Where are we going?

As told by Jim Watkins:

When we discussed posting a couple blog posts in the lead up to our 5 year anniversary we

settled on a “where it all began”, “where we are now”, “where we are

going” format. The first two were easy. Story telling and soul searching. Thinking about the

“where are we going” question, however, has left us with a healthy case of the sweats.

In some ways growing a business is scarier than starting a new one. With a startup, there is

nothing to lose. Actually, less than nothing if you count the debt load. As we’ve grown,

however, that has changed. Now we’ve got kids to feed. Literally. So with that level of anxiety

nicely outlined, let’s get to the question at hand: where are we going?

The craft space has changed A LOT since opening Sociable. There are more products than ever

on liquor store shelves, distributors are consolidating, table service is going extinct, national

beer volumes are down, wine and spirits volumes are up, and this weird not-quite-beer not-

quite-wine space called cider has been all over the place. These changes force us to continually

ask, “what business are we in?” We don’t want to be the transportation operator that thinks

they’re a rail company. That’s how you go out of business when people start traveling by

airplane.

So, what business are we in? Brewing? Wine-making? Manufacturing? Distributing?

Restauranting? The short (and unhelpful) answer is, YES. More specifically though, it seems we

are in the customer business. Simply put, the only reason our successes have been big and our

failures small these last several years is because of our fans. To that end, we are doubling down

on delivering the best Sociable experiences possible. We continue to refine our taproom with a

new event space, flight boards, menus, and furniture, and we’ve got a patio refresh replete

with comfy seating and fire pits (yes, that is plural) on the way. The fire pits may not be the

only part about the taproom that becomes plural. More on that later. Outside of the taproom

we are working tirelessly with our distributor partners to make sure your local liquor store is in

stock with our newest launches, and to bring Sociable to new places outside of the metro and

Minnesota…Sconnies deserve cider too, after all.

The future for Sociable is all about staying focused on the things we can control. That’s not to

say we aren’t paying attention to what is happening in the market, it just means we’re going to

try to watch those developments in the rear-view mirror. Innovation and hustle will continue

to drive us. This year’s lineup is absolutely remarkable. Our Tandem Tap infusions have my

mouth watering as I sit here thinking about them, and MN’s first canned mead is going to melt

your face off. Sometimes we are slow to react because we take that spirit of creativity so

seriously. Its why we were so hesitant to launch a pink cider…it simply wasn’t our idea. That

said, we are not too proud to pivot. Something pink is on its way for summer of 2019 in a way

that is uniquely Sociable. There is so much great stuff coming, it can’t be kept to a page. We

can’t tell you how excited we are to share all these new developments with you this year and

beyond. Thank you, thank you, Sociable Nation for giving us the privilege of being able to

reminisce about the last five memorable and remarkable years, and of course to share with you

our plan for the next five.

Where We Are Now

As told by Co-Founder Jim Watkins:

We’ve been joking a lot lately about how corporate Sociable has gotten with things like “performance reviews” and “staff outings.”  When we started this thing the idea of an outing was laughable. In a 90 hour week where all three of us produced, packaged, sold, bartended, and accounted, the last thing we needed was more “team bonding.”  But now the taproom staff doesn’t get to spend much time with the production crew, and the sales staff doesn’t spend much time in the building at all. We’ve compartmentalized, we’ve specialized, and we’ve had to adapt in ways that even include planning time for all manner of fun and tom-foolery.  More importantly, we’ve had to start thinking about things like company culture, and who reports to whom, and how to articulate our vision to 29 people. For the first time ever we’ve had to be really deliberate about capturing the essence of who we were back in that Madison St. garage.

