This was our first year selling through the LCBO. (That stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario for those not from our province – they are one of only two legal retailers for booze in the province and the only one that Beau’s sells through). Around October we started thinking, production-wise, how we would fare through the season. Let me explain…
In our first year we only sold to licensees (that’s brewery-talk for restaurants and pubs), and we were kind of disappointed that sales actually decreased over Christmas by about 8%. It made sense though, as most of our licensees were closed for a few days and people for the most part would be home with their families. In year two, we also sold to customers through our retail store. We were amazed as the retail store sales went up as much 400% for the month, but another dip in licencees meant total sales were only up 6% from December. This year we had bottles in about 40 LCBO stores and we guessed our pretty ceramic bottle would make a good Christmastime gift; but how do you forecast sales your first year in?
What we did was talk directly to a few LCBO stores to get a sense of how other products sales went over the time period. They were pretty forthcoming and we were able to piece together our best guess of how sales would go over the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas.
Then, it was inventory time…
Would we have enough bottles, tags, tamperproof stickers, boxes, swing top caps, and, oh yeah, BEER to get that many bottles out the door? We ordered what we thought we needed and started stepping up beer production.
Then it was scheduling time…
For that level of sales, we needed to run our two-head filler 11 hours a day, 6 days a week for the first three weeks and 15 hours a day for the last week. We needed to send out 3 full trucks and 3 full cargo vans each week, and the week of Christmas and New Year would require special consideration because the holidays fell in mid-week. We needed someone dedicated to retail throughout the week (normally, we all take turns serving the few people who show up on a weekday morning) and invoicing and scheduling would be more grueling than normal, too.
...and how did we do?
Pretty flipping good, if you ask me! Our forecast was almost exact to sales, in fact most weeks were almost carbon copies of the forecast. Our scheduling worked pretty good – a couple snowstorms caused problems and our filler got so overheated it broke…twice! But we fixed it each time and because we hadn’t fallen behind, we were able to make up the extra hours by working through the night a few nights. We did actually run out of a few things inventory-wise and had to improvise on a few of the less essential stuff – but the major things (beer and bottles and caps) were well stocked throughout.
It was grueling near the end, and I think I hit a 40 hour work day at least twice through the season, most of us at the brewery saw at least one 4 am, and I fell asleep before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but we got through it without a single missed delivery, stock out or dry tap.
For those of you trying to work out your projections for your own brewery, in a general sense our retail sales were up 300% and our licensees down 5-10%. December will be the absolute best month of the year for sales overall for us for 2008.