Dan White is a self-described serial entrepreneur. How deep does the affliction run? Consider this childhood tale: Instead of debating whether to adopt a hamster or pick out a fish when he was 8 years old, White had already figured out how to wholesale pets. That passion nurtured into a local business selling exotic marine and tropical fish, which became a chain, and by the time he was 22, White cashed out and moved to Hawaii to scuba full-time.
Call it a small sample, but White’s business finesse is pretty clear. Now, at 61, it’s no surprise to see his name attached to one of the nation’s most exciting and fast-moving sectors: craft beer. According to the Brewers Association, the nation’s industry hit a milestone in September with the number of craft breweries reaching 4,000. The historical high, hit in 1873, was 4,131. Also, craft beer is projected to represent nearly 15 percent of the beer industry by 2020.
Like many entrepreneurs, White saw the statistics and his brain began to tick. But, also in tune with the countless beer aficionados looking to break in, White wondered how could he carve out a successful and specific niche.
White’s answer was Growler USA, a brewpub in Eugene, Oregon, that’s about to crash into the national conscience. “Here we are in the craft beer explosion. Here’s what our market is, here’s what our customer looks like,” White says. “So I feel like it’s easy to explain to people that we have the right product in the right place at the right time.”
He refers to the Eugene location, which has been open around two years, as the concept store. Basically, White knew from the outset that franchising was going to be his surest path to widespread expansion. There are currently 25 Growler USAs sold, he says, and he expects them to all be operational by the end of 2016. The first is set for early January in Charlotte, North Carolina. He sees expansion hitting triple digits in 2017 and finding its way to the 200-store mark within the next couple of years.
The idea to learn from one unit and then franchise it was something he borrowed from his past. After his move to Hawaii, White headed to New Jersey where he bought a video rental store. He opened a second one a month later and eventually sold 28 locations to Blockbuster. Next he began Rapid Refill Ink, which grew from one unit to 100 through franchising in just 10 months. The company is still thriving today.
“Franchising is kind of a science unto itself,” he says, “and it’s one of the easiest ways to grow a brand if your intention is to have a largely regional or national presence. If you don’t have a wide-open checkbook it’s the easiest way to go.”
What is Growler USA exactly? It’s a concept that offers up to 100 taps, with 10 to 15 being dedicated to drinks other than draft beer, like Kombucha tea, draft wines, coffee, mead, and ciders. The rest of the lines feature local, regional choices that are treated with serious selection and care, even down to the glassware (from Libbey), temperature checks, and keg handling systems. Everyone who works for Growler USA must also be Cicerone certified, which ensures the people pouring the beer know exactly what they’re doing—and what they’re serving.
And after initial tests with fare, White decided to hire an executive chef in Garey Hiles, who hails from the 13-unit Landry’s Inc. concept The Oceanaire Seafood Room. “One of my favorites is macaroni and cheese with bratwurst in it, because right now we know that bratwurst and craft beer have married each other,” White says of the developing menu. “But we have blackened mahi mahi tacos for example. So we’ve got food to go along with each style of beer. We have a beverage that should suit everyone that walks through the door, and now a menu that would do the same.”
White says he isn’t worried about handing off his concept to owners around the country. He plans to hand-select each franchisee and also has enough benchmarks in place to keep everyone on the same path. One way he did this was through technology. Growler USA deploys LoyalTree, a customer loyalty program, and TurboChef—the same technology used at Wolfgang Puck’s and Red Lobster for food preparation, among others. True to the Brew is also a beverage system Growler USA put in place to ensure certain standards are followed with the beverages themselves.
The investment range is $396,363 to $591,310 and the required net worth of the perspective franchisor must be $500,000.
“We look for people that have good life experience, that are prepared to make a commitment to putting out the resources and efforts to be successful,” White says. “We openly tell them you have to do something that’s going to make you happy every day. … And we try to get people down to where they’re saying, ‘I see myself doing this.’ That’s the perfect fit for us.”