A native of Suffolk, England, Stephen Schuurman began crafting his English-style ciders after moving next door to an apple orchard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In 2011, he partnered with that orchard’s owner to open Winchester Ciderworks.
Stephen sold his first dry hard ciders through self-distribution in Frederick County. Over time, his business has grown in tandem with Virginia’s booming craft beverage industry.
“We’re bringing a bit of England to Virginia,” Stephen explains. “My plan is to build us up to be a big cider player in the Mid-Atlantic.”
As Stephen worked to scale up Winchester Ciderworks, he found two key advisors in Laurel Ridge SBDC Executive Director Christine Kriz and Chris Van Orden, Manager for the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program (IBD) and Craft Beverage Assistance Program (CBA), with whom he connected in 2017.
“I met them, and I came out feeling like, Wow, there is help out there,” Stephen says. “I felt I was going against a brick wall all the time, and then all of the sudden there was this resource for me, and it was free, which was amazing.”
Christine and Chris have been instrumental in helping Stephen expand his business with advice when he found he was struggling with certain decision making. As his main accountability partner, Christine advises him on business planning and funding for expansion, keeping him informed about grant opportunities, including a $500 advertising grant he was awarded in 2021. Chris supports Stephen with distribution and meets with him monthly to help figure out how to approach new distributors and navigate alcohol licensing. Chris also connected Stephen with a compliance officer.
“I couldn’t have asked for two better people,” Stephen notes. “I’m really lucky. If I don’t know something, I will ask somebody, and, nine times out of ten, I can ask one of those two people.”
When Stephen launched Winchester Ciderworks, there were only about five cideries in Virginia. Now there are many. In the past year, Winchester Ciderworks has gone through a number of changes, the most significant being that Stephen took on a larger share of ownership after buying out his business partner. Now, he has big goals for the future.
“I’d like to be the number one premium cider in the mid-Atlantic with distribution to every state,” says Stephen, “and exporting to the U.K.”
Stephen is currently selling ciders in 11 states with online ordering available in 40 states, and he is working with Chris to navigate the complicated process of exporting cider to the U.K.
“The bigger the distribution footprint, the more money you have coming in,” Stephen says, “In this year since I’ve been running the business, our profits have been better than any other year.”
In fact, sales have grown by 30%! Christine is helping Stephen look for a new property in the Winchester/Frederick County area so he can expand his operation to meet the increasing demand. Stephen now employs 12 people and plans to invest in his own canning line. The SBDC will be by his side as he pivots to grow his business even more.
“There are so many obstacles to overcome,” says Stephen. “Nobody can do it without help. Everybody in business needs help at some point. The SBDC is a resource, which, for most small businesses, is critical.”