Ales by Mail – disrupting the craft beer sector
Paul Kruzycki, the founder of Ales by Mail, has been a MarketInvoice customer since 2015. His company sources and sells an impressive range of craft beers and delivers them straight to your door.
They work with over 300 breweries and have the enviable job of taste-testing the range to ensure the beer meets the quality their customers expect.
The craft beer sector has seen a surge in popularity, and there are around 200 breweries opening up each year in the UK alone. This reflects the increase in demand from consumers who want to experiment away from mass-market lagers.
With demand at such levels, it’s no surprise that a number of new start-ups are vying for a piece of the pie. We caught up with Paul to see how Ales by Mail has been tackling this rise in competition.
“There’s been an explosion in the craft beer sector. Companies that hadn’t been interested previously are now starting to enter the market, including a number of start-ups, backed by big marketing budgets to spend on growth.
That means that we’ve needed to improve our efficiency to keep up with the change and keep our business moving forward. Because we were in a good cash position, we were able to respond very quickly.
We did have to make some tough decisions though – such as pausing work with suppliers at the smaller end of volume for a short period. The whole team needed to get stuck in with all sorts of jobs, especially over the Christmas period when we were really busy.
We’ve got a good plan to execute on now and we’ll be focusing on remaining profitable and being innovative to counter the new entrants.”
“One of the biggest challenges for us is being able to maintain relationships with so many different suppliers and making sure that we’re keeping them fresh.
It’s so easy for them to be distracted by a proposition from a start-up and if we don’t keep our relationships warm, we risk missing some great opportunities.
We managed this challenge by making sure we did lots of face-to-face visits and involved our whole team – we want our suppliers to know that they’re important to our business.
On the marketing side of things, we really had to take a look at how our proposition came across. Many of the start-ups were prepared to burn through cash to acquire customers, so we needed to respond to that.
For example, they’ll throw together 6 to 10 beers and offer them at a knock-down price, which attracts people in. The beers are at the lowest price point and often mediocre, which is not good for the industry.
Our customers can choose what they get with our pick and mix option – they’re not going to end up getting a case of beer that’s put together based on how cheaply it’s been bought. We needed to make sure that customers understood that in the way that we marketed our service.”
“I just started to ask myself, ‘If I were in their shoes, how would I put my company out of business?’
Also, not losing confidence is a huge thing. We have a good business and a good product – we shouldn’t lose sight of that. If people are trying to copy that, it shows that the industry is strong and that there is room to grow.
We went back to our core values – why we started the business and why we’re good at what we do. We came out of that with a list of initiatives to improve what we offer and we’re excited about bringing these to market.
We’ve just rolled out a change to our shipping so that any order in mainland UK gets free shipping. No one is doing that currently – free shipping often requires spend above a certain amount.
We’re also looking to give people more flexibility – they’ll be able to click and collect, use a locker service or get it delivered to their home – whatever works best for them.
Another string to our bow is that we can provide a fulfilment service for breweries that have an online store, adding further value to suppliers. One of our biggest success stories is where we took over a particular brewery’s online store and increased revenue by four times.
We took it from a badly managed service that no one trusted would deliver as promised and turned that into a world-class service. We’re able to offer this service because we’ve built up expertise in this area over the last 8 years.
The other area where we stand out from the competition is in our service. It’s really important to us to provide a great service to our customers and suppliers and we will go above and beyond to make that happen.
I remember on Christmas morning, a delivery had unfortunately gone wrong for a customer so I personally drove to their house to make sure that they got their beers in time.”
In addition to the challenge from start-ups trying to disrupt your industry, has Brexit had an impact on your business?
“Brexit is a double-edged sword for us. On one hand, we import beers from European countries – so we’ve seen our costs go up.
On the other hand, as the Pound has dropped against the Euro, we’ve seen an increase in European customers shopping with us because it has become cheaper for them.
We don’t do a lot of marketing to our European base – they tend to find us through social media and via recommendations – but I hope that this becomes a bigger part of our business going forward.”
You’ve been a MarketInvoice customer for just over two years now. What were your reasons for using us?
“The primary need was for our trading relationship with Amazon – the credit terms simply weren’t sustainable for our business and we wouldn’t have been able to take on that opportunity without you.
Secondly, you offered us flexibility and confidence – I knew the option was there to finance our invoices and that meant that we could start working on projects that would keep the business fresh and moving forward.
And lastly, I get excellent contact and support from MarketInvoice – you’re nice guys, and since day one, I’ve had great service from you.”
“We’re looking for the next generation of our website to have a lot more bells and whistles.
For example, we’re looking at how to get a good review process for customers to give their feedback on beers and enable other customers to get enough information to make informed decisions on what they might like to try.
We want them to be comfortable in the knowledge that they’ll get quality beer and can come back to us if there is ever any issue.
We’re always keeping our ear to the ground to make sure we find the next big thing in craft beer, so watch this space!”