“What should I know? What should I do?” Ed Jefferies had plenty of questions for talented brewer Luke Nicholas when she joined Auckland’s prize-winning craft brewery, Epic Brewing Company, in November 2012.
“There was no stock management system,” she laughs. “It was all in Luke’s head. He’d say, ‘Oh, I think we need this…’ or ‘We’ve got enough of that…’. He did all the production stuff himself.”
But the small craft brewery was getting too big for guesswork. Within two months of Ed joining the Penrose head office, she was production manager and in charge of implementing an inventory system she was familiar with from her previous employers in the wine trade.
“Epic was already with Xero so we talked to the accountant,” says Ed, “and he confirmed that Unleashed Software was a good solution for us. No off-the-shelf programme does exactly what you want it to do, but most of what we wanted was there, and it fitted with Xero.”
Ed also fitted right into Epic. Despite her background in wines, she likes beer people. “They are more real, like myself. They don’t mind sharing brewing secrets. If you take a sip and ask, ‘How did you do that?’, they’ll tell you, ‘I did this… and I tried that…’.”
Even more importantly, as Ed says: “I like beer”. She’d been dabbling in home brewing herself before she joined Epic and couldn’t believe her luck when she found herself at her first taste-testing of a special new brew at the contract brewery, Steam Brewing Company in Otahuhu. Ed’s usually processing orders and taking care of accounts in Epic’s small Penrose office of five, but she relishes any chance to “partake in brewing”.
And having a creative boss who’s been winning awards since 1998 means a stream of new recipes, batches and labels to oversee in addition to the four standard labels. “Luke says, ‘Let’s do this!’ and so far we’ve made another five beers this year. Epic is big all over New Zealand, with our biggest seller here still being Epic Pale Ale which Luke created when he started out as a volunteer at the Cock & Bull. He designs all his own beers now and is a marketing guru, exporting to Australia, the UK, the USA, and even a little to Ireland, but our biggest overseas customer is Sweden.”
“Epic tendered for a pale ale of under 7% alcohol and we won,” Ed explains further. “Now Sweden is our second biggest market after New Zealand. ‘Armageddon’ is really big, really hoppy and really flavourful, but if you gave it to the average Kiwi bloke, he’d say, ‘What is this… ? What are you doing to me?’. You can’t down ‘Armageddon’ like a 4.9er because it’s got more than 6.6% alcohol. But once you understand craft beer, you can’t go back.”
Ed also took time to understand what she wanted from Unleashed Software. “I knew that implementing a structured inventory system would open a can of worms, but it was a can that had to be opened. It would free Luke up to do what he’s good at. I knew naming, for instance, would be a problem so I spent a lot of time thinking about little things first, and how do we handle things like building raw materials and cases of beer.”
Industry trusted inventory management solution
“Unleashed was up in a week and, after some behind-the-scenes work, it was running well in a month. Unleashed puts everything into stock on hand and you can see exactly what your costs and income are. And because we don’t own our brewery, it’s also helped with confirming which stock is ours. Once managing batch numbers is nailed, and you don’t have to rebuild one product as another product so you can get the excise duty rebated if an export order suddenly comes in, it will be very good. If a product is for export to start with, it’s not a problem.”
“Hops are ordered five years ahead, so informed planning and forecasting is important for knowing how much beer to make,” says Ed. “The weather influences how much beer we hold, and how many bottles, caps and labels are needed. People drink less beer in winter, but they like to try a different beer.”
The weather is beyond control but reliable brewery inventory software reduces the seasonal fluctuations and uncertainty that go with Epic’s new recipes and their imaginative, talking-point labels. “Labels are a big thing to get right because one batch of beer makes 900 cases and there are two dozen bottles in each case. But the higher the alcohol content, the less beer you get from a batch. We don’t want to hold too much stock, and we don’t want to run out.”
“From a cost point of view, Unleashed has definitely helped,” Ed decides. “Previously we could see our dollar value in Xero, what our sales were, but we had no way of tracking the actual costs of goods for a particular item until Unleashed was introduced.”
As long as people keep on drinking beer, Epic will keep on making beer,” predicts Ed. “It’s a fun thing to do, but you’ve got to think about what you will be brewing in five years, and the costs of bringing out new beers all the time. That’s where Unleashed is working well for us, and it gives Luke the head space to do what he does well – create Epic beers.