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Steve Beauchesne: photo courtesy of Beau's.

Beau’s steps up their investment in the community

By John McDonald on January 26, 2017

There are entrepreneurs that are known for walking the walk.

The late Anita Roddick, founder of Body Shop was a human rights activist and environmental campaigner. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s were known for their support of community-oriented projects and issues awareness. Yvon Chouinard, founded Patagonia which commits 1% of their total sales or 10% of their profit, whichever is more, to environmental groups.

imageCloser to home, we have father and son, Tim and Steve Beauchesne, co-founders of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company.

In 2013, Beau’s became the first brewery in Canada to achieve Benefit Corporation (B-Corp) status, a third-party certification of businesses that achieve very high standards of social and environmental performance, as well as transparency and accountability. That same year Tim and Steve were recognized with a Community Builder of the Year award from the Ottawa United Way.

Last year, Beau’s signature fundraising event Oktoberfest topped the half-million dollar mark on dollars raised. 

Additionally, the company announced its intention to not only continue its well-known policy of making frequent and substantial charitable donations, but also to radically increase its efforts in those areas in coming years. Specifically, the brewery is aiming to raise and donate $5 million to various “community-building groups, charitable organizations, and independent arts” over the next 10 years.

It was not by accident that this project was announced in 2016. Last year was special for Beau’s. 

The Vankleek Hill-based brewery marked its 10th Anniversary, a special occasion for any business. It also was the year when the brewery announced it would roll out an Employee Share Ownership Plan that will see the company sold to its employees. The year also saw the brewery initiate the Rwanda Craft Brewery Project which has the aim of building a women-owned-and-operated brewery in Africa, to be dedicated to empowerment and local social benefit.

In the lead up to his January 26th participation in “24 Hours of Homelessness” in support of Operation Come Home, Steve spoke with Apt613 about the company’s busy 2016 and their increased focus on community involvement.

Apt613: Beau’s has just come out of a very special year. The 10th Anniversary. The employee ownership. What will you remember about the year?

SB: It’s kind of overwhelming if you look at all that we did this past year. 

For me, what stands out was the transition to employee ownership. It was the kick off to all our announcements. We had been doing a lot of work in the background and most of it had been going on for more than a year. Going out of planning and moving into executing was very exciting. 

Part of the planning involved us considering what we want the company to be known for 100 years from now. Not only from the quality of the beer perspective, but the bigger picture – the values. Going through that exercise helped define our course for the next ten years.

On a personal level, being able to see what this initiative has done to and for the staff has been really humbling .

Were the employees aware that you were making the move to employee ownership? Did they have an inkling? 

Yes and no. We kept the group that was on the inside as small as possible, 5 or 6 people. We’ve talked about this in the past, but without a timeline. On the day of the announcement, most expected that we would announce our sale to a larger company. When they heard that we were moving to employee ownership they were certainly surprised, but they knew that it made sense.

Has there been any noticeable change in the day to day activities since that announcement?

I think this is one of the nice parts about this. It will evolve over time. Right now people are excited about the concept but as the transition moves to year two they will start to tangibly understand the benefits to ownership. Where before when you reach your goal and you’re told the company is doing good and that made you happy, now you will be able to see a direct line correlation. You’ll see it in the value of the shares. It’s exciting to see people making decisions differently, thinking about costs to the brewery.

The core of the brewery stayed the same. We still focus on making awesome beer, and using our brewery as a force for good. A big part of this transition is to make sure this never changes. It’s changing the ownership structure to ensure that these principles are enshrined in the stewardship and baked into the DNA of the company as opposed to being something that lives in me and my Dad.

Another part of the company’s DNA is community involvement.

That’s right. Investing in the community is such a concrete and tangible way for us to show that when you support us, when you buy our beer, it has a real impact on the community that you live in.

You’ve announced a new program that increases the amount that you will invest in the community. How will the money be distributed?

The plan is to make sure that at least 1% of the revenue side of a province, stays in the province. We are hiring brand ambassadors in the major communities. One of their principle jobs is to identify good projects to fund with the available dollars. We believe that we need to be in the community to best serve the community. I can’t know, from my office in Vankleek, how to invest in a grassroots organization in Alberta. We have to be part of the community. Our focus is working with small charities or small groups that may not necessarily have a charity number but have a local impact. What’s important is that it’s doing good work. A small community group raising money for a park is just as important as a national charity.

That’s an interesting approach because often funding is easier to secure if you are big. Some small groups may only need $1000 to reach their goal, yet raising that amount of money can be a huge mountain to climb. How are decisions made as far as who receives funds?

 There are so many important projects out there. We’ve structured a flat decision-making process to make it easier. 

We have set up parameters. Is there an opportunity to do good? Is there an opportunity to tell our story? Is there an opportunity to put a beer in someone’s hands? Is there a tangible impact that we will be proud of?

If our people in the field can check off the boxes, they don’t have to ask for approval. They can make the decision. 

If a donation request is over the budget, but it has been identified as a good cause, then it’s brought to me and I can make the decision. Last year, we helped 230 charities in Ontario and Quebec. Maybe 10 of those I had to decide on – either it was over budget or the checklist was not quite obvious. 

The decision making process usually is time-consuming and cumbersome. It can be a real roadblock for organizations. It must be a different experience for the organizations knowing that the decision making is being done locally.

I hope that message comes across. What I’ve been seeing is that the local decision makers are developing strong relationships with these community groups. And there’s a trust developing, not only with our people, but with the company. Of course, if a group disagrees with a decision, they can still come to me. That doesn’t happen often.   

Do companies approach Beau’s asking how they can replicate what you do? That is, be more involved in the community?

We’ve been asked to sit on panels and talk about being involved in community. Too often what we hear from business is “We wish that we could do what you do, but we don’t have room in budget”. We started with such a small budget. 

Too many companies tend to treat giving as an after bottom line expense. The way they treat tax. What they should be doing is build it into the main line expenses. I’ve always considered it a marketing expense or a cost of goods sold. Stop seeing it as a variable. As discretionary. Treat it as being part of overhead. Treat it the same as keeping the lights on. That way it never becomes “We’d like to, but”.

Does it take a certain type of entrepreneur to move a company in that direction – i.e. making community involvement a priority? 

It does require a mind shift. 

It’s unfortunate that any student going to business school gets hammered with the idea that a business exists to increase shareholder value. It’s such a backwards philosophy. You can only really maximise shareholder value if you take other stakeholders into account. That means thinking about the consumer, the environment, and the community at large. No one is teaching that, and if they do it is an elective course titled Social Business and not part of the core curriculum.  

Too often, giving is seen to be a personal activity, and not an activity for the business itself.    

And now with social media, stakeholders will share what a company has done in the community for a group. Word will travel. There’s a value to that.

Exactly. I do believe that every time we do the right thing, for the right reason, we’re rewarded with growth. 

If I told an investor that I wanted to spend $50,000 on an advertising campaign, they would say that makes sense. What I’m saying is that giving that $50,000 to good causes has a greater impact than having our logo in some newspaper. 

People know us for what we do. 

You mentioned your logo. Beau’s is known for its packaging. How important are graphics and design?

We’ve always had a simplistic strategy.  If the label is good enough for you to want to try it, and the beer is good and you want to buy it again, then we’ve done our job. We spend a lot of time on package design. And it’s all DIY. We have core group of staff who do nothing but focus on Beau’s. They understand who we are. 

Having a beer after a hard day or after a vigorous workout, is very experiential. Part of the experience is the packaging.

To me, beer is much more than a liquid. There a visceral reaction to beer. I liken it to walking home on a cold winter’s day and smelling a wood burning fire. There’s a sense of safety, comfort and warmth  – all things good.