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Business Observer Thursday, May 20, 2021 1 year ago

Brewing company relies on out-of-the-box thinking for success

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Jen Whyte used the pandemic to try new business practices
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Entrepreneurs: Jen and Rob Whyte

Company: The Whytes passion for business and love of people eventually gave way to the Fort Myers Brewing Co., the product developed by Jen and her husband Rob Whyte. 

When the couple first moved to Southwest Florida in 2011, the brewery scene in Fort Myers was lacking. So they tested the waters by opening a small tasting room in 2013. 

Fast forward to today, the tasting room has expanded to a four-vessel, 30-barrel brew system. A nearby packaging and distribution facility stocks local restaurants and supermarkets with the company’s brews. 

The small, but mighty, company experienced a 3,500% growth between 2013 and 2019 in terms of barrels of beer. The brews are now available at 620 bars and restaurants, and can be purchased at 421 retail outlets. The Whytes decline to disclose annual revenue figures. 

“We shouldn’t be doing things because it’s always been done that way,” Jen says. 

Biggest mistake: Jen Whyte credits outside-the-box thinking as a major contributor to her success. That's why she says being stuck in her ways from time to time has been the biggest mistake of her entrepreneurial career. “We shouldn’t be doing things because it’s always been done that way,” she says. 

The pandemic has been a good time to try new business practices. The brewery was inventive, for example, by selling merchandise and offering odd projects that led to a boost in staff income.   

While experimenting is helpful, Whyte also realizes how important it is to stay true to the company’s beliefs and products. 

Best decision: Keeping everyone safe and healthy, while not laying anyone off, was the priority that drove any decision the Whytes made during the pandemic. That’s something Jen Whyte says she wouldn’t change if another business-shattering event took place. 

There was a time when both Jen and Rob Whyte stopped receiving salaries so they could ensure the staff continued to receive health benefits. 

The staff members are Jen Whyte's best decisions during her time as an entrepreneur. She says they come from all walks of life. The employees are a good mix of regular customers, craft beer lovers and craft beer industry experts. 

Once Jen Whyte finds out someone is talented, she tries her hardest to find a spot for them on the team. Sometimes it requires a little adjusting, but one way or another they make it work.  

Best advice: The best advice Jen Whyte has received during her time as an entrepreneur came from a mentor. 

“A mentor once said that he had a goal of making himself unnecessary to that business in five years,” she says. “I took it to mean to continue growing.”  

 

When discussing her entrepreneurial career, Whyte regards her mentors a lot. At the beginning of the pandemic she turned to her mentors for guidance. But none of them had gone through anything like that before. The advice she received was to hold on and do everything she could to hold onto her team. 

When it comes to aspiring entrepreneurs, her advice is similar: keep going and not get discouraged. 

“I hope that kids aspiring to be entrepreneurs know they’ll hear ‘no’ more than ‘yes’,” she says. 

Up-at-night worry: While the pandemic was positive for the Whytes in terms of trying new business practices, it was eye-opening in some scary ways as well. So much so that now it’s one of her biggest worries. 

Just seeing how the government can suspend licenses at any time is nerve wracking, she says, regarding some of the shutdowns early in the pandemic. She explained further the anxiety that comes with having everything she’s worked for being suspended at a moment’s notice. She noted the government really didn’t have any other choice, but the fact that it can happen was scary. 

“I hope it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she says. 

 

 

The topsy-turvy life of an entrepreneur can be maddening — but also rewarding. Nine of the best in the region share their ups and downs in our annual Top Entrepreneurs issue. Click the links below to read more:

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