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Persistence pays for home-brewers with a dream

For the two young Australian men who started this company - the Mountain Goat Brewery in Melbourne five years ago - that’s the key. Today in the First Person - Cameron Hines and David Bonighton tell the story of their business.

- Zoe Daniel: Persistence pays. It all started with a home-brew kit and an idea in a suburban backyard. Now Mountain Goat beer turns over $500,000 annually and is sold in 500 outlets around Australia. But it’s still a lean, labour intensive operation. Despite no budget for marketing, keeping up with demand is a constant battle for Cam, Dave and a single staff employee. The business is at a crossroads.

- Cameron Hines, Mountain Goat Beer: Mountain Goat started out in my business partner, Dave’s, backyard in the early ’90s. He was home brewing just as a hobby on the weekends, but home brewing very prolifically and quite seriously. He was working at a bank at the time and I was working in the music industry as a booking agent. So I’d sort of had enough of that and did the great Australian go-backpacking-overseas thing. And my first stop was Canada and a buddy there took me out and showed me what the microbrewery movement was about. And for the first time I was tasting beers that I was really getting excited about. I immediately thought of Dave back home home brewing under the name Mountain Goat. So called him and said something like "Dave we’ve gotta talk, we’ve gotta start a business together."

- Zoe Daniel: And they did. The partners began by contract brewing in existing breweries in country Victoria to learn the craft. At the same time, they spent 18 months seeking financial backing, eventually refining their business plan to the degree that a bank would lend them money to fit out this brewery in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

- Cameron Hines: We found that through talking with different investors and different bankers that there was certain information that they needed to see that we hadn’t really made clear so it was very much a learning experience, and we were changing it as we were going along. So the money that we were getting from the bank was going against a physical asset that they could remove and auction, realise if it came to that.

- Zoe Daniel: With a bank loan and some financial help from friends and family, Mountain Goat Brewery has now been operating for five years. But it’s been a hard road.

- Cameron Hines: My primary role is sales and marketing so I had to get out there and just knock on bottle shop doors and I’m this young guy with this kooky looking stubby in his hand - Mountain Goat. A lot of people would just, you know, dismiss me quite early - and say, "Is this some kind of joke beer? Is it a serious beer? "What kind of beer is it?"

- Zoe Daniel: Mountain Goat beer is now sold in all States.

- Cameron Hines: With our draught beer, our kegs, we handle that direct from the brewery and I still go out on the road and handle the sales of those.

- Zoe Daniel: The beer is being marketed primarily on the Internet using a mailing list of 1,800 members called the Goat Army. The partners have also developed their own direct approach.

- Cameron Hines: In reality, the first six months, the only time that we’d get re-orders was when Dave and I had literally been sitting in bars drinking our own beer - as sad as it sounds. We’d actually drive around Melbourne about three or four nights a week, we’d take turns - one being the driver, one being the drinker.

- Zoe Daniel: Mountain Goat is now breaking even and paying its owners a wage. But with growth comes new challenges. The small business is now facing a period of transition as it looks at capital raising to expand into a medium-sized enterprise.

- Cameron Hines: The first thing that we really want to see happen is automation. We’re still literally hand-filling, capping and labelling all these bottles and it’s getting to ridiculous amounts now. So we’d really like to probably relocate, install some more equipment so we can brew more, but automate the procedure probably within the next 12 months to just make the business move better and be more cost-efficient and for us to be happier business owners, I guess.

ABC Online - 13 October 2002
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