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Making tanks

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  • | 10:00 a.m. February 6, 2015
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Although Rick Cureton and his son Kyle have spent their careers working in the stainless steel manufacturing industry, they didn't ever envision building equipment for breweries. They give all the credit for the idea to a marine manufacturing supplier with whom they used to work.

The supplier was retiring and about to open a brewery in Delaware. He asked Kyle, 25, if he was interested in building the equipment. “I initially thought he was crazy,” Kyle says. “So I went about my life...but I started to do some market research.” He quickly found that the demand for brewery fermenters, tanks and chillers was much higher than the supply.

Kyle found just a handful of companies that were creating stainless steel tanks for brewing beer, and none in the state of Florida. The specialized tanks were in such demand that they required a 52-week lead time.

At the same time, Rick Cureton, Kyle's dad, was in the process of leaving Southeast Marine Products, a company that builds parts for boat companies such as Brunswick Marine and Boston Whaler. The company was family-owned, and Rick left after a falling out with his father and brothers. Despite the difficult situation, the timing somewhat worked out for Kyle and Rick to open BrewFab, specializing in building tanks for brewing and storing beer.

The company made around $600,000 in revenue its first year, and the Curetons expect to increase revenues by at least 30% in 2015. If it is able to hire more people, the Curetons say BrewFab has the potential to double revenues in 2015.

Just a little more than a year after opening the business, the Curetons have already moved facilities three times to keep up with the growth. First they moved from a 1,000-square-foot facility to an 8,000-square-foot facility. In July, they bought a 24,000-square-foot warehouse with high ceilings for more than $1 million. “We're extremely busy. We can't build tanks fast enough,” Rick says.

There are a couple of factors playing into this quick growth. From a timing perspective, the Curetons jumped into a growing craft beer industry in Florida, with a number of new breweries popping up around the state. BrewFab is ideal for these breweries because instead of having to wait nearly a year for the right equipment to mass-produce beer, breweries ordering from BrewFab have just a 16-week lead time.

Second, BrewFab is able to help breweries cut some of their shipping costs. Most of BrewFab's competitors are located on the West Coast — in Washington, Oregon and California. There are also a couple of big players in Michigan and Wisconsin, but the delivery cost can be a sizable hit: these tanks are large enough to hold 120 barrels of beer, after all. Shipping from Washington to Florida costs around $8,000 per tank, according to Rick. One local brewer recently spent $38,000 on shipping tanks to Florida. “That's where we shine,” he says.

Building the tanks has been the easy part for the BrewFab team. The hard part has been keeping up with demand, Rick says. They currently have 12 employees, but are looking to use Craigslist and Facebook to hire four more. “It's hard to get fabricating welders,” Rick says.

Another challenge in starting the business was learning what to quote, according to Kyle. All the tanks can be customized, but cellar tanks can range in price from $8,000 to $50,000 while brew-house tanks vary from $50,000 to $250,000. The father-son combo was used to working in an industry where the products ranged from $20 to $3,000. “To go from that to one line item at a quarter million dollars” is a bit of a change, Kyle says.

Even though a couple of the first jobs were probably quoted too low, it paid off to get their names out there, Kyle says. Nearly all of the company's business has been through word of mouth among Florida brewers. Its first customer was Doug Dozark from Cycle Brewing in St. Petersburg. Because he's well known in the industry, BrewFab quickly picked up recognition and more local customers. It has spent some money on advertising through ProBrewer, an online resource for specialty beer companies.

Despite light advertising, the company has worked with breweries all over Florida, including M.I.A. Brewing in Doral, Wynwood Brewing Co. in Miami, Coppertail Brewing in Tampa, Brew Hub in Lakeland, 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg and Fort Myers Brewing Co. BrewFab is currently working with 10 or 12 breweries, according to Rick. The business in Florida is just about all the duo can handle until they find more employees. “It's a big industry and we're in the hot spot in the country right now.”


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