we just, uh, you know, my husband wake up, we kind of joke sometimes cause it’s the theme is like things that make us [inaudible] and, but by creating events, people can get excited.

Speaker 2: 16:43 It looks, and it’s something to look forward to. And we also try to brew beers. Um, you know, we try to keep the bruise really fresh. Oh. In terms of what we’re doing. And so we, we’ll come up with creative ideas. So we have a new blueberry time goes a coming out, which is really different for us. Um, so that’s really how we, we try to be creative. Yeah. And what I love about that Prom party example and those fun events, example is, um, you know, you’re really, uh, in that case thinking about the locals, right. And what they need. Where earlier you were telling us about the visitors to the community and, and what they were looking for and now you’re looking at, okay, what, how can we put the locals at the center and what do they need during the slow time, winter months?

Speaker 2: 17:26 Yes. They need something to do as we all do. Right. The winter. Yeah. Um, is there a project or anything that you’re particularly excited about that’s coming up in the future that you’d like to share? Yes, actually we were just talking about that today at our weekly staff meeting is our Oktoberfest. So our Oktoberfest is our signature event. It’s September 27th through 29th. And, um, again, our goal is to, you know, it’s fall time, so we get, we get some fall tourism, but we’re really trying to be a destination for an October fest celebration in the Cooperstown area. There’s nobody who’s doing anything like that. And so we have, um, [inaudible] the very end DJ. We have games like a Stein holding competition. Last year we had a Dachsund parade. Um, we have atomic rewind, which is a band at night who’s really fun and energetic and so that, and we serve authentic German food.

Speaker 2: 18:34 We just want to make the festival atmosphere just like a, uh, Oktoberfest in Munich. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And last year was your first one, is that right? This second year? Yeah. So I’m sure there’s a lot of things that you’re able to build on from the, from the first, yes. As you’re looking at this fall. Yes. Yeah. That’s, um, that’s really, that’s really fun. And I love how you talk about it being like a fall dusty donation. And so that’s a little bit different than these events like the prom party and some of the other, uh, you know, the trivia nights and things like that. Um, so how are you reaching, you know, how are you positioning that event to be more like a destination? Um, well it’s because it’s, it is more of like a fare type atmosphere, so marketing wise, okay. We’re marketing it as and all ages kind of events.

Speaker 2: 19:26 So again, focusing on the families, um, we’re doing more targeted marketing to get people who are out of town because a lot of people around this region have heard of us and heard of what we’re doing, but they don’t really know what all we have to offer. And so that’s really why we focus on more activities. And I’ve had people reach out to me already saying, when are you having your October fest this year? That’s great. Yeah. And I think, um, I think that’s a great point is that, you know, one of the ways that you, um, are positioning it is just purely in how you market it and who you’re reaching. And so knowing who the audience is and then which channels to best reach them with, um, I think is a, is a great point. Yeah. So at giant Eagle, before I got into customer experience, I used to do targeted marketing.

Speaker 2: 20:16 And the thing I love about targeted marketing is that, you know, he’s starting with an end point, you know, who do I want here? What do I want them to experience? And then building, you know, building it backwards. So really honing in on your audience and what their needs and wants are specifically. That’s, that’s how we think of marketing and, and the experience within the tap room and our beer. Yeah, absolutely. So, Suzanne, I want to talk a little bit about collaboration. Um, something I like to really focus on, um, on the show because I find, um, it’s what I like to call coopertition where, um, competitors or perceived competitors in the tourism industry come together, um, and cooperate to create something bigger than they can do on their own. And I’m wondering if, um, there are some collaborations that have worked for you as you’ve been, you know, developing and growing a red shed.

Speaker 2: 21:15 So the brewing industry is very collaborative in general. Um, it always, that’s one of the things that I think makes it really unique is that brewers, ours are always coming together. Okay. And promoting one another. Um, by the end, I think the brewer’s association said by the end of the year, there will be 10,000 breweries in the country. Hmm. Incredible. You know, all different sizes. And so we specifically have not done a collaboration brew, but a lot of brewers do collaboration brews. So were you the two, uh, brewmasters will get together and design a recipe and then have it individually at their tap room. Um, so that’s something we have considered, but we haven’t done fully because we’re not, are, we’re not fully in a position to do that yet. And then in terms of collaboration, we, I wouldn’t call them competitors per se, but we, we try to, because we make a product that has ingredients and we are about local, handcrafted, fresh.

