Expanding a proven brand in a competitive market isn’t for the risk-averse. One company’s approach is to do it in layers. And block out the background noise.
World of Beer, which started serving craft beers before craft beers were hipster-cool and millennial-trend worthy, is growing up.
The Tampa-based franchise bar and kitchen concept has evolved in a myriad of ways recently, culminating in two significant corporate hires: longtime Raymond James investment banker Kevin MacCormack was named CFO, and Hard Rock International executive James Buell was named vice president of marketing.
The executives join a company, that, back when friends Scott Zepp and Matt LaFon founded it in 2007, the model was to be a neighborhood gathering spot for beer lovers. “We were one of the first to push craft beer,” says World of Beer Franchising Inc. President and CEO Paul Avery. “It was a neat model, and a simple concept.”
Avery, a former executive at the parent company for Outback Steakhouse, has helped lead the World of Beer evolution. Steps include adding food and spirits to the menu, and leading a redesign of the interiors in many locations. The redesigns include balconies and games, from shuffleboard to Jenga, at select locations. The food menu is an evolution too, overseen by culinary director David Belliveau, with the goal of being a customer draw — not just pub grub.
The company has 65 locations across 20 states and three countries, with about 20 company-owned stores. The plan is to open at least a dozen more World of Beer locations in 2018, from San Francisco and Seattle to Indianapolis and and Tuscaloosa, Ala. It opened six locations in 2017. Systemwide sales exceed $100 million a year, Avery says. He declines to disclose per-store sales figures.
“It’s a really exciting time to join the brand,” says Buell. “Although we have more than 60 locations, we still have a ton of room to grow."
Locations and franchise partners is another aspect of World of Beer’s evolution. Avery says location decisions, and the people to run them, are different when you go from selling just beer to an expansive bar and kitchen concept. That’s why the company ended some relationships with franchisees and sought out other, more experienced restaurateurs. Other locations, including two in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, shuttered amid disputes between the company and franchisees. (Avery says he’d like return someday to the Sarasota-Bradenton market.)
A refined approach to working with top-notch partners partially goes back to lessons Avery learned in his Outback days — and to maintaining corporate-owned locations in a variety of markets. “I was confident we would become a better franchiser if we subject ourselves to our own decisions,” Avery says.
'We have a solid model that resonates and delivers. Now we need to execute each and every day.’ Paul Avery, World of Beer
One city World of Beer looked into going but ultimately bailed on? Asheville, N.C. Turns out the craft beer-loving city doesn’t wrap its heart around national brands. “Some markets frown upon chains,” says Avery.
While Asheville is a loss, Avery says World of Beer’s model, like many other chains, is to integrate itself into the local community, through work with schools and nonprofits. “We want to be perceived as nonchain and as much a part of the community as we could be,” Avery says.
World of Beer’s model progression comes at a competitive time in the industry. There are more than 6,000 craft breweries nationwide, according to data from the Brewer’s Association. The industry contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016, the trade organization reports, up 21.7% from 2014.
Despite all that brew, Avery says World of Beer can win if it maintains its internal focus. “We have a solid model that resonates and delivers,” Avery says. “Now we need to execute each and every day.”