When self-doubt throws a punch… It can leave your psyche bruised and bloody.

“It’s mentally torturous,” says Bryan Johnson, Chief Operating Officer at home brewing retailer Great Fermentations.

When growth at the family business he returned home to Indianapolis to run just a few years earlier ground to a screeching halt recently, Johnson began wondering about some of the big life choices he had made. “It was mentally taxing,” he says. “I kept asking myself whether I had made the right decisions.”

Those decisions include:

  • Leaving a high paying six-figure job
  • Taking on a mortgage and buying a home
  • Moving across country and becoming a father for the first time

“I’m thinking how am I going to pay the bills. It’s one of the most daunting challenges I’ve ever faced because we’re putting in the same amount of work but getting fewer results.”

Bryan Johnson, CEO Great Fermentations

So what’s a bright entrepreneur like Johnson to do when business growth suddenly stalls, especially after several ultra-successful years of accelerated triple digit growth?

“We’re positive,” Johnson says regarding the future. “We have some ideas we think we can capitalize on.”

Those ideas aim to build upon the solid foundation Johnson has laid. What might that consist of? Picking fights and stealing!


Selling Home Brew Porsches


It was the digital equivalent of kicking in the home brewing industry’s door, picking a fight with the vertical’s titans, and poaching what was most important to competitors; their customers.

“We were entering an established market with several dominant behemoths, I knew there was a market there, I just had to figure out how to steal some of it.”

The answer, Johnson would learn, was online.

It was 2012, the height of the home brewing craze, when Johnson joined the company his mother and father started twenty years ago. “My mother wanted to scale back a bit,” Johnson says. “So my wife and I packed up, left the corporate world in Denver, and moved home.”

Under Johnson, Great Fermentations would be taking eCommerce seriously for the very first time. The competition was steep but two years later, after Johnson had established an eCommerce site ready to work as hard as he does, Johnson saw something his competitors didn’t; a market gap flush with opportunity.


“A lot of it was just luck, honestly,” Johnson says as only a humble Midwesterner can.

What Johnson envisioned and set out to create was a destination for home brewers that had not previously existed online; a premier one-stop-shop for the highest quality home brewing products on the market.

Johnson’s timing couldn’t have been better.

While building Great Fermentations’ large collection of high quality offerings, Johnson had the foresight to include Blichmann Engineering’s full catalogue of home brewing equipment. It was the highest quality equipment on the market but no one else was selling the complete line or marketing it effectively. Later, Blichmann would introduce the next big thing in home brewing, The BrewEasy, a turnkey system offering automation that could cut the normal 6-8 hour brewing process by twenty-percent.


“It was basically the Porsche of the home brewing industry,” Johnson says.

Johnson’s hunch was quickly confirmed. The BrewEasy, which is priced between $2,000-$3,000, caught the eye of beer lovers nationwide and made Great Fermentations the place to find home brewing supplies on the web. “It really started taking off,” Johnson recalls. “We went from zero to triple digit growth extremely fast.”

In fact, Great Fermentations, thanks to a bit of additional PPC and marketing handy work, posted year over year growth of 700% between 2014-15.

“The market was already established with loyal customers, but we were able to cherry pick them away from our competitors and turn them into our customers.”

But the era of hyper-growth would end abruptly.

“We hit a wall,” Johnson says in regard to sales growth in early 2016. “We ran right up against an industry-wide decline in home brewing.”

One culprit was the craft beer boom.

In the past, a unique tasting beer had overseas wasn’t likely to be available in the United States which meant people had to try to brew it themselves at home. “Now you can get any type of craft beer you want right off a store shelf,” Johnson says. “Why would would anyone spend hours doing it themselves now?”

The craft beer headwind was certainly a stiff one…

But Johnson didn’t spend any time sulking in a particularly potent batch of homebrew. Instead, he happened upon a tool at just the right moment that would position Great Fermentations to quickly resume its quest to increase the top line and simultaneously squeeze additional revenue out of existing customers.

