The Eco-System of Printing Opportunity
While this article demonstrates the many opportunities for printing companies to serve the craft brewing space, it also serves as an example of how a “print eco-system” exists for the service of vertical markets. Opportunities, as illustrated here, transcend print segments. In fact, the opportunities presented here touch upon nearly all major print segments – packaging, commercial, display graphics, apparel – offering opportunities for convergence or strategic partnerships. At the end of the article, 26 “opportunity points,” have been extracted from the brewing-focused case study as a guide to more effectively serving any small-business-focused vertical market.
It is easy and obvious to think of packaging when considering how print fits into the craft beer universe, but that limited view denies the wide range of printing opportunities that surround even a small craft brewer. Starting with the recent rebranding of Colorado-based Berthoud Brewing Company and expanding from there, this article highlights the many ways print “touches” these businesses building branding and heightening identity.
Brewing Up a New Image
Berthoud Brewing Company sought to clarify its brand and reached out to Turn It Up Media – a beverage-focused marketing agency based in Lyons, Colorado – to do so. According to Chad Melis, soul founder and CEO of Turn It Up, Berthoud Brewing’s owners “didn’t feel their brand was their own.” Melis says he helped the owners “peel back the onion” of their business: “I asked questions they never had time to think about”. He says that while Berthoud Brewing initially contacted him seeking to update can designs, Melis and his team “helped them understand how to grow their brand…and understand the value branding brings at point of purchase.” Melis says Berthoud Brewing is like a lot of the small brewers and distillers his company serves: A lot are startups, and they’re working hard to keep the business going. Most have tasting rooms too, so they’re also working in hospitality. “They start with a good idea,” he says, “but at six to eight years in, they wake up one day and come out of the fog of hustling. They’re asking, `why am I doing this?’” They want to take their business to the next level, he says, and they realize they don’t have to do it all on their own. It is at this point that branding assistance, effective design, and go-to-market strategies become essential. 
For Berthoud Brewing, Turn It Up Media created a complete retail program, which included striking new can designs, posters, shelf strips to raise the visibility of the product in retail settings, case cards, table tents, flavor posters, and sell sheets that bolster the company’s products and brand.  Creation of these elements, Melis says, also included studio photography and lifestyle photography, made to strengthen the brewery’s “Northern Colorado feel.”
After six months, he says, a whole fresh set of materials will be distributed,  with the goal of achieving better shelf placement for Berthoud Brewing’s product. Design elements, such as the company’s logo, can be used in a variety of ways, including decorated apparel, large-format signage, glassware, and promotional products. 
Melis, who has deep roots in the craft beer segment, says that working with craft brewers and distillers means working with a lot of unique companies. “I think they’re very different,” he says, “because the market is changing.” He sees the segment as a population of very creative people using a mix of art and science. The beer segment is changing, he says, because younger drinkers have been exposed to “unlimited variety,”  which means brand loyalty has become fleeting. “It presents a great challenge and a great opportunity,” he says.
Evaluating the Benefits
Jesse Sommers, vice president and COO of Berthoud Brewing Company, says he and his father purchased the business in 2018. Producing around 2,000 barrels of beer annually, Sommers says the company is experiencing growth of 25% to 30% per year. He says the company’s previous brand belonged to the old owners and made it difficult to market the company’s products in stores. “Better communication on the cans” was a goal, he says, as was the desire for better point of sale. 
Sommers says the new branding – which was launched in 2021 – has gone “really well. We saw growth go up exponentially on the can side.” He says that though he saw a bit of pushback from locals, who were used to the previous branding’s “home-made charm,” he also thinks people understand why the rebrand was done. Personally, he says, the rebranding discovery process made him question things he was too comfortable with, which was a positive thing.
Regarding print providers, Sommers says that while the Turn It Up Media team did not serve as a print broker to help transform its creative into brand reality, he says the agency has, “an awesome network. They can definitely lead a horse to water and equipped us to have the conversations.” [8a] [8b] By and large, he says, his experience with print providers – for cans, marketing materials, and decorated apparel products – has been positive. “I try to be the best client I can,” he says, “and set my expectations. It helps the relationship grow. Having people get it done smoothly really helps.” 
Turn It Up Media, Sommers says, provided the new logo in numerous variations, some of which brought excellent results for apparel, which is sold in Berthoud Brewing’s taprooms.  “The single-color stuff is great for hats and embroidery.” The logos are also featured on glassware and other promotional items. 
For its canned beer, the rebrand also brought a move from printed label to a shrink sleeve,  which he describes as a game-changer for adding more legitimacy to the brand, making it look more mass-production than a printed label, less limited edition. “That’s what we’re shooting for,” Sommers says. He notes that while he’d like to do a printed can, the minimums are too great for what his company needs  and he doesn’t have storage for backstock.
Extending the Brand
For small brewers, having the opportunity to get their brand, their logo, and their message out into the marketplace is another part of growing the business. And for craft beer enthusiasts, buying a t-shirt at your favorite brewery and wearing it proudly builds connection that that brand. It is the work of apparel decorators to make that happen. Todd Lackey, owner of Go West T Shirt Company (Fort Collins, Colorado), which he has owned since 1998, says the company, does roughly 75% of its business in the craft brewing space,  including craft brewing “heavy hitters” like New Belgium, Allagash, Cigar City, and Dogfish Head. Nearly 100% of the apparel the 26-person shop decorates is screen printed.