Speaker 2: 22:19 We use a lot of, um, farms and historical things with our brewery. So for example, the blueberry time goes a, that we’re brewing, um, uses blueberries from ingles blueberry farm, which is in Cooperstown and Tanner Hill herb farm. And that’s where we get the time from. And so it creates a, creates a way for us to promote them and their local business while using their ingredients in our brews. Um, we also have a relationship with [inaudible] and farm, which is in Sharon Springs, New York. And, um, Henry Clawson owned this farm. Pre-Prohibition and he was one of the largest brewers in the country. And so the woman who bought the farm came to us and said, I want to bring back these pre-prohibition recipes. And so we did some research and we have a couple of brews that we do under the Clawson farm name. And so she, you know, gets to promote the fact that she, her farm exists and she’s rehabbing this farm and we also get, she has these beautiful labels from, from pre-prohibition times.

Speaker 2: 23:38 So it’s mutually beneficial for both. Yeah. I think that’s really cool. How fun is that to be able to create these recipes that were pre-prohibition they have such historical significance, uh, and that in that partnership, I think that’s so fun and, well, hops was the Otsego county was one of the largest hop producers in the country. Pre-Prohibition and then, um, after a blight came and really walked out the hop production, um, right now, so hops are really starting to get a resurgence here. And so, um, there are many hop farms that pop up and so we do a lot of work with different hop farms in the area. Okay. Spotlighting the hops that they have. And also, um, with the farmer’s museum that’s in Cooperstown, they have a hotline festival as well. Yeah, yeah, I’m familiar with that museum. And, um, I think that’s a great connection.

Speaker 2: 24:33 And that just made me think about, um, Suzanne, I know you’re very active in, um, you’re in the tourism community and Cooper’s town. And can you talk a little bit about how you work with your, um, tourism promotion agency? The, you know, the county, uh, tourism office? You mean the destination marketing? Yes, yes. The destination. Yes. Yes. So I am on the Board of the Destination Marketing Corporation. We’ll see Eagle County, DMC, Yossi and um, Aye. I actually, I think talk about a collaborative work environment. You know, I, I tell them, I told them what I’m doing, but then I’ve also asked how we can help support what they’re doing. No, what, what they need from us because [inaudible]. Um, so I, because their office is in town, sometimes I will call them and stop by and sit on the couch whether they like it or not, but, but, um, I see it, you know, when I, well, they started really ramping up the marketing.

Speaker 2: 25:41 Um, I, I talked to Cassandra Harrington, who’s the DMC EOC director. And, um, I told her exactly what our plans were, you know, I said, here’s what I’m trying to do. Here’s what, here’s what customer base and trying to reach, you know, how can you help me? And, um, you know, and then I asked her how I could help her with her goals as well. So it, it really is very collaborative. Yeah. Transparent. It’s, you know, it’s about, I think your, your theme about code competition is about transparency. Um, which can be tough because, you know, we also have had, um, you know, you, you want to be careful that you don’t, um, give too much away, but at the same time you’re all in it together. And that’s how I see the DMC coc. Yeah. I can appreciate that for sure. You know, um, you are, you still do have, you know, some competitors you’re trying to, you know, draw people to your tap room, um, and are, you know, rolling out new programs, listening to the customer, enhancing you’re doing to pull in more visitors.

Speaker 2: 26:46 Um, but at the same time, you’re right, um, you know, when you can be transparent and work together and kind of compliment each other, sort of, um, that how that saying goes. A rising tide lifts all boats, right? [inaudible] yeah. There’s a, um, you know, the thing about breweries is that they [inaudible] take away from restaurant traffic. And so we, because we serve restaurants, we have, we tried to have really good relationships with our restaurants. And so, you know, there’s a restaurant in town owned by us, really awesome entrepreneur. He owns several restaurants in town and, you know, we talked to him, you know, we work with him on, you know, what we’re planning so as to not take away his business. You know, we want him to get the beer sales just as much as us. So we never tried to undercut what they’re trying to do.

