In Portland, we have a growing brewery chain called, “Migration Brewing.” I was fortunate to hear their story at a Rotary Club meeting yesterday from one of their founders, McKean Banzer-Lausberg.

They started a brewery in a smaller leased space in 2009. In the next eight years, they expanded to take over the building and started to distribute their beer to bars around the city via their pickup truck. This got the attention of a large distributor who struck a deal with them. The following year, they setup a mass production brewery and expanded from draft to cans. Now their beer is available around the pacific rim and in the Western US.

The big inflection point for their business was distribution and mass production. Distribution connected them to a much larger pond of customers that stretched far beyond Portland. Mass production enabled them to service that pond.

Could they have jumped ahead ten years and started with the beer factory and the distribution?

Probably not.

If you go into their flagship brewery on Glisan, you’ll see around twenty beers on tap. These are always rotating with new beers being introduced to the line-up. McKean explained, “People come to a brew-pub to try something new. It has to always be fresh. But it’s also our test pool for new beer and tells us what people like.”

Despite the hundreds of beers (thousands?) that have rotated through those taps, there are only five core beers that are being distributed. In the first ten years of business, in the test bed of their brew pubs, they figured out what 20% of their beers drove 80% of their revenue.

This is just a single example of the, “behind the scenes,” growth that was critical for their expansion. There’s likely many examples of how the business grew in sophistication before that jump in scale.

To make a comparison to a seed, you put it into the soil and water it for weeks and weeks. Nothing apparent happens. But beneath the earth that seed is laying the roots that will support the green sprout that eventually rockets out of the soil and grows on a daily basis.

That isn’t to say that growth is a function of time. You can’t sit on your hands for ten years and wait for opportunity to appear. But if you’re overcoming the business level challenges, there’s a good chance that you’re laying roots which will support expansion when that next opportunity is discovered.

Featured image is François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg (Switzerland, 1923). Used under public domain.