This is the story about an influential member of our craft beer community, Shannon Long. I should start this paragraph about her background and her passion for beer. Now I’m on the 3rd sentence and I’m still not doing this right.. You know why? Because when I sat down for beers with Shannon and her brother Johnny, she brought up their dad and how he helped her at a young and influential age. I’m a dad too so this part of our conversation really resonated with me..
This story starts with young Shannon who wanted to get a job, or at least her dad wanted her to get a job…..
There was a local Coney Island restaurant in her hometown and that’s precisely where young Shannon set her sights – to become a waitress. What better way to make some money and learn how to interact with people she reasoned. She walked into the restaurant and inquired about becoming a waitress. She asked Dave, the owner. To her dismay Dave said he was out of applications. Before she left, Dave reassured her that he would go to Kinkos the next day to get more applications printed. When Shannon drove back home she told her father about her bad luck, perhaps expecting a break from this parental “get a job” push. To the contrary. Her father suggested that she go to Kinkos early the next morning and print all the applications that Dave would need. What’s more, he suggested she put her very own, completed application on top of that stack when she gave it to Dave. She got the job and an invaluable lesson that day about finding and fulfilling customer needs . Shannon has never been the same.
Finding a Customer Need
Shannon was a student at MSU, working on dual degrees for international relations and marketing. An over-achiever, she became the president of the student entrepreneurial and marketing associations. When one of her professors asked the class to write a thesis about bringing a “product to market”. Beer, was Shannon’s first thought. Her thesis happened to focus on Founders Brewing and how they could funnel their craft beer to Europe. Her thesis earned an A, but more importantly it started a new business called Brew Export and has been helping to deliver America’s craft beer to the far reaches of this beautiful world ever since. Oh and she was 22 when she started this operation.
It’s as simple as asking the right question. Shannon asked brewers why they were not exporting. The answer won’t surprise anyone. Exporting products overseas is hard to do and requires resources few breweries can spare. Shannon’s response is to provide a turnkey solution. Brew Export will handle all aspects of beer exporting from the cooled chillers (the beer stays cool for the entire journey), logistics, tariffs, regulations ….
The “sell” to the brewery is a brand new revenue stream with no resource or expenditure on their part. It’s a low to no-risk proposition with all upside.
Fighting the Man
Well not really the “man” but Shannon did have to overcome obstacles within the state government to get an export liquor license. In Michigan its a group called the MLCC but really, this 10 month battle illustrates the pioneering efforts so many people have had to endure in the world of craft beer. The state government struggled to license Shannon for beer exports because it had never before encountered someone that wanted to export Michigan beer. Thankfully Shannon had the tenacity to keep fighting and because of it, Michigan has a new company – Brew Export. It’s a company that drives new jobs by creating additional demand for US craft beer.
Sharing a Beer with Shannon Long
When you meet Shannon, it’s immediately obvious that she has a lot of ambition, drive and passion for craft beer. However she also has a comfortable disarming style like you’ve been her beer buddy forever. Shannon bought a round and we talked about what drove her beer passion. “My entire focus with Pure Brews, Beer Export and everything else I do, is to share American craft beer with the world“. “I want to position the United States as the pre-eminent source for craft beer“. Whew! That’s a lofty goal but this isn’t just “bar talk”. Beer Export has helped to get US beer into the Bahamas, Puerto Rico , Europe and China.
David: How do get the beer to the consumer in a foreign market.
Shannon: It starts with a “cold chain”. Our infrastructure includes cold storage throughout the entire journey. American beer is not pasteurized and temperature must be maintained. It’s the only way an IPA will survive the one month journey to China. The beer is kept at 40 degrees for the entire trip to China. “That beer is more comfortable than I have been this summer!”. Temperature is controlled even in the warehouses.
Beyond the infrastructure we work with local partners in each country. Our partners understand the consumers and nuances within their country. With our partners, we are helping to establish craft beer cultures all over the world.
David: How should breweries view Brew Export as a service?
Shannon: As a brewer, you are getting additional sales with zero additional overhead. We offer a turnkey solution for international sales to any brewery in the United States. We are a young and flexible company and we will help you to export.
David: Are you concerned that your company will be viewed as Michigan centric?
Shannon: Yes, however one of our best brewery partners* is located in Alabama. We just happen to have so many great breweries here in Michigan. We are constantly expanding into new breweries across the US. That said, no one is a bigger fan of Michigan beer than me and we will always be headquartered in Michigan.
* for exporting purposes, brewers supply to Shannon’s company Brew Export who in turn delivers product to international distributors.
David: How would you compare American Craft Beer to beer in the market you are exporting to?
Shannon: Our (US) beer is so creative and innovative! We blow it out of the water, the Americans are never subtle and we are proud of it. We took so many of the European styles and made them our own.
Thanks Shannon (and Johnny) for the beers and lively beer discussion. I had a great time.
Really though, I think all craft beer fans should thank Shannon and the rest of the pioneers in this industry. Shannon knocked down walls at the state bureaucracy to get an export licence, just as Larry Bell created a little shop in Kalamazoo to sell “prime” beer to college kids – over 30 years ago. The risks and hard work from past, current and future pioneers helps to assure our industry stays strong and resilient. All of this guards against economic uncertainty, foreign takeovers any perhaps the worst threat of all – complacency. With Shannon and companies like Brew Export we are assured of keeping everyone on their toes.