Brewing Up Business
by Kathie Meyer '92 | © Washington State University
The Small Business Development Center celebrates 25 years of success.
Mark Burr and his business partners, Nina Law and Skip Madsen, dreamed of owning their own beer brewing business. After a visit to Port Townsend a few years ago, the trio began to investigate buying the historic Town Tavern and turning it into the Water Street Brewing and Ale House. During the course of his research, Burr discovered the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), hosted by Washington State University, and made an appointment with Kathleen Purdy, business development specialist with the Olympic Peninsula Regional Center of the SBDC.
The SBDC is designed to help small businesses overcome hurdles. This year, the SBDC celebrates 25 years of success, having grown from a modest office on the WSU Pullman campus to 27 training and counseling centers throughout the state. Burr and his partners joined the more than 72,000 clients who have availed themselves of the center's no-charge counseling services over the years. Purdy herself, who celebrated her 10th anniversary with the SBDC this year, has served over 1,600 clients.
They had the know-how and the enthusiasm, but the three prospective brewers lacked the stacks of cash it takes to buy a business. Between them, they had the equity on Law's Seattle home and a modest amount of money for "something of a down payment," says Law. But it was their combined experience in the hospitality industry that excited Purdy, who gladly helped them out.
"Purdy played a huge role in helping us develop a business plan. She also helped us do a cash flow analysis on the existing business in order to find its fair market value," says Burr.
"A business plan is where you run the business on paper," says Purdy, who over the years has helped others generate $20 million in investment funds. "If someone is starting a business, they should have a plan, even if they don't need a loan."
With their business plan and cash flow analysis in hand, Burr, Law, and Madsen felt ready to approach Mariner Bank for a Small Business Association (SBA) basic 7(a) loan, one of the most common types of small business loans. With it, the government will reimburse the lender for a percentage of its loss, if payment default occurs. "The dialogue with the bank revolved around the business plan," says Burr. After considering the request, the loan officer agreed there was potential in the trio's business strategy and approved the requested bank note, allowing them to start negotiating to buy the business. The SBDC's assistance with this loan and others totals nearly $800 million in capital formation for small businesses in Washington over the past 25 years.
Then came the hard part. The Town Tavern closed its doors April 30, 2004, and the new owners scrambled to get ready to reopen in time for Port Townsend's annual Rhododendron Festival the second weekend in May, the first festival in the town's summer schedule of events designed to attract tourists. "We had two weeks to paint, prepare, hire staff, and move ourselves to Port Townsend. We kept pushing back the opening, until finally we opened the Wednesday before Rhody Fest," says Law. "We didn't even know how to run the cash register," adds Burr. When they did open, the doors rarely stopped swinging, thanks in part to an article in the local newspaper featuring the new micro-brewery in town.
A year and a half later, Burr, Law, and Madsen still barely have time to catch their breath. They've weathered one winter season when business slows and survived unexpected mishaps such as a car crashing through the front door. And, although they say it's too early to claim financial success, there have been patches of blue sky on the horizon. In June this year, Madsen's brewing expertise garnered gold, silver, and bronze North American Beer awards for his Old Wookie Barley Wine, Quadubbel Bypass, a Belgian strong ale; and Smokestack Weizen, a German hefeweizen, respectively.
The three entrepreneurs credit the SBDC as one of their greatest resources. Because the center also aids established small businesses, the Water Street Brewing owners still go in for check-ups with Purdy, says Law. To show their appreciation for helping them achieve their goals, the owners have named a special brew just for her-Purdy Pale.
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