Whether you’re opening a brewery or attempting to expand an existing operation, choosing the correct machinery can be an expensive and stressful decision. When it comes to deciding on the right malt handling equipment, finding a balance between efficiency and cost effectiveness often comes down to deciding between purchasing new or pre-owned.
For any small business there are a range of strategies. Here, we share expertise from seasoned professionals spanning both offline and online approaches.
Ultimately, the right process for your business will depend on specifics such as your location, budget and beyond...
Why The Right Match Matters
With competition steadily mounting in the brewing industry, it’s become more important than ever for brewers and owners have to carefully consider all the options before making a purchase.
Andy Myers of Chicago’s Malt Handling, an online seller that customizes essential grain handling systems for craft brewers and distillers, advises that investing in used equipment comes down to what’s right for the specific customer:
“The cutoff is what type of equipment we're talking about. If it’s a flex auger with PVC tubing that’s going to wear out...it makes sense to go ahead and invest in a new machine. But if you have a mill that’s working fine and you can just do a few tweaks on it...then you're probably fine.”
One Size Does Not Fit All
Malt Handling has been operating in the Windy City since 2012. In that time, the company has helped service both up-and-coming brewers, as well as established companies seeking expansion. Each brewer’s situation is taken on a case by case basis.
There’s no "one-size-fits-all" answer for equipment purchasing. “Everyone has pretty unique needs and ways they have to deal with grain coming in and out of their operation,” Myers says.
Smart equipment purchasing can boost production for years to come, but if mishandled it could prove fatal as the business begins or continues to grow. “If you're just starting up [bulk storage and automation] may not be your main concern, especially if you're working on a small scale,” Myers says. “It seems like grain handling is an afterthought, but [it’s good to have] a handle on it and plan for the future. The more you invest upfront, the more you stand to save in the future.”
Don’t Underestimate Industry Relationships
The flow of communication within the community and industry knowledge are vital when it comes to making an investment. The best advice is to start by asking other professionals what they use, why they use it and where they purchased?
“The beer and food business is really relationship-based. You've got to know who you're buying from and who you're selling to,” Erik May of Byron Center, Michigan’s Pilot Malt House says. “I have pretty good relationships with our customers and, for me, if I was in the market for something I’d probably [speak to someone] who recently purchased something.”
Have You Tried Looking Online?
Online communities are a good place to start in order to get educated and build relationships within the industry. While it’s traditionally been difficult for small and medium sized beverage businesses of any kind to find the information they need about sellers and equipment, times are changing.
An online marketplace like Kinnek, for example, provides an easy way to not only compare supplier quotes, but also enables you to browse profiles and reviews to make informed decisions. Professional trade sites such as ProBrewer.com, Brewer’s Association or Craft Brewing Business can also be helpful.
Agricultural Auction Action
Another surprising resource to consider when it comes to used equipment is farm auctions, conducted both online and in-person. As Erik May explains: “malt handling machines are farm equipment being re-purposed for a different industry.”
However, if you choose the auction block, it’s wise to research your equipment’s origins and what materials it handled previously. Trace residues may be present on the equipment that may ultimately impact your end product (and customers).
The uncertainty of what a machine’s prior use is the primary reason most retailers will advise that a customer make an investment in new equipment. However, with the right amount of research and transparency of information a brewer can find the perfect match.
Making the Right Choice
In essence, taking time to make smart purchasing decisions on the right brewing equipment for your small or medium sized brewery can have a lasting impact on your company’s success. No matter what option you choose, Kinnek can help you save time when you’re researching or ready to purchase equipment and supplies for your craft beverage business.