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It’s Beer O’Clock for Thirsty Merchants

It’s Beer O’Clock for Thirsty Merchants

This article first appeared in the June issue of Textile Image Magazine

An Australian and an Irishman walk into a bar…well, it wasn't actually a bar, it was a craft beer festival, and this isn't a joke. What resulted over a beer between a couple of mates was the birth of a business, that in the space of six years, has grown to become a dominant supplier of merchandise to the Australia/New Zealand brewing industry.

Like many businesses in our industry Emery Greer, owner of branding and design agency "Demographic Design", and Kevin Davis, owner of "Avid Edge" promotional products, serviced a variety of clients across a number of industry sectors. In 2015, the craft beer industry in Australia was booming, with a new brewery opening every six days. These days there are over 740 craft breweries in Australia and 220 in New Zealand and counting.

Catching up for a beer at a festival and observing the merchandise tent being run by volunteers, they knew they could provide a better experience and set themselves a target to run that tent on behalf of the event managers for the next festival. They established a new business and a lifestyle brand designed to work with brewing companies and the beer-loving community, and hence Thirsty Merchants was born.

"One of the best things about running the merchandise tent was it gave us insight into the minds of the consumers and craft beer community. These insights were fed back into the apparel design and range of merchandise on offer, which in turn improved the connection with the brand and increased merch sales," says Emery.

“We maintained a laser-like focus on partnering with breweries. We wouldn't say no when they would come to us and ask us, "can you print our brand on this?"  “Faced with this question, we would investigate and solve the problem, whether it be customising tap handles, tasting paddles or bar runners. This approach led to the introduction of our next big product, customised growlers.”

“By being in constant contact with our customers, we learnt that local supply of blank growlers was inconsistent, making it challenging to get customised growlers. So we sourced a range, invested in stock and hired the technical expertise required to bring the glass printing process in house.”

“COVID 19 was a turning point for us. When breweries and venues were forced to close across Australia, one of the quickest ways to salvage the beer, getting it out of the kegs and in the hands of the consumer, was through branded "take away" growlers,” explains Emery.

“With in house screen printing, pad printing, and engraving, we already have the production capability; it is now about continuing to develop new product applications that meet the needs of the market. That being said, apparel is still the engine of our business and whilst 80% of our work can be screen printed, the demand for DTG is increasing exponentially, both in terms of volume and the types of designs.”

“Beverage companies are making significant investments in branding and packaging design to stand out on the shelf. These designs must then transfer through consistently across the brand experience, so we are seeing an increase in designs with ten colours versus your traditional four or five colours.”

“Whilst we've always had DTG as part of our mix, we recently invested in a used Kornit Storm Hexa and new Adelco automatic 6 drawer, as part of the pre-owned program offered by Kissel and Wolf. Investing in a pre-owned machine gave us the ability to cost-effectively increase our print capacity overnight. The Hexa Storm also offered better efficiency in terms of pre-treatment and total cost per print.  Partnering with Kissel and Wolf enables us to receive the training and technical support we need also.”

“Recently we have broadened our focus to encompass the premium beverage market, including energy drinks and specialty drinks like kombuchas. We also do work for restaurant/hospitality fit-outs with strong branded themes. Thirsty Merchants is a lifestyle brand, and one of the best things about focussing on a niche is that it enables you to become an expert in that space. We are a vertically integrated one-stop-shop from branding and design through to production. Focusing on an industry niche also enables us to act as a buying group for commonly used products.
We negotiate volume-based prices
and pass the cost savings back to
our customers.”

“We've been fortunate enough to work and grow with many of today's top craft beer brands such as Black Hops, Your Mates Brewing Co and Mountain Culture. We’ve also had some pinch-me moments, such as when you see a job like Little Creatures, or Cascade Brewing coming off the production line”. 

“Our next step is to launch "Beerteez" in July, an online merchandise store that sells beerwear for beer lovers. Like our festival merchandise tent, it will provide us with a direct connection with our community, anywhere, anytime. It will enable our brewing partners to promote new products, events and sell even more merchandise. It will create other opportunities for seasonal promotions, gifts and subscription services such as a 12 month T-shirt Members Club. From here who knows, but as a beer-loving Irishman, I'd love to be able to design and print a limited release Guinness T-shirt under license,” concludes Emery.

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