Speaker 2: 27:43 And in actuality, we try and promote what they’re trying to do. Yeah. I think that’s a great point because, um, you know, I wouldn’t have really thought about it in that way, but you do have, um, you know, these other segments of the industry that as especially, you know, in New York State as craft breweries have just been exploding. And I think it’s this year that there’s going to be more craft breweries now in the state than there are wineries. Hmm. You know, and I can see how you do have this mass building and the craft beverage industry, um, and how you, you can pull from each other, but at the same time, hopefully you’re developing so much product that becomes more of a destination and more of an attraction. Um, rather than trying to splinter, you know, a shrinking audience, for example. Exactly. Like we, you know, we will, we will go to, um, we will go to the restaurants and tell them what we’re up to, but also again, say, how can we help you, you know, what, what makes sense for your customers?

Speaker 2: 28:45 And they’ll say, you know, please don’t do that. Please don’t. Please don’t do this on this night. Yeah. And that’s that, you know, that’s, that’s fair. That’s fair. Because we want to have a good relationship with them, not just because we sell them beer, but because we’re all in the same, the same industry really. Right. Absolutely. And so, um, speaking of, uh, um, the beer industry, I know you’re also, you know, active and involved with the New York state brewers association. Um, can you speak just a little bit about how you use these different, you know, you’ve got the DMC EOC, you’re on the board, on the brewers association and just how those kind of compliment or help your business. Um, so the brewers association is a really wonderful resource. Um, they have, they not only have relationships with, um, companies, um, I, they’re called allied members, but, um, they also have, they’re just a really a wealth of information about brewing the New York state brew laws.

Speaker 2: 29:51 So the state liquor authority laws, um, they promote working together so they can put you in touch with other brewers. And again, I, I feel like, you know, when I have a question or when I want to, to get, you know, the thing about owning your own business is that the thing I really miss about working at giant Eagle, which is a large company, is you always had someone to bounce ideas off of. And when you work for yourself or when you own an organization, you really have nobody to talk to about, you know, hey, what do you think of this? And so that’s really how I use these organizations. And so for the brewers association, you know, I will, I will talk to them about some of the ideas that we’re thinking about in terms of our tap room, you know, and brewing and they will direct me towards the right person.

Speaker 2: 30:46 They will say, Oh, you should talk to this brewer, or, you know, you should talk to the state about that, which is really great. It’s nice to have someone to be able to do that with. And it’s the same thing with the DM coc, but more of a marketing slant. Absolutely. I think that’s great. And thanks, um, for sharing that. And I think that’s so important. Um, you know, not only do you get that industry knowledge base that you talked about, um, but also this whole idea of, you know, bouncing ideas off of each other. And even in my business, I belong to, you know, different network groups where you can go and talk and, and learn from each other. And I think that’s just so important. And that really kind of brings us full circle to what we started with, which is where you talked about the training and the importance of training for your team, right?

Speaker 2: 31:32 Is to just constant, constantly be learning and growing. I think that’s been a theme here. Uh, even when you talked about the customer feedback that, that you get and how you’re constantly looking for new creative ideas. Um, so Suzanne, I knew this was going to be a really interesting conversation and I really appreciate you taking some time, um, you know, today to talk with us. Um, can you share with our listeners where they might find the brewery, um, online or how they might connect with you? And then any final thoughts if you have any before we wrap up? Oh, sure. So we’re located in Cherry Valley, which is 15 minutes north of Cooperstown. And Cooperstown is a great place to visit in the summer. Our website is red shed, brewing.com and our Facebook is very uptodate, so we’d do a lot of stuff on Facebook with red shed brewing are Twitter is red shed brewing and then Instagram is rigid brewery. Hmm. [inaudible] when you have to change just one little thing. As a brand marketer, it drives me nuts. Yeah. That’s what we’re going because that’s where it started with oh well and um, you can find us in um, bars and restaurants in Oswego, Oneida County, um, Herkimer Delaware and I think there’s what Hamilton, so I think all of those counties, um, at your, so if you don’t see us on draft somewhere at your favorite place, please ask for Richard Beer. Absolutely. Well thank you so much Suzanne, and we’ll look forward to catching up with you again. Thanks Nicole.

Speaker 1: 33:13 It’s time to hit the road again. Visit destination on the left.com during your travels. For more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.