Meet Sebastian, Brook House Hops Business Manager. Sebastian is responsible for all trading of the hop business. Brook House Hops was one of the first to revolutionise the British beer industry, providing more quality and diversity to craft brewing than ever before.
Not only do they use a mixture of the latest technology and traditional farming to grow their aromatic hops, but they also source from around the world including the US and other UK farms.
Introduce yourself and your businesses, what was your motivation behind starting them and what do you sell?
I am the business manager at Brook House Hops, responsible for all aspects of the hop trading business. We currently farm 120 hectares of hops across two sites in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Brook House Farm is where it all started – we took a family farm on the banks of the fertile river Frome, and planted it back up with hops after a 40-year gap.
Hops are what is used in the brewing process for bittering and flavouring beer. Traditional hop farms sell their hops to merchants straight after harvest, but we decided to sell our hops directly to breweries. By cutting out the middleman we can listen more closely to trends in the brewing world.
Did you have any experience in selling online before starting your businesses?
No. My background is in Enterprise Software and the owner’s background is in share trading and investments. Neither of us has run an online webshop before. We realised that we are selling to a new generation of buyers, to people who are used to buying online for both private and business purchases. The EKM platform means that we don’t need any developers or in-house expertise since everything just works out of the box.
How did you earn your first sale?
Our first sales came from local breweries. It was a case of knocking on doors and introducing ourselves as a local farm that wanted to do business. We then set up a WordPress site with a shopping cart as well and started to get a few online orders early on from word of mouth. As more online orders started coming through it made sense to look at a best in class ecommerce platform.
How do you balance your workload?
Going on sales trips, shipping orders and delivering customer service always comes first, but other operational and finance tasks quickly start taking up a lot of time. We are expanding rapidly and hiring new team members to spread the workload. I’m trying my best to focus on what is driving the business forward but is it amazing how quickly an accounting error can take up your time.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting your businesses?
Getting in front of as many brewers as possible to sell our hops has been the biggest challenge. Although customers are happy to place orders online or via email, it is important to meet them first and to understand what their needs are. We have done very well so far, but there are still plenty of breweries in the UK who haven’t tried our hops yet.
What do you love most about running your own businesses?
Having worked for software companies with 100+ employees, what I find the most exciting is how quickly I can now turn ideas into action and get things done. This was never the case previously. We don’t have many meetings. We are a small team that work really closely together and everyone is passionate about growing and selling hops.
What advice would you give to new shop owners just starting out?
I think understanding your customers is the most important thing to focus on. If possible, go and see them face to face. It’s amazing what people will tell you over a cup of coffee that might help in the way that you should structure your service and offering. Being pro-active about getting customer feedback is also really important. We’ve learnt a lot from asking customers how we can improve the way we do things.
What are your plans for the future?
We are expanding our operations and will be taking over a new farm next year, meaning we will be the biggest hop farm in the UK by quite a mile. It will be my job to ensure that we sell all the hops we grow, as well as the ones we import from the US and New Zealand. Breaking into the US market is also top of the list which is an exciting project.
You can take a look at Brook House Hops EKM website here: www.brookhousehops.com