Brewing success times two
Five years ago, Jennifer and Greg Bailey were selling hardware in St. Paul, population 970. Then their son came up with an idea for a brewery, and the couple has been brewing up business success ever since.
Their Sugar Hill Brewing Company opened three years ago in St. Paul, and Sugar Hill Cidery held its soft opening this summer in nearby Norton. “In the hardware business we were surviving, but that’s about all,” Jennifer recalls. “We decided our area needed something different, and a hardware store wasn’t one of those things.”
The Baileys met Tim Blankenbecler, Director of the Mt. Empire SBDC, during their “hardware” years. “We got a lot of help from Tim,” Jennifer says. “When we decided to open a brewery, he helped us write the business plan and find funding.”
After the brewery opened, the City of Norton, 20 miles down the road, approached Jennifer and Greg with a proposal that offered a new slant on brewing — a cidery. “We like things that are different. We asked our head brewer if he could make cider. He told us, ‘I can ferment anything!’ We decided to go look at some buildings in Norton,” Jennifer explains. “We included Tim Blankenbecler early on,” Greg adds. “We knew he would be realistic and wouldn’t encourage us if we didn’t have a workable business plan and good cash flow.”
Tim assisted the Baileys once again with writing their plan and connecting them to sources for financing. The Baileys were able to secure a $50,000 grant and three loans from economic development agencies to make the cidery project possible. “It was really a public-private partnership,” Greg says. On the facilities side, the City of Norton invested over a million dollars to renovate a formerly vacant car dealership where the cidery would be located. “The city had the headache of remodeling, which helped us a lot,” Jennifer notes. Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball stated that Norton’s investment in turning the car dealership facility into an economic enterprise would have a transformative effect on the downtown area. It will house a farmers market and an entrepreneurial center along with the cidery that seats more than 200 people.
The Baileys also increased their workforce. “Currently we have 65 employees,” Greg notes. Future plans include installing equipment for bottling at both the brewery and cidery. “Tim will be there when we start talking about that,” Jennifer adds. “Whenever we have a problem, we call Tim. He always comes up with a strategy.”
Both Greg and Jennifer are quick to direct others to the SBDC. “The SBDC has been a great help,” Jennifer concludes. “When someone says they want to start a business, I tell them — that’s a good idea, but call the SBDC first.”