For small brewers, Lackie says helping them extend the reach of their brand, “is our number one priority. The more we grow them, then the more they grow us.” The growth of his company, he says, was concurrent with the growth of New Belgium brewing, which was started in the owners’ basement, and now has the capacity to brew half of a million barrels annually. He says that as, over time, his company has followed the growth of some of craft brewing’s larger players, it has had to move some of its smaller accounts to other, partnering apparel shops.  Smaller brewers, he says, have a primary focus on their core brand; larger brewers often multiply their brands, for instance highlighting notable flagship beers. 
Lackie says one thing that sets Go West apart from other apparel decorators is that they know the culture of the breweries,  and can help simplify the lives of people, like Jesse Sommers, who have far too many hats to wear. Go West, he says, becomes a partner that can print, fulfill, and assist. One example he gives is reaching out to brewers well in advance of the annual Great American Beer Festival, reminding them that if they need apparel for the event, the deadline for orders is approaching  “We’re doing some pre-thinking for them. We’re well-versed in the timetable for breweries.”
Asked if Go West also prints work apparel for brewery teams, Lackie says that when they do, it’s often gratis,  a good-feeling add-on to what the client paid for: the merch-focused work. “We’re generous to a fault sometimes,” he says, but offering that something extra builds solid, long-term relationships.” It’s important for them to sing our praises,” he adds.
At Go West, strong customer relationships have been a key contributing factor to company growth , even amid consolidation in the craft brewing space. He says that in craft brewing, the brands of acquired companies are not phased out, so the branding continues as a valuable asset. “The goal is to continue acquired brands,” he says, “and that has brought more work our way instead of less.”
Through hard work and robust word of mouth, he says his company succeeds in its service of craft brewing because, “we’re a known quantity, we’re accessible, we’re there all the time.” 
The Brand, Contained
Starting as a mobile canning operation that served Colorado’s then-nascent craft brewing industry, CanSource, says Dan Reese, chief business development officer, has become a provider of cans and custom packaging solutions for the full spectrum of craft beverage makers. Headquartered in Longmont, Colorado, the company also has operations in California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. In addition to sourcing cans, the company also provides printed shrink sleeves.
For a small craft brewer looking to can and distribute its product, the minimums for, say, printed cans, can start at 1 truckload, which is just over 204,000 cans. That’s a lot of cans, a lot of inventory to manage and store, and a significant outlay of money. Reese says CanSource can provide cans printed with shrink sleeves, at quantities as little as 3,000 cans. These metrics fit better for small brewers, or large brewers selling small, specialty batches. The shrink sleeves are printed by partner companies using HP Indigo. Digital printing is preferable because it dovetails with CanSource’s desire for just-in-time-delivery, Reese adds.
Other than providing cans and sleeves, the greatest value CanSource brings to the more than 700 craft breweries it serves is in being a partner for their success. The company has a design team on staff that works to refine provided artwork, ensuring a perfect fit. Reese says it is not uncommon to have to educate new brewers from the ground up. “It’s amazing the number of calls I get – people saying, ‘I want to get my liquid in cans,’ and they don’t know anything.” CanSource will help them find what they need, including businesses to assist with co-packing, and those that produce printed cartons and branded, corrugated trays. They provide templates to help designers start their can designs on firm footing. Further, CanSource helps get them in touch with the people they need to know. They use their own external network to make the brewers’ jobs easier. For printing services, he says, the most common questions he gets from small brewers focus on lead times and brand colors.
Though CanSource has expanded into many areas of the craft beverage markets, Reese says the company “will never stray from craft brewers,” and is committed to helping brewers succeed.
The opportunities for wide format producers to serve the craft brewing segment are many, as the “need” of this vertical is a mix of décor for tasting rooms, promotion of brands and sub-brands, event graphics, and banners and signage that can be placed in beverage retail, bars, and restaurants. branding, event promotion. Also, it is quite common for even small brewers to have at least one delivery vehicle – a prime opportunity to put the brewer’s brand on the road. 
Viewing the Opportunity
Opportunities in the craft brewing vertical market are many. Here is a list of the products and applications mentioned in this article.
Products and Applications
Cans: direct printed
 For print salespeople, understanding the value branding can bring at point of purchase, and conveying that the customer, will open discussions that can result in higher-value printing, an expanded range of products ordered. The possibilities for expanded branding, however, must be conveyed.
 Assisting in go-to-market strategies, and being a partner in the customer’s broader branding effort, makes the print provider a more valuable member of the customer’s success-focused team. This requires understanding the whole effort, not just the printing part.
 A go-to-market strategy, well executed, requires knowledge of the opportunities found in a vertical market – where they fit and how they work. Shelf strips, for instance, typify an application that may be obvious to those well-versed in the vertical market; a missed opportunity for those who are not.
