How to Start a Hard Cider Business
We don’t claim to know everything there is to know about getting started in the hard cidery business because there’s always more for us to learn, but our apple cider mill has been running since 1946, we pick our own apples to made into fresh hard cider by hand in our own backyard in Armada, and since producing and selling hard cider in 2013 so far our creations currently distributed within 10 states (and growing).
We’d say we know a thing or two (smiles). Our background, however, is unique.
We’ve been growing and producing apples for regular apple cider for 60+ years giving us tons of experience in the field collectively as a family. We’ve established many relationships with people who were once children, now adults or grandparents who consume our hard cider. And our relationships with vendors and suppliers gave us a slight advantage because of a reputation we fought to develop over so many years.
We didn’t start off in the hard cider industry or with intentions initially to get into it. When it became obvious it was becoming popular again with the American people, we had everything in place (apple orchards, reputation, connections, vendors, customers, etc.) prior to branching off into it when it made sense so it wasn’t as big a leap for us as it will be for you to hit the ground running in this growing industry. Having said that, that does NOT mean you don’t stand a chance. You DO! So long as you believe you got what it takes to win in this cut throat business and you have a solid hard cidery business game plan in place, you WILL succeed!
The 5 Commandments of Hard Cider Business Ownership
Know Thy Plan of Attack
There’s an old adage that goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. You expose yourself to predators when you are unaware of your own surroundings. Business planning puts you one step ahead.
You’re in SERIOUS trouble if you’ve yet to create a business plan. Your plan is more than HOW you will operate your business, it’s your vision ‘on paper’. It’s your personal reminder on what you want to do, and where you want to go. Ultimately, your business plan is intended to be a resource for you, the business owner.
Having said that, not everything you plan will turn out as expected, but your expectations will bring you closer to your plan. For example, you may DOUBLE your production output 3 months ahead of schedule because of overwhelming demand, or you could be behind 3 months because of lack thereof. Either way you want to put those contingencies in your plan so you can better handle the circumstances if they take place.
Know Thy Competition
By now you’ve mapped out your hard cider business plan factoring in cider production costs. You’re excited and ready to get the ball rolling. Except, there’s one problem…
…five other cideries are nearby.
This shouldn’t put a damper on your dreams, but it is a reality you must consider. The more competition there is in a specific area, the more likely your cidery will succeed IF you break through the competitive wall. There’s going to be a fight for market share so your product has to be ‘the best of the best’.
On the other hand, if there is little to no competition, it’s easier to break through even with subpar offerings and get the ball rolling on a smaller budget, but if the locals and surrounding areas aren’t demanding hard cider, but rather, for example, craft beer, than you can have the biggest hard cider production in that area and go ‘no where’. With enough marketing, promotion and cider fests you can create demand but this requires deeper pockets and more planning to execute with an eye on the future possibility of high demand.
The *sweet spot* is an untapped area with HIGH demand and LOW competition. The catch? Those golden opportunities are hard to come by, but if you keep your ear to the ground you may snag yourself the perfect storm.
Know Thy Investment Requirements
Whether your buying, renting and/or renovating an existing cider plant, you must consider the following:
Cold storage, Apple washing station, Grinder, Press, Fermentation vessels (tanks, vats, barrels, intermediate bulk containers or IBCs), Pump(s) / Hose(s), Sanitation Equipment, Filters, Pasteurization Equipment, Bottling Equipment, Labeling Equipment, Laboratory Equipment, Material handling equipment
A good rule on financing your operation is this: “Estimate how much money you think you’ll need, then double it”
Financing options you may consider include personal savings, bank loans, private loans, private equity, and crowdfunding.
Lastly, unless you have a large family of fairly skilled individuals who will initially work for you in the family business pro-bono or at a reduced rate to help get your business going, you’re going to need qualified staff. A Cider Maker. Assistant Cider Maker. Marketing Manager. Distribution Manager. Accounting/Clerical. And Tasting Room Staff to name a few.
Know Thy Target Market
Making hard cider is one thing, marketing and selling it is another. In fact, some producers have dedicated sales representatives for the daunting task.
If you hire sales reps as we have, you have to factor in demand. The better ones command higher salaries, stronger bonuses, and better perks and benefits. In other words, “Great help comes at a ‘price’.” But the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” Is especially true for our sales people. They were instrumental in helping us expand our brand and getting us high-profile distribution in over 10 states.
But let’s assume you don’t have the budget for a sales force to hit the phone and pavements to bring in new business, what do you do?
Aside from being your own spokesperson, several things. The BIGGEST of which is word of mouth. T.V. commercials are fine, they’re also expensive and can take months to find a winning ad. If done right (usually after several misses), you can run a winner for several months and create greater brand recognition.
Here’s a short list of what we do to create our community, draw in more drinkers and create more fans for our brand:
Name, branding, logo, etc., online presence, website, SEO, social media, consumer education, tastings and pouring at events, free local media/press coverage, merchandise, special events, and sales outlets just to name a few.
Know Thy Secret Recipes
There’s plenty of information we’re willing to share to help you succeed, but one area we would never venture into is our proprietary blend of apples to create our unique taste and flavor. Let’s face it, a solid brand will get people to TRY what you have to offer, but a single sip will make you distrust your judgment of quality for a lifetime if your hard cider is below expectations.
Granted, you won’t please ‘everyone’. But the idea is to please ‘some one’. And if you can please enough of those folks you create a fan base and steady customers.
Great hard cider can be so memorable it becomes a brand all on its own if its truly unique. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and don’t be afraid to give customers something they’ve never had.
Your secret recipe isn’t the only way to stand out from competition. You can hold special events. Give a portion to your favorite charities. Etc. But we believe that the biggest way to draw in people is with hard cider alone. Make it great and the people will follow.
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Starting A Hard Apple Cider Brewing Business Tips
Tip #1: Join the USCMA as a “Cidery in planning”
Tip #2: Visit your local SBDC and learn business planning, financing, operations, laws, etc. starting and operating such a business
Tip #3: Take classes on cider making even IF you have personal experience making your own.
Tip #4: Hit the roads and visit regional cideries, drinking cider, and getting plugged into the culture and communities. A little ‘private eye investigating’ goes a long way.
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Come by and visit us in our neck of the woods and sample a few of Michigan’s best at 17985 Armada Center Rd. Armada, MI 48005, give us a call at 586-784-9463 or shoot us an email at email@example.com for questions or inquiries about the sale of our business assets.
You can also visit us at Blake’s Hard Cider to learn more about our latest products and exciting upcoming events. Lastly, you can find us on Kroger and Meijer’s store shelves in Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (so far). We are quickly growing and expanding our distribution to other nearby states so check with your local grocery and liquor store chain to see if we’re in your area.