You might even compare Johnson’s find to getting a brand new expert employee who specializes in jump starting growth…


Reigniting Growth With 10x ROI

It’s one thing to pick a fight with industry giants and win…

But it’s altogether different to try to stem an industry-wide slowdown and grow the top line at the same time.

However, Johnson has a clear plan to help Great Fermentations accomplish both:

  • Identify brand new markets for home brewing
  • Market better than every other competitor

The second part of the strategy is what led Johnson to partner with Rejoiner, a lifecycle email marketing firm that automates triggered email campaigns for brands that demand ROI from their marketing activities. “It’s times like this, during periods of slower growth, when having a tool like Rejoiner becomes even more important,” Johnson says.

Immediately, Johnson wanted to capitalize on missed opportunities and recover the money being left behind when visitors abandoned cart on the Great Fermentations site. Besides identifying visitors who do so, the team at Rejoiner worked with Johnson to deliver precision scheduled multistage email sequences that are personalized and optimized over time to improve results.

In other words, Johnson is now leaving a lot less money on the table.

“I’m extremely happy with it,” Johnson says regarding the Rejoiner abandoned cart email campaign. “Especially when I hear we are outperforming.”

Here’s what he means…

In the last six months, the Rejoiner-Great Fermentations abandoned cart email campaign has converted at a rate of 25-percent. That means a quarter of the Great Fermentations visitors who did not finish the checkout process targeted by the Rejoiner campaign returned to make a purchase.

“I’m getting a 10x return with Rejoiner. For every dollar I put in I get $10 in lost revenue back. It’s the best money we spend on marketing”

Cart Abandonment campaign for Great Fermentations
Cart Abandonment campaign for Great Fermentations

Email marketing, which includes Rejoiner campaigns, is now responsible for approximately twenty-percent of Great Fermentations’ revenue. Johnson credits Rejoiner with turning his marketing ideas into campaigns that make a difference:

“Working with Rejoiner is like getting an expert employee who works all of the time at a great price and generates huge ROI. To have a team of experts like the one at Rejoiner on your side is hugely valuable”

New Customer Welcome Series for Great Fermentations
New Customer Welcome Series for Great Fermentations

It’s more than that though…

Sure, the success also prompted Johnson to partner with Rejoiner on a Welcome email campaign designed to nurture prospects through the marketing funnel as well as a Win Back campaign aimed at reducing the time it takes existing customers to make a second purchase.

Win Back Campaign for Great Fermentations
Win Back Campaign for Great Fermentations

But Johnson credits Rejoiner co-founder Eddie Lichstein with providing a personal touch often lacking in business relationships today. “He talked with me about growing the business and provided strategic advice and took a real interest in the future of my business because he cared not because he was trying to sell me something,” Johnson recalls. “I’ve been approached by competitors but none of them can match Rejoiner’s feature set, price, or service. It’s a great company to work with.”


Brewing a Great Future

The Great Fermentations of today looks much different than it did two decades ago…

The transition from a brick and mortar only concern to one with a thriving ecommerce channel has been pronounced; Johnson says ecommerce now accounts for 45% of the company’s sales versus 5% when he returned home to begin the transformation.

“We’ve come a long way but there’s still plenty to do,” Johnson says.

Ultimately, after Johnson builds out a more responsive site, the plan is to implement a POS with the ability to integrate offline and online sales. The idea is to collect email addresses from predominantly brick and mortar shoppers and automatically funnel them into future Rejoiner email marketing campaigns.

“I think one day when we’re able to do that we’ll be getting even more value out of our relationship with Rejoiner,” Johnson says.

It’s a relationship that has helped Johnson weather an industry slowdown and even punch back when self-doubt starts a fight. It’s also a relationship that has yielded results and ROI worthy of a celebratory drink…

Home brewed, of course.

“Oh yea, I love doing it,” Johnson says with a chuckle. “It’s still fun after all these years.”

What To Do Now

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Nick Winkler
Nick Winkler heads The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best known brands, businesses, & marketers. Get more from Nick here.