 Understanding the broader go-to-market effort (see ) also involves an element of time. If brand materials will be recharged, say, seasonally, then being a part of that broader discussion will increase the possibility that serialized business will stay with your company.
 Businesses in vertical markets may have common expectations – a cluster of branded products that add legitimacy. By knowing in advance what a prospective client is likely to need, the print provider can serve as a guide to help them achieve their branding goals. This is an active approach.
 The concept of “unlimited variety” touches many aspects of consumer society. In some cases, digital printing – through low minimums – has allowed small producers to create and market small batches and sell them through commercial channels. More SKUs = more variety = more short run business per client.
 While the design to be printed may come from an external source, such as an agency, the print providers have an opportunity to use printing expertise to enhance the final product. Specialty substrates, expanded color sets, and embellishments are all opportunities that can make a product “pop.”
[8a] Is your company “known” to the marketing agencies and creatives that specialize in the vertical market you serve? There is great value in being recommended to small businesses seeking printing services. They don’t want to put the job out for bid – they want someone who understands their needs.
[8b] Build your own vertical market network. While your company may not produce all the printed products your vertical market customer will need, you can certainly partner with printers from other print segments who serve the vertical. The result is a coordinated, multi-company customer resource.
 If your reputation for serving a specific vertical market proceeds you, then a strong element of trust is in place from the start. To expand on , you understand their needs and their goals. They don’t have to explain themselves. Your job, then, becomes about delivering the products they want and need.
 Branded items, be they t-shirts, hoodies, hats, water-bottles, also serve as brand and identity extensions. They provide proof the consumer has visited the place, had the experience, and affiliates themselves with a brand. In the brewing space, merch is a key part of “brewery tourism.”
 Expanding on  the breadth of imprintable items in the promotional products industry is truly vast. With careful, creative selection of products, along with thoughtful design, novel merchandise or brand building items (beach balls, hammers, mudflaps … you name it), a brand can be strengthened.
 Printed labels and shrink sleeves are a short-run solution for an area that for decades was an exclusively long-run analog printing space. Across industries, the digitization of technologies has led to disruptive models. Personalization and versioning have become commonplace in many vertical markets.
 It may not be uncommon for the needs of small businesses to fall below standard minimums required by materials producers. This can be a barrier. With a strong focus on a vertical, your company may be able to offer customer smaller minimums by brokering lots from purchased inventory.
 Specialization on a specific vertical market allows a print provider to fully integrate its sales efforts and messaging directly to that market and to identify itself as such. The is in stark contrast to many print providers that serve as non-specialized “one-stop-shops.”
 By creating strategic partnerships with smaller producers, a print provider can address the needs of all customers who approach from the vertical market, whether it takes the business directly or passes it to a partner company. This way, the company can maintain its image as the “go to” for that vertical.
 Understanding the needs of larger companies in a vertical market, versus smaller ones, can become a sales strategy. As a company grows, it may want to expand beyond its core brand identity (often its name and logo) by creating sub-branding efforts for, say, it’s most popular products.
 By strongly serving the vertical market, the print provider is more likely to be seen as an insider who knows and understands what the customer needs, as opposed to being a “service provider” – just another cold-calling printing company that does not understand their business.
 By alleviating the burden of the small business owner to have “yet another thing the worry about,” a simple reminder of a coming event, a casual check on inventory of printed items, conveys good will. Situations where the business owner says, “Wow, thanks, you saved me from running out,” are golden.
 A purely transactional business relationship, versus one that feels more like a partnership in helping the customer succeed, may be more easily ended by a customer seeking a lower price. Where there is no human connection, no partnership, then the perceived value of the service provided is lower.
 Continuing from , serving as a successful partner for your customers, and having the ability to scale as they scale, allows the print provider to grow. Further, by becoming a larger, more prominent player in the vertical market, other large businesses in that vertical may seek you out.
 For busy small business owners with more things to do than they have hours in the day, alleviating worry, being there when they need you, and providing what is expected: quality product delivered on-time without reminding or cajoling, will cement the relationship for the long-term.
 Vertical markets can grow and transform, such as the expansion of craft brewing into what is now known as craft beverages. Companies strategically positioned to serve a vertical market, and knowledgeable enough to see evolving opportunities, can also transform as the market expands.
 Digital printing, and its inherent ability to produce short runs, has been transformative in virtually all markets printing providers serve. It has enabled more variety, and it has also built a bridge across the historical chasm that existed between handmade craft and automated production.
 What may be referred to as “hand holding” by many can be viewed through a different lens. By looking past the annoyance of having to – once again – explain things, we can see it instead as a building of trust and the forming of a partnership. Face it: today’s startups may be tomorrow’s leaders.
 If the success of your business depends on the success of your customers, then be a partner, not an adversary. Create smooth movement, not friction. Provide resources, not roadblocks. By being a part of the vertical market, your company becomes part of the eco-system of services that makes it work.
 While the products her are considered “bread and butter” for many wide-format producers, the “in” for them is to understand the needs of brewers, what their competitors have, and to explain how these elements are all part of getting their name, their brand, and their flavors out into the marketplace.