Independently Speaking: Give It a Growl
This convenience store location is part dog park, part growler station, part genius
Bacher’s latest innovation is perhaps his biggest yet. As he continued to search for ways to develop the c-store, Slattery and his son, Bobby, opened a local brewery called 50 West Brewing. It seemed natural to Bacher to put Slattery’s new beer knowledge to use in the c-store by launching a craft-beer growler station at WagsPark, especially considering the success he had heard other convenience stores were having with growlers and the play on words that connected it to the “growl” of the dog-park patrons. But there were some concerns, such as staffing, loss and theft.
“Staffing is always a challenge,” Bacher says. “We already had to train, educate and trust staff to ring a cash register and serve Hot Bretzels. Now we’d have to train them to be bartenders, too.”
While most brewers fill growlers off a standard beer tap and connected hose, the significant product loss due to foam would be costly to the c-store. Bacher researched possible solutions until he found several systems to automate the process and control that loss by filling growlers under counter-pressure, similar to the way a bottling plant would fill a bottle or keg. He opted to work with Rack Draft Services of North Bend, Ohio, to implement one of the solutions, customizing the company’s Pegas CrafTap system to allow them to carry a variety of brands.
“While the fact that the beer we pour has a better shelf life than beer poured by others, the biggest advantage was that this system nearly allows us to eliminate all loss,” Bacher says.
With this inventory efficiency in place, Bacher and Slattery decided to move forward with the growler installations last August. By October, they were in business.
Up and Running
The growler filling station, branded as The Growler Stop, is located next to the Hot Bretzels, just inside the front doors next to the register. “We’ve made it impossible to miss,” Bacher says.
The site offers a 64-ounce growler and a 32-ounce howler (half-growler). The half makes it easier for customers to try out new brews or for first-timers to get familiar with the process.
“I have been thrilled with the number of customers that we have been able to get to try local beers for the first time,” Bacher says. “While the word of mouth through craft beer circles have been great, the conversions may be the most fun. Being able to educate them and move them from a standard low-margin Pilsner over to a higher-margin craft beer has been fun.”
As a pioneer c-store in the Cincinnati area in the growler business, The Growler Stop has to make its advantage over breweries, bars and grocery stores clear. It competes on price and variety with breweries, plus it offers something other vendors don’t: convenience.
“At The Growler Stop, we can fill your growler at the same time you are filling up your car,” Bacher says.
The Growler Stop focuses on local craft beers, an industry that’s exploded in Cincinnati in recent years, and Bacher and Slattery are looking for ways to attract higher-income clientele to the slightly blue-collar neighborhood around the store. The Bretzels help draw people in, but it’s been craft-beer blogs and Twitter feeds that allow them to get the word out in a big way.