John Wright, co-founder of the Lost Villages Brewery in Long Sault was the guest speaker at the Breakfast Connections meeting. He explained in detail some of the hurdles he and his partners had to overcome. Tinkess Photo
LONG SAULT – There is a saying that if you find what you love, and you make it your life’s work, you will never work a day in your life. For entrepreneur John Wright and his partners, that thing they loved happened to be brewing craft beer, and while they are still all working very hard, they are well on their way to finding that thing that they love.
John Wright, the co-owner of the Lost Villages Brewery was recently the guest speaker at a South Stormont Business Connections breakfast. Wright, backed with a slideshow presentation, took the audience through the process he and his partners Kevin Baker and Matt Camm followed in turning their dream into reality. He explained how he and his friends started brewing beer as a hobby, giving their product to friends and family. When they saw how well it was received, they thought maybe they should turn it into a business. They found a property in a good location and then went about the process of funding the project. Initially it was self-funded, but they quickly found out that wasn’t going to be enough, so they went to the bank to see how much equity they could take from things that they owned. It is not a process that happens overnight.
“Fair warning, banks are really difficult,” said Wright. “You need an excellent business plan. You need to have forecasts, you need to go in there and be very persuasive, very professional. They’re going to ask you all types of questions. They’re going to take forever.”
They next tried to access every government grant or loan program they could, succeeding in some cases and not with some others. In the end it was enough to get the business up and running. Wright says they were blown away by the response they have received. He offered a few tips that he says helped him out.
“I felt this was really important for us: We built a network of brand ambassadors,” said Wright. “Luckily, I had a good friend network in the area. And they were all super excited so we kind of leveraged them to use their own social media to promote us. We still have some close friends that really helped us out bringing people in, I think that’s important as well.
“This one, I think it’s obvious,” he added, “But be kind, be courteous, and make a comfortable environment for your customers. I’ve been to too many places where you don’t feel welcome. I think one of the things we wanted to do is make an environment where people felt like they can come and be treated kindly.
Wright said that he also thought it was important that he and his partners had other employment so that they could funnel all the profit back into the business so that they can pay off their loans.
“None of the owners have paid themselves a single penny since we started this, we don’t plan to. And that for us means we need to have income from other avenues. I mean, even if you’re working for minimum wage, I would suggest doing that, to just pay your bills.”
In the Q and A portion of the presentation Wright was asked if he would do things differently if he had to do it over again.
“There’s a lot of things I would do differently. But you know what, I wouldn’t change anything really, to be honest with you, because it’s a bit of an adventure,” said Wright. “And it’s an experience going through all this process. You learn. And there’s always a learning opportunity and mistakes you make. I mean, mistakes we made were underestimating our timelines, or the costs. I know, people were anticipating us opening and we wanted to open May of last year and ended up opening in October, I believe. There’s lots of reasons for that. Sometimes we were like, we need this machine, and then we get into it and find out they’re six months out from delivery. It’s just being better prepared, because as much as you think you’re prepared, you’re not prepared.
“There are so many lessons that I would take and apply to the next adventure. I don’t regret anything. I think everything that we did, worked out in the end, and we learned a lot, and we’re going to apply it to the future.”
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Terry Tinkess is a professional photographer, educator and journalist. He has been making a living with a camera and keyboard since 1999 and has been featured in such publications as The Ottawa Citizen, Cornwall Standard Freeholder, The Globe and Mail, The Miami Herald, Ottawa Construction News, The Ontario Construction Report, Ontario Home Builder Magazine, Reed Construction Data, Canadian Potato Business and most recently, The Record and Eastern Ontario AgriNews. Terry lives in Ingleside, Ontario with his wife Brenda, Mia the anxious Pittie and cats Wally and Chubbers.