On the eve of our 5-year anniversary, as we define the things that started out as ad-hoc, it is worth asking who we are at this snap-shot in time.  By my approximation, we are a company that roots our culture in having fun. We feel lucky we get to wear t-shirts to work and share a pint with colleagues after a long day.  We are singularly focused on producing the best liquid we can. We have learned some old and invented some new processes, and of course our equipment has gotten A LOT better. Both changes that have us making the best, cider, beer, mead, and hybrids we think we’ve ever made.  We are a company that wants to see the cider category grow. We have been up to our elbows in collaboration projects this year, and have been humbled to field calls from peers reaching out for advice on how to get their own cider taprooms open in cities from Minneapolis to Dallas.  We are a company constantly made aware of our need to be stewards of mother nature, the only supplier that cannot be replaced. We are a company that strives every day to contribute to our community socially, culturally, and philanthropically.

Most importantly, we are a company lucky to have a bullpen of remarkably talented young people, all of whom give their heart and soul to make Sociable a success.  That is a responsibility that has us asking if we’re doing the right things to make this a place that can be a home for long careers and a healthy retirements. In the last couple years we have moved to offering healthcare to employees, we’ve implemented an employee profit sharing program, and most recently began offering a matching 401k plan.  We’re just making this up as we go, so we don’t know if we’re doing it right, but suspect we’re on the right track. Last week we were lucky enough to hire a full-time bookkeeper from a pool of over 150 applicants.

We are not a start-up anymore, a sad development that leaves me reminiscing for the days of bouncing a keg down the rickety stairs of the Muddy Pig (RIP) on a Saturday afternoon.  But moving into small business territory has me excited with where we are as a company. Our cost accounting system, state-of-the-art production equipment, our marketing team all fit like a new pair of boots.  That is, they are not quite comfortable yet, but are laced up tight and ready for lots of miles. Thank you, thank you, thank you again and again, Sociable Nation, for helping us get to where we are today. We can’t wait to break in these new boots with you.

Where it all began...

As told by Co-Founder Jim Watkins:

This week I spent some time contemplating how far we’ve come in the years since sharing our

vision for Sociable with all of you. I can trace the journey back almost 10 years, to a rare beer

shared between 90 hour work weeks with my then NYC roommate and now MSP business

partner, Wade. We didn’t know then that our business was going to be a boundary-pushing

cidery, or even that it was going to be back home in Minnesota. We just knew that is was going

to BE. In retrospect, that ill-defined plan is laughable in its vagueness. It makes where we are

now seem even more improbable.

The fact that I am writing this from a DESK, in an OFFICE indicates just how far we’ve come. Our

business, like those of so many of our brewer peers, began to take form in a garage about a

mile from here. We set up our pressing operation and home-made brewhouse in the spot

where my then girlfriend, now wife, paid an extra $50 a month to park her 2001 Subaru inside.

As our fleet of carboys grew, the Subaru moved back outside and our store-bought boxes of

apples turned into orchard-bought bins of apples. We were making so many test batches we

couldn’t drink them fast enough. We started taking them as gifts to weddings. Our friends

drank some great cider, and even more mediocre cider. Our cellar, much to the chagrin of

roommate #5, overflowed into the walk-in closet in the basement. She was frustrated that our

hobby had encroached on her living space AND that all her shit smelled like fermenting apples.

By this time we weren’t afraid to say it out loud: this wasn’t a hobby anymore, this was a life-

savings-draining, no-crying-in-baseball THING.

We spent the better part of a year ironing out our financial model. We had 62 versions of said

model before we decided this was a great idea. We jokingly held retirement parties. I played,

on repeat, “Take this Job and Shove it” by David Allen Coe for at least a week. We started

looking for a building. We found a magical spot that everyone else thought was terrible. Most

importantly we convinced exactly one bank to give us money. I bought a box truck with 300k+

miles on it and four third-hand fermenters, both with personal checks. We power washed

floors, we painted walls, we built furniture, and we traded cider for landscaping work.

We bootstrapped our plan, while our landlord abided our rent-free occupation of an in-process

renovation. My mom came up to help clean before the health inspection. Our windows have

never shined that way since. The day after our license was issued, Thanksgiving day, we

celebrated mostly by eating and drinking too much. After dinner someone said, “I think we

should be open tomorrow.” Instagram wasn’t a thing then, so I pulled out my iphone 3G and

tweeted exactly that. The rest, as they say, is history. Thanks so much for all of your support

since, Sociable Nation!