By John Holl
One way a small business can grow successfully is by using any means necessary—no matter how unconventional—to get a job done. So it was that Cape Cod Beer began delivering its beer out of the back of the family minivan.
The Chevy Venture did not fare well as a delivery vehicle.
“By the time we got rid of that, the back end and molding was just hammered by kegs,” says Beth Marcus, the business manager of the small brewery in Hyannis, who started the business with her husband Todd in 2004. The minivan was replaced with a GMC Savannah 3500 cargo van, which turned out to be more appropriate for special events—for which the company still uses it today.
Then came a pre-owned 18-foot box, which ultimately was deemed “too big,” So when the growing company could afford it – it bought new.
Its first new truck was a Mitsubishi Fuso FE180 with 14-foot box. The delivery staff loved the truck, with its automatic transmission and smaller box, but as the company expanded they learned that even with a 14-foot box they were still challenged by the super narrow and crowded streets of Provincetown and Woods Hole, two of the larger tourist spots on the Cape. It was manageable, just not ideal.
So Cape Cod worked with its local Mitsubishi dealer to design and procure a new Fuso FE160 with 14-foot custom box that was 1-foot narrower than other models. The company also reversed the mirrors on the new truck so that they would be “inboard” of the mounts instead. That truck made the Provincetown and Woods Hole routes that much easier. So much so that at the end of 2012 it rounded out its fleet with a third Fuso FE 125 with 10-foot custom box, also narrower and with mirror mods like their FE160. All together these three Fuso box trucks deliver most of the roughly 5,000 barrels of beer produced by Cape Cod Beer each year.
In 2011, Cape Cod purchased the first of three Ford Transit Connects, a vehicle that met its needs as a sales vehicle and can deliver small loads without a problem. Given the seasonal nature of its business there are often “out of beer” emergency deliveries in the summer and small loads in the winter months. “It’s like driving a fishbowl,” says Beth. “There are not a lot of blind spots, and inside cases and kegs line up nicely. It’s the right truck for the right job.”
Fleet management for microbreweries is often a mix of buying what you can afford and knowledge gained from trial-and-error. Like so many small businesses, Beth and Todd needed to look at their area, examine the roads, and add vehicles to their fleet that made sense for efficiency and the future. Thei company distributes to about 500 customers within a 50-mile radius of the brewery, so fuel economy was an important factor as well. Being automatic, anyone in the brewery can quickly jump behind the wheel to make a quick delivery.
The team installed cages inside each sales vehicle to separate the driver from the cargo and did wrap-around branding on each of the Fords (affectionately referred to as Trannys at the brewery) making the brewery more visible while on the road.
When making decisions on the fleet, the Marcuses needed to factor in the seasonality of their business. As a travel destination, the brewery does most of its business during the summer months. Beth says that business will drop off by 50 percent on Sept. 1 each year and then another 25 percent just after Columbus Day. Depending on the weather, orders can pick up in the early spring, or later. The Fords mean that they can be flexible with deliveries and respond quickly to incoming orders. Cape Cod also has employed a route-scheduling program – bMobile by Software Outfitters. It maps out routes using only right hand turns, and it is able to collapse routes depending on the season.
“It helps us figure out what might be two days worth of deliveries during the summer, into one day in the winter,” Beth says.
Now that Cape Cod Beer is on more firm footing with its fleet, Beth says the company has been able to use them to raise awareness about the brewery. The brewery successfully uses social media to promote its brand, talking not only about beer and events, but other businesses on the Cape and scenes of everyday life. They have been wildly successful with this interactive campaign. Beth decided to launch a contest last summer that would award “points” to people who snapped pictures of a Cape Cod Beer vehicle in action. Two points if they got a picture of an employee with the truck. Points meant having a name in a bucket, and every few weeks the brewery would raffle off a beach bag full of prizes. Beth says that one morning she and Todd were headed to an event around 7 a.m. in a company vehicle and were at a light when a guy came running out of his house with a camera in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He wanted those points.
After a time of figuring out what would work best Cape Cod Beer has hit its stride and the perfect way for it to get beer where it’s needed with relative ease and a lot of free advertising.