leadership

How Tim Collin turned a passion for craft beer into $4.5 million business Vale Brewing

Eloise Keating /

How Tim Collin turned a passion for craft beer into $4.5 million business Vale Brewing

Pete, Michael and Tim Collin raising a glass to Vale's success. Source: Supplied

There’s a dynamic between brothers that translates well to the world of business, says Tim Collin. And the 32-year-old entrepreneur would know. He’s been in business with his two brothers Pete and Michael since they first invested in the McLaren Vale Brewing Company in 2008.

The Collin brothers became majority owners of the South Australian brewer four years ago and in March took over full ownership and changed the company’s name to Vale Brewing. Tim Collin has been responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the business, although Michael has recently taken a more hands-on approach; Pete is involved in a high-level strategic capacity.

Vale Brewing employs 11 full-time staff, has annual turnover of $4.5 million and produces four Vale-branded beers, two ciders (Vale Cider and Dr Pilkington’s Miracle Cider) and a range of limited edition brews among its range. Last month Vale Brewing unveiled its latest product, a premium Kolsch beer called Brothers’ Brew Kolsch.

I’ve always been really keen on business and I guess I was destined to own some sort of business.

I spent some time at university doing part of an architecture degree and part of an economics and finance degree but uni was not a fulfilling place for me.

I started managing sports and social clubs and that gave me a really good grounding in small not-for-profits. I then threw myself into managing larger scale not-for-profits; I sat on the board of directors for Hockey South Australia and I was president of the Adelaide University Sports Association where I managed 37 clubs and a large group of sporting people.

I got introduced to the concept of craft brewing in the McLaren Valley by a friend of a friend. My parents had moved from Naracoorte to Willunga and I was really excited about the opportunity.

I spoke to my brothers and we pulled some funds together to take a minority stake in the McLaren Vale Brewing Company.

The opportunity came up to increase our stake and we took it. We became the majority owners four years ago and took over full ownership two months ago.

We parted ways with the founders four years ago. There were different interests in terms of a timeline for the business. We thought there was a long-term place for us and were keen to drive the business forward but some of the other shareholders had a more short-term focus.

We had a good working relationship but finding that balance between the interests of the two parties was challenging. The other parties were keen to look for an opportunity to exit the business but that wasn’t on our radar.

As three brothers, we have similar timelines and expectations for the business. It’s exciting.

My brother Pete is a biomedical engineer and works for Siemens in medical imaging. He has been quite hands-off with the business but involved at a high-level in terms of its direction.

My other brother Michael just postponed the fourth year of his medical degree to take on a more hands-on role in the business. He also has an economics degree.

I think my experience in sports management has been really valuable to running a business. At the end of the day sport is often politics disguised as business. There are a lot of competing interests to take into account, and for that reason, it gave me a really strong base in understanding different peoples’ interests.

It also allowed me to cut my teeth on the financial side of things. I have an understanding of both the role of a board and company finances. I also completed a course through the Australian Institute of Company Directors which was valuable in understanding the line between management and the board from early on.

We recently changed the name of the business from McLaren Vale Brewing Company to Vale Brewing. We’ve given the brand a refresh but the logos on our beers haven’t changed significantly.

The change in ownership structure was one of the reasons for the name change. But we were also finding there was a disconnect between the old name and the range of products we now have.

We will consider launching more brands in the future but we’re not in a rush. We’re relatively happy with the portfolio we have at the moment.

One of the challenges with launching more products is the more you have, the more difficult it gets to manage inventory and stuff like that.

We want to make sure we grow sustainably but if the opportunity arises, we’ll look at it.

We have exported our beer for a number of years. We have relationships with distributors in Hong Kong and Macau and late last year we made a harder push into both of those markets.

Our first shipment of beer has just arrived in the UK too.Both of these scenarios have been opportunistic as we have relationships with distributors over there. It makes it easier.

We want to continue our reach across Australia.

The quality of craft beer in Australia is improving and I think this is something that has been recognised by the majors in their offerings. You just have to look at the value Lion Nathan put on Little Creatures.

The number of small brewers in the craft scene is booming as people realise craft beer is an exciting place to be.

But in the whole scheme of things, outside the likes of Lion Nathan, Carlton United Brewers and Coopers, small brewers still account for a very small segment of the market in terms of beer sales. And that’s why small brewers are better off collaborating and looking after each other.

It is tough in terms of the tap scenarios at venues.

A lot of venues around Australia are tied up with contract deals with the major brewers but more and more we are seeking venues looking for a different offering and not necessarily restricted to just one company. That’s exciting to see and we expect to see that continue.

We always take the attitude that we need to stay ahead of the game, push boundaries and try new things.

Our overarching philosophy is to make great quality beers and ciders for the market, and if we can do that in different ways, we’ll keep pushing.

Owning a business with my brothers has been good so far. It has been primarily me leading the charge for the past seven years of the business but Michael has come on board in a more active role and that’s been really positive.

There is a dynamic between brothers that is really valuable. You can say what you’re thinking at any given time and it is not taken to heart.

At the end of the day, when you’re the owner of a business there is never really an off switch.

You eat, live, breathe your business and so whatever is the issue on any given day can keep you awake at night.

But I try as much as possible to keep a balance. I play a lot of sport, which is a stress release and allows me to lose some of that tension. Going to training a couple nights a week to just turn off has been really valuable.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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