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Spotlight on Steam Whistle Brewing: Brewing Up a Successful Beer Business

Lauren Marinigh | February 23, 2016

Greg Taylor, Co-Founder of Steam Whistle Brewing, got an early start at being an entrepreneur after his father encouraged him to run a painting business when he was just in high school. Since then, Greg has run a number of enterprises and built an award-winning craft brewery that is a household name for many Canadians.  Hard work, patience, strong customer referrals and a stubborn refusal to leave behind an industry he loved, all contributed to Greg’s success with Steam Whistle.

From the late 1980s and 90s, Greg, had been working at a premier microbrewery along with Greg Cromwell and his now partner, Cam Heaps. The microbrewery had been bought out by a national brewer that was going to amalgamate production into their large facility. Because of this, the three friends lost the jobs that they loved. It was in 1998 when the threesome were on a canoe trip, talking about how they missed the brewery business that they decided to get back into the industry. Three Fired Guys was born, which later became Steam Whistle Brewing.

Since that life-changing day on a canoe trip, the brewery has far exceeded their expectations. “We had a five-year business plan when we opened and we had a vision of establishing ourselves as a significant player in the craft brewery industry,” Greg explained. “We never imagined that 15 years later, we’d be the largest independent craft brewer in the country.”

Like most craft brewers, Steam Whistle began being sold in their own backyard and didn’t begin expanding outside of their city, region and then province for several years. Greg explained that one of the issues with expanding is that Steam Whistle is a natural product, so they have to safeguard the shelf life to preserve quality. “We didn’t want to expand too quickly or without proper support for new markets or else our beer might languish on shelves and give consumers a bad first impression,” Greg said. Greg and Cam decided they would only move their product into other provinces when they had the resources to properly support it, and staff members willing to travel or move and establish the market for them.

The first province Steam Whistle expanded to was Alberta, and to do so they used an outside agent to represent them and their brand. They started off working with an agent that represented multiple brands, but soon decided that the best way to represent their brand in new markets was by hiring their own staff. “In the short-term this was a more costly proposition, but in the long-term it was the right decision,” Greg explained. “Your own people have true pride and passion for the brand and company which propels you to success.”

On top of building such a well-known beer brand, Steam Whistle Brewing has won countless awards for their work environment, such as being one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies seven years in a row, having one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures and being one of Canada’s Top Employers for Young People. It’s evident that creating good beer isn’t the only priority for Steam Whistle, but also creating a workplace that employees love.  “On a Sunday night, we don’t want our employees dreading coming to work in the morning, we want them to be excited to be coming to the brewery, to participate with their ideas, to make our beer better each day and share in the success of the business,” Greg explained. “Without happiness you can’t have passion, and without passion you can’t achieve quality.”

Greg couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of tuning into your hiring and HR policies to support the culture of your business. “The most qualified person in the world won’t help your business if they don’t fit into the team already there,” Greg said. “When the culture of your organization is aligned with your vision and goals for the business, success is a sure thing.”

You can connect with OR you can hear more from Greg at Futurpreneur Canada’s Action Entrepreneurship Summit in May 2016. Stay tuned for more information and registration here.

Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada