Pivot Stories - Troubled Monk
Business solutions for community needs
When the threat of COVID-19 led Alberta’s leaders to restrict business activity, Troubled Monk – deemed an essential service – remained open. Owner, Charlie Bredo, characterizes this time as one of anxiety and uncertainty, and he was concerned about the impact to our local economy.
While the brewery continued to manufacture and distribute craft beverages through off-sales and wholesaling, the taproom had closed to onsite consumption. Many business owners were unsure what they should be doing, and when they might be told to close their doors. Like many, Charlie’s thoughts were divided equally across what is the safe course of action, and what is the best decision for my business and employees. Amid the chaos and change, Charlie learned of U.S. distilleries who were manufacturing hand sanitizer, and he saw an opportunity for Troubled Monk.
“My brother found a recipe and sent it to me at the same time that I was reading these articles out of the States,” says Charlie. Sourcing ingredients was the most time-consuming aspect of the pivot, but in his research, Charlie found a local ethanol producer, Permolex, who could supply them with the pieces they needed. “Once we had the ingredients, everything moved very quickly.”
Another challenge came in asking staff to make the change. “Manufacturing hand sanitizer is not our business, and there are other businesses who manufacture or import hand sanitizer, where it is more in line with their brand.” But, with the huge spike in demand, those sources couldn’t keep up. Troubled Monk was able to fill that immediate need and, for a while, bridge the gap in supply. “We had a night shift just making hand sanitizer, and by day, we were brewing beer as normal. As the demand has started to wane and traditional manufacturers have been able increase their production, we’ve been able to level out a bit.”
When asked about taking such a risk, Charlie’s answer is simple, “When all of this hit, it scared the heck out of me, and out of a lot of people, including our staff. Pivoting in this way helped us create job stability for our employees.”
Community connections with far-reaching impact
A pillar of the Troubled Monk brand and business model is community connection, and this mission followed them in their pivot as they have supplied local grocery stores and other large organizations. The new venture also built on business relationships that Troubled Monk had previously built within the community. Restaurants that had been forced to close their dining rooms during the peak of government restrictions are depending on Troubled Monk hand sanitizer to help them provide safe and sterile environments to their returning patrons.
“We can only do this – all of it, the beer, the hand sanitizer, the taproom – because of our community, and we’re fortunate that we found a way that we could help the community, using what we have,” says Charlie.
Further underscoring his commitment to the community is Charlie’s, and Troubled Monk’s, support for Red Deer College. A member of the Donald School of Business Industry and Partner Advisory Committee, Charlie has been providing work-integrated-learning opportunities for RDC learners for a few years. At the time the first COVID-19 restrictions were being introduced, the brewers at Troubled Monk were just beginning to brew the first batch of The Hoptimist, a collaboration between the brewery and students in the Bachelor of Business Administration program in the Donald School of Business. The annual collaboration brew is the result of a pitch project between Troubled Monk and 4th year students in the Change Management course.
“One of the Change Management students, Sara Gerrard, contacted me about another brewery hand sanitizer story in the news and I told her we were doing it. She asked, ‘How can I help?’ I was very impressed with that – her willingness to take the initiative, to reach out with an idea. So, she and another talented student, Jared Winder, worked together – Sara coordinating, Jared doing the design work,” describes Charlie.
Work Integrated Learning - learning in real time with real results
Sara’s team had pitched a hard lemonade, which came in second but, Sara tells us, “if the brilliant ladies on my team hadn’t taken the pitch project seriously, and worked so hard, I would not have learned enough to have been able to take on the next project.”
When Sara connected with Charlie through instructor, Ray Savage, to share her idea, Charlie told her the first batch of hand sanitizer was to be ready the next day. “Charlie asked if I wanted to help with the business plan for the product – pricing strategy, distribution, marketing, etc. On the call, I told Charlie I had a design idea but he said someone was working on it – that it had to go to the printer tomorrow so, thank you, but there isn’t time,” she recalls.
Knowing that a design hadn’t been created yet, Sara continued to work on her idea. Classmate Jared Winder (Winder Bros.) had worked with a few of the teams in her Change Management class to help design labels for their beer pitches – including both Sara’s team and the winning team. “He had a real knack for it, and nailed Troubled Monk’s visual identity. Charlie had said that nothing had been produced yet, so I knew there was still room for a good suggestion,” says Sara.
Connecting with both Jared and Charlie through instructor, Ray Savage, also provided an opportunity for these students to be graded on the hand sanitizer project. Ray agreed to accept their work in lieu of a final project, giving Sara and Jared the time and resources they needed to be able to create a complete body of work.
“Jared and I worked together to bring the project to life,” says Sara. “We submitted both the label and the business planning documents to Charlie. Jared incorporated Charlie’s feedback into our design, and what you see now reflects all of these perspectives.”
“There are a lot of intelligent and talented people, and people with great ideas,” says Charlie, “but none of that matters if you don’t speak up like Sara did.”
“I appreciated the relationship we as students had with our instructor, Ray. It was easy to take this idea to him. He takes us seriously, and he takes our ideas seriously,” says Sara. “It was an incredible experience to put in work and know it was going somewhere.”
If you’re interested in engaging RDC students for a project at your business, learn more about Industry and Partner Advisory Committees and other opportunities here.
Wondering what happened to The Hoptimist? We’ll share that story next month on our Alumni Stories blog!
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