City Brewery president says core values help company succeed
By STEVE CAHALAN | Tribune business editor
Core values such as doing what it takes, pride, honesty and integrity have helped City Brewery succeed, City Brewing Co. President Randy Smith told about 60 people Wednesday at a Brown Bag Lecture at the Viterbo University Fine Arts Center.
Smith said the brewery will make a profit this year, as it did last year.
And he said the brewery recently began making Samuel Adams Boston Lager beer for a new contract customer, Boston Beer Co. The brewery makes beverages under contracts with more than 20 companies, although the top five or six account for most of the brewery's contract production, he said after his speech.
City Brewery also makes its own brands of beer. Smith said sales of those are up 40 percent from a year ago, and that distribution recently expanded into Cook County, Ill.
Smith spoke on "Business for the Long Haul" as part of a lecture series sponsored by Viterbo's Dahl School of Business and Viterbo's D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership.
Among other things, he talked about the importance of businesses having core values.
"One of our core values, I think, involves being a survivor, or doing what it takes, working against the odds, kind of being the underdog in the business," Smith said of the brewery.
By the mid-1990s, he said, there had been multiple ownership changes at the former G. Heileman Brewery in La Crosse. "People had to kind of gut it out and keep their spirits up by knowing they were producing a high-quality product, without knowing really what the next move was going to be, who was going to buy the company, what was going to happen to it.
"And of course when the shoe eventually dropped, after Stroh decided to get out of the (beer) business, and the brewery closed in 1999, what many people thought would never happen did happen," Smith said. It was the first time the brewery had closed since it was founded in the 1850s, he said.
G. Heileman Brewery closed in August 1999. The Stroh Brewery Co., which had acquired the G. Heileman Brewing Co. in 1996, sold the La Crosse brewery to New York investors Jim Strupp and John Mazzuto in November 1999. It was renamed City Brewery, but most of its 62 employees were laid off in June 2000 after it ran into financial trouble because of a lack of capital.
The brewery has been a success since Smith and 11 other investors bought it from Strupp and Mazzuto in November 2000.
The facility has about 220 employees as of this week, down from about 300 in early summer. The beer business is somewhat seasonal, and employment should pick up next year, Smith said.
Smith said the distribution area for the brewery's own brands has expanded to include all of Wisconsin, almost all of Minnesota, the eastern two-thirds of Iowa and northern Illinois. "We recently pushed down into Cook County," he said, where Heileman products traditionally were big sellers.
City Brewery also has a few distributors in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
"We're not going to push much farther than that," Smith said of the brewery's distribution area. "But anybody who wants to buy our beer, we're not going to say no."
Steve Cahalan can be reached at (608) 791-8229 or email@example.com.
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