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Northern Brewer now charging for in-store classes that were once free

Wow, they are really trying hard to alienate they’re once loyal local customers. The AB Inbev ownership is really showing through.

Sounds like what happens when the strategy is to " make those quarterly numbers" and a spreadsheet weenie with short term goals sets the direction. It will prob work short term, but as you eluded to, the loyal customer base will drift away and it becomes a " slow leak" in long term sales. But I guess that also depends on what they are charging for the classes, and if it is perceived by the customer as gouging…or just trying to cover some of the actual costs.

Hey guys- This is Todd from CS and I have the retail team here too. There are a couple of reasons for the change, but we believe that this will make our classes better. We visited a few other retailers that we know do classes well and learned a few things from them. To deliver the best class experience, we needed to make some changes.
First, the Minneapolis store remodel was driven by the interactive, hands-on experience. This is being rolled out to the other store locations too.
Some of our class registration fees will be the same price as the equipment kit that the class is using. The attendee takes the kit home as if they have purchased it, but are able to use the kit in-store to learn and ask questions that they may have.
Other classes do have a smaller registration fee, typically around $10. All attendees receive a $10 voucher to use after the class. We did this to reduce our “no-shows”. We had a number of customers register for a class and not attend. With limited space, this kept other interested customers from having the opportunity to sign-up.

Our goal here is to make our stores an even better place to hang-out, learn, and hopefully get you the stuff that you need to brew the best beer possible. If anyone has concerns on the pricing of our classes, or needs anything else, feel free to contact our Customer Service crew. We appreciate the feedback and are happy to help.
Cheers, Todd J (CS) and Sabastian D (Retail)

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I think maybe an intro class where you just watch the process should be free though. You want to get people interested in the hobby. Advance classes with fees to cover supplies at a discount sounds fair

Great feedback! We will be looking to do a “buy a kit” get the class arrangement or a “come to class, get the kit” deal. We want all attendees to feel welcome and get value from the class. Cheers, Todd J

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So, Todd, you raised two valid issues that are beside my main point in my posting but I’ll get to those later. Let’s discuss the classes within the big picture over the last several years. The reason Northern Brewer even did them to begin with was to increase the customer base by exposing and educating. The more people brewing, the more business for NB, great strategy, and it worked. But it also did something else; it built a loyal customer base and it built community. Many people that came to classes connected or reconnected with one another. I once ran into somebody I hadn’t seen in years and that emotional experience remained associated with NB. I have gotten a number of people interested in homebrewing over the years and one of methods was to get them to sign up for a free NB intro class. They wouldn’t have done it if they had to pay. For many new people the idea of homebrewing can be intimidating so why would you throw another obstacle in their way by making them pay on top of it? You want to keep the barriers to entry low, not monetize them, otherwise it’s ultimately short sighted and self-defeating, or as my coach used to say, “Son, have you lost your god damned mind?” Homebrewing is very much an activity of community, you have to nurture that, not hinder it.

Back to your issues. One, covering the cost of kits: of course, a participant would expect to pay for a $80 wine making kit if it’s part of the class, it’s actually a merchandise sale with an in-store instruction. No issue with this one.

Two, no-shows for previously free classes: I assumed this was one of the major factors involved but your solution will have unintended consequences, primarily as I already stated above. Your statement of, “All attendees receive a $10 voucher to use after the class” needs to be very clear as to the full terms which are, “$10 registration fee can be used toward 15% discount purchases on the day of class.” You are forcing attendees to make a purchase that very same day or they lose their $10, that’s pretty harsh in my opinion. By the way, I already get a 10% discount with my AHA membership so the 15% discount, or 50¢ more, doesn’t really make up for it.

So, what to do about no-shows. One, you could suck it up as one of the costs of doing business because in the long one it still benefits NB, just like paying to have your parking lot cleared of snow. Sure, you could save money in the short term by not clearing it but you’ll lose business in the long run by being cheap and short sighted. Two, give them something tangible to value (not necessarily “of” value) because people have a visceral positive response to receiving “stuff”, that’s’ why trinkets work. They just have to know ahead of time they’ll be getting something. They used to give out glasses sometimes and you can bet I would never miss a class knowing I might get another glass. Three, if you really feel you have to charge (which you don’t) then make it fully refundable when they show up, no strings attached.

Don’t jeopardize your customer relationships just for the misguided attempt at improving your own internal efficiencies. You can lose a customer (or potential customer) in a heartbeat and not even be aware of it at the time. But that disgruntled customer talks to others, not just locally but online and that can have significant ripple effects. Remember, homebrewers are a community.

Those are great points, thanks again! Feedback like yours is appreciated. We will never forget about “the community” which we are thrilled to be a part of. I myself have been for 10 years and it has been a wonderful, wild ride.

I will make sure that the retail team has your post (Sabastian had to head to the store). Our main goal is to make our hobby less intimidating and more fun for our new customers. We will keep a close eye on the response to our class model and monitor feedback from all attendees.

If you have any additional feedback, please email us or talk to your store. We would also love some feedback about class ideas.

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