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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 1, 2016 2 years ago

Suds on the bus

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Standing out in what's become a crowded field of independent breweries can be difficult. One company, with franchise plans, thinks it has an edge.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Anthony Derby, in college in 2011 in Boulder, Colo., was impressed by Banjo Billy Tours, a company that used a roofless broken down school bus to tour local craft breweries.

So impressed, he told his parents about it back home in Tampa.

At the time, Derby's mom, Toni Derby, was president of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa and his dad, Brian Derby, worked in construction services. Anthony Derby and his parents agreed it was a promising idea, and decided to test it out. They rented a two-year old passenger bus, from Naples, to test the concept in Tampa when Anthony Derby was still in college. Within a year Derby graduated and moved back home to expand on the concept and start brewing Brew Bus's own line of beer.

Today, Derby, 26, is president of Tampa-based Brew Bus, a company that buses parties to different breweries around a city, while offering its own craft-brewed beers on board between stops. With four buses in Tampa and two in Fort Lauderdale, the company now has 42 employees who work on its buses and in its own brewery. Last year the company had $800,000 in revenues, and executives expect between $1.2 million and $1.5 million this year. Says Derby: “Over the last two years we've found our sweet spot.”

But Brew Bus isn't only about wheels, and the company is on the verge of some significant expansion projects. One started late last year, when Derby began to scout around for more space. The company had been brewing its own branded beer out of Lakeland's Brew Hub, a contract brewery operation, and running the business out of a small office space at Cigar City.

Brew Bus found its spot in Seminole Heights with Florida Avenue Brewing, which closed operations in mid-December. Brew Bus bought the Florida Avenue facility, which Derby says adds 5,000 barrels of beer to Brew Bus' total capacity, for an undisclosed price. Brew Bus will maintain production at Brew Hub, says Derby, and it also recently launched a project to rebrand Florida Avenue's beer, for a separate second line.

The Florida Avenue rebrand includes a new can design and logo, and is expected to be released in the third quarter. The brand previously had a coastal beach vibe, while the new brand is more of an urban or city feel, Derby says. The project, including new tap handles and glasses, cost about $100,000.

With production on the upswing, Derby's next big goal for the company is to start to franchise its buses. He's currently working on a possible two-bus franchise deal in Atlanta, and working with distributors to represent Brew Bus beer at festivals.

The company first started investigating franchising in November, and hopes to have it officially launched by the end of 2016. Franchising is tricky, Derby says, because each state has different alcohol and beverage license regulations. “We have to figure out if the model can apply to anyone,” he says.

The addition of Florida Avenue also expands Brew Bus' branding by getting its products on more shelves. Brew Bus beers are currently distributed by J.J. Taylor and available at Total Wine & More, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Publix and Whole Foods Market, with 60% of sales in the Tampa Bay area. The rest of the distribution is on the west coast of Florida and statewide.

Florida Avenue beers, on the other hand, are widely distributed through Pepin Distributing and Great Bay Distributors. Derby sees this as an advantage. Through his different distributors, he says, “We're at every beer event known to man.”

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