Tuesday, April 22, 2008

That weekend seminar at Schlafly.

Oddly, the thing I'll remember most about our recent (April 11-13) visit to St. Louis was whitecaps on corn and soybean fields.

In short, I'd completely forgotten how many lakes there are just across the Indiana border in Illinois … except that they aren't lakes at all. They're temporarily flooded fields. Driving straight into the weather, with the wind blowing hard to the east, waves of surfer dimension could be seen rippling beneath the grain silos.

Speaking of grain, the occasion for the trip was the Schlafly craft brewery's annual "Repeal of Prohibition" party, held outside in the parking lot of the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, a St. Louis neighborhood. In biting 35-degree weather, 1,200 people showed up to sample the 30-odd beers and drink away the afternoon. Perhaps a dozen of the male revelers wore kilts. Countless kegs from the hosts and four visiting "guests of honor" Indiana breweries were floated. All in all, it was a wonderful time and a first-class performance by Schlafly.

Before and after the event itself, we were able to tour both of Schlafly's facilities and take notes. Of special significance to me was the chance to meet founder Tom Schlafly. We talked about beer only briefly before going into baseball; in fact, he was wearing a replica St. Louis Browns cap on Saturday, which I thought was suitably oblique (note that the Browns moved from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954 or thereabouts, and became the Orioles).

My biggest insight?

At the end of the day, Schlafly isn't all that different from my own NABC other than being far larger. Its size came about over a long period of time. Schlafly may appear to be a sleek corporate machine, but it most decidedly is not that simple, because just like at NABC, a handful of owners/lifers and a cadre of efficient team members combine to do more work than they should and keep the train rolling.

That's what happens when you decide to do it yourself, and the frustrations are many. Knowing that being in business for yourself has rendered you unemployable elsewhere … priceless.

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