Are you curious about starting a trade business? Do you want to get into entrepreneurship straight from school?
I’m your man. My name is Arthur Varnholt, and I started my beer brewery when I was 16.
From My Kitchen to a Brewery
My trade business venture started as a hobby in my kitchen. I had spare time, so I took up beer brewing. I used my free time outside school to brew and distribute my beer. Many people have an overcomplicated view of brewing beer, especially at home. You don’t need that much equipment: just some pots and a fermenter that you can buy from your local brewery supply store. I self-taught the brewing techniques, mainly from the internet and YouTube, but I also spoke to some experts and brewers.
At first, I really didn’t want to get into the brewing industry. I knew it would be hard to make a new beer and take it to market as there’s already so much choice available! But I quickly changed my mind when the Covid-19 pandemic started. I had more time than ever and was always interested in having a small business and creating a product and value.
I wouldn’t be here without the positive feedback from people around me. Family and friends who tried my beer said: “Why don’t you try selling it?”. That’s when I decided to be serious about the venture, but I never thought it would be as big as it is now. Currently, my brewery is 37 square metres and can produce roughly 10,000 litres of beer a year. But now we make about 2,000 litres a year.
Starting a Trade Business Out of School
I was very young when I started my business. I was attending a specialised informatics school and started brewing on the side. Both of these things were becoming time-consuming, so I had to decide. I put my studies on hold, with the option to get back after a year if my brewery didn’t succeed.
There comes a moment when you just know what is right for you. As you spend more time on your business, you become more passionate and invested in it. That’s when you know whether you’re ready to go into it full-time. As you go on, there’s more work to do as well, definitely enough to fill your days!
Overall, I got support from my entourage. Entrepreneurship runs in my family, as my mother and grandfather are both entrepreneurs. Some people definitely criticised this and advised me to complete my studies before launching a venture. While their concerns are not unfounded, I knew I had to decide to focus on my business right now and not in a few years.
The Challenges of Building a Physical Product
In truth, I could list about 100 challenges I faced while developing and marketing my beer.
Perhaps the most obvious one is the saturated market. Did you know that Switzerland is the country with the most breweries per capita in the world? That’s a lot of different breweries and beers to compete with. Unlike sectors like tech where new technologies spring up every few weeks, it’s hard to come up with a brand new beer. Luckily, the customer mindset is changing, and people are more interested in trying local, small-batch craft beers.
Another significant challenge lies in logistics. When starting a trade business, there’s always a logistical issue you have to find an answer to. One of the biggest ones is transport. Early on in my brewing journey, I had to transport eighth crates of beer on the train, as I didn’t have my driving license. That’s over 100 kgs of beer on a small trolley!
Managing your contracts and customer base is also sometimes problematic. I take a day-by-day approach, constantly reassessing my revenue and targets depending on contracts.
Advice for Anyone Considering Starting a Trade Business
- Get as much feedback as possible. When creating your product, get everyone to try it, including people who might not give you only positive feedback. Gather that information and craft your product accordingly.
- Find customers before you produce. This applies especially if your product is perishable. You don’t want to overproduce and have your product go to waste.
- Make yourself visible. Get as much public and media attention as possible, that gives you a free stage to promote your product. It’s the cheapest and most effective way of doing marketing.
I hope my insights have inspired you to take the leap and start your dream trade business. While everyone is talking about crypto and NFTs, I personally get immense satisfaction from producing something tangible and creating real value that people can see (and taste!). So if you think you have the right product, just do it!