Switchback Brewery: Another success story for CVOEO Micro Business Development program

September 9, 2019

We are excited to have Switchback support our 2019 Pull Against Poverty event, a tug-of-war fundraiser that is benefiting the Good Food Truck this year. Switchback co-founder Bill Cherry (photo courtesy of Switchback)

But why did they decide to become our partners? One significant reason is that CVOEO’s Micro Business Development Program (MBDP) played a big role in launching Switchback in 2002. In fact, according to Switchback co-founder Bill Cherry, “the Micro Business Development Program was the only third-party consultant needed to get the company started.”

Back almost 20 years ago, Bill had recently been laid off but he knew one thing, he wanted to start his own brewery. When he met with Gillian Franks, a coach from MBDP, he already had a business partner, a robust set of skills, and seed money from friends. But he lacked a fundamental component, a formal business plan. Gillian urged Bill to find a job first because she wanted to make sure that he could support himself while working on his business plan.

He did get a part-time job and put a plan together over the next few months. What he was quickly and efficiently drafting were all the production issues, the costs, the work plan. What he didn’t have, and what Gillian called him on, was the crucial area of marketing; Bill knew sales people and didn’t want to become one of them. But despite his reluctance, he went back to the drawing board to integrate marketing into his plan, and came up with a unique model: He was going to sell his beer in kegs only to a distributor who would sell to local restaurants and pubs. The beer would only be available on tap, which would preserve its quality. Quality was, and still is, Bill’s main concern. This approach played to his strength as a beer “educator” and enthusiast.

Armed with a much more complete  business plan, he met with Gillian again who recalls: “I knew that if his plan was as good as his beer, we were going to be fine!” Gillian was delighted to see how much progress Bill had made and found that, despite his negative perception of marketing,  he was willing to explore things like designing a logo, and focusing on teaching others to be as enthusiastic as he was to “sell” the beer. “Gillian helped me understand that marketing could be a tool for good,” Bill said later. He went back to the plan again.

When he returned to meet his coach, he had a beefier plan and he and his partner were ready to approach banks. As with all her clients, Gillian felt personally invested in Bill’s success and enthusiastically helped them fill gaps in the plan before moving to the next step. She was instrumental in helping them secure a substantial loan from Chittenden Bank (now Peoples United Bank) that really helped the company take off. Bill said, “I would have never known Chittenden Bank had just released funds for a business loan program without the inside knowledge from MBDP.”

One great measure of success is that its flagship product Switchback Ale has been the #1 draft beer in Vermont since 2006! Another one is that Switchback employees enthusiastically embarked on the employee ownership adventure in 2017. According to Amy Lieblein from the Marketing team, “we’ve always had pride in our products, but since going employee-owned, this has been brought to a whole new level. When you buy a Switchback brew, you know it will always be a consistent and quality product that each and every employee-owner stands behind. Employee ownership is an ever-learning process, but we're enjoying the ride!"

To schedule an appointment with a Micro Business Development coach, contact John or Simeon:

CVOEO addresses fundamental issues of economic, social, and racial justice and works with people to achieve economic independence.


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impacting the lives of over 23,000 individuals