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Short’s Brewing Company: brewing up creativity and sparking Michigan’s economy

November 2, 2011

(From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)
Creativity is a concept not always associated with beer. However for Short’s Brewing Company headquartered in Bellaire, Michigan, creativity is at the core. “One of the things we are passionate about at Short’s Brewing is perfecting the science behind brewing exceptional beer – and then adding twists of creativity to set our beer apart,” shares Joe Short, founder of Short’s Brewing Company. With an initial introduction to beer–making as a home brewer, Short began to research and study the process on his own: converting starch to sugar, learning about yeast characteristics, figuring out temperature manipulation, etc. After developing his brewing skills, Short fell in love with the process, studied under Michigan–based brew masters, worked in breweries throughout Michigan and then opened the doors for Short’s Brewing Company.
Focus had the opportunity to speak with Short about his experience and of course his beer.
Focus: Craft beer is such a growing business – what is the attraction and what do you see as the future for craft beers in Michigan?
Short: The attraction to craft beer is definitely on an upward slope. In fact, Michigan just reached 100 brewing licenses, making our state one of top five beer–making states in the country. I think more people are turning to craft beer because they see the value and the connection to the product brewer and consumer and that personal feel – identifying with local brands is important to people today.
Focus: Your names are so clever. How do you come up with them? 
Short: I don’t have a straight answer for that – there really isn’t a process to our names. Each beer from Huma Lupa Licoious and The Magician to Crunchy Grooves and The Soft Parade has its own unique story. For example, Ale of Reverend is named after my wife’s father who married us on Torch Lake. We have 50 different types of beer and averaged 35 different packaged brewed beers this year and have close to 70 that didn’t hit packaging between last year and this year but were served in our Pub located in Bellaire.
Focus: Short’s is obviously made in Michigan and growing up in Michigan – how much presence do you have in other states?
Short: Our business model and philosophy is to be a Michigan only company. We want to embrace “mom and pop” approach. We do travel to other states for festivals and distribute truckloads of beer. But when it’s gone, it’s gone. We are a Michigan company and I plan to keep it that way as long as I’m in charge.
Focus: In the age of Facebook, Twitter and other growing social media platforms, please talk about the importance of engaging with your customers through these venues.
Short: I’m a non Facebooker and I do not Twittter. But, we as a company engage because it’s a way to instantly interact with our clients and get rapid feedback. We launched our Facebook campaign last year and have 10,000 fans. 
Focus: Your events calendar is quite impressive – how important have events been in growing your business?
Short: It’s the grassroots of my personal marketing strategy – I believe we need a connect with the consumer personally. So, when we are on the road we are able to represent who we are what we believe in. That’s the building block for the future of the investment that we’re making with the consumer. We’re building relationships with these people – they’re coming back to the pub and festivals – they become friends.
Focus: What has Shorts experienced in terms of growth since inception? And what do you anticipate in the next five years?
Short: It’s been the most intense seven years I ever want to go through. Trying to operate day to day and keep up with an infrastructure that supports 50–80 percent growth – it’s an amazing thing. Since we started seven years ago, we’ve grown to be the third largest brewery in Michigan. We expect our 50–80 percent growth rate to slow down. For the next five years, we will grow at whatever level Michigan wants us to grow.
Focus: What kind of advice do you have for other people who want to grow their small business?
Short: It’s important that people in small business identify with the consumer – share their passion and energy and love for what they do for people. That excites consumers. Obviously growing small business can be a very tricky thing – requires lots of long hours and stamina and being willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Focus: How has your membership in SBAM helped your business?
Short: We get more affordable and quality health care through SBAM. That helps us stay competitive by offering a good health insurance program. Those are very important when trying to retain long–term highly qualified, highly skilled employees.
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