A year ago, Claude Lefebvre left his old job and started a new business aimed at helping small craft breweries become more visible at the Ontario retail outlets. A year later, that business is representing almost 30 brands, and Lefebvre has surprised even himself with the success he’s had in only a year.
Described by Lefebvre as Ontario’s first craft beer agency, North American Craft represents a variety of craft breweries from all over Canada, as well as a handful from the United States. In many cases, the breweries he represents already had a presence in the LCBO, but with Lefebvre’s experience in sales in the beer industry, those small breweries are now able to focus on what they do best and leave the sales and marketing to Lefebvre’s agency.
“The company’s almost a year old and what we decided to focus on was stabilizing our small craft beer suppliers at the LCBO and Beer Store,” said Lefebvre, who has been working in the beer industry for 14 years, mostly in sales roles.
As an agency supporting breweries like Black Oak Brewing and Denison’s Brewing of Toronto, Paddock Wood Brewing of Saskatoon, and Tree Brewing of Kelowna (see North American Craft’s website for a full list of breweries it represents), North American Craft manages its clients head office relationships with the LCBO and The Beer Store, provides in-field sales through both retail channels, train staff members and educate them about the beers he represents, and offer tips for food pairings.
“We already have brands that are made available at the LCBO in the general list. We are actively looking to bring products from across Canada into these channels. I do not consider myself an importer. I consider myself an agency,” Lefebvre said.
Importing, however, is part of the services that North American Craft provides, but in the end, its focus is on sales and marketing activities in both the LCBO and The Beer Store. Currently, North American Craft represents both Rogue Ales and Brooklyn Brewery from the US.
Currently the only agency of its kind in Ontario, Lefebvre saw a need for a business focused on representing the small guy in both of Ontario’s retail outlets. With small breweries left to their own devices to sell and promote their brands (something many of them do not have the budgets for), Lefebvre saw an opportunity and has since signed up many prominent craft breweries.
“Making craft beer is very difficult and demanding. Selling craft beer is even more difficult,” said Ken Woods, owner of Black Oak Brewing, who signed up with North American Craft last year. “In the past few years, the market has become more curious about local beer, and we’ve been struggling to keep up with our own ability to sell our beer. With North American Craft, more demand and awareness has been created.”
The core competency of a craft brewery is brewing beer, and the breweries on North American Craft’s client roster are known for brewing some excellent beer. According to Woods, letting North American Craft handle the sales side of the business allows he and his staff to focus on brewing good beer and keeping up with demand rather.
“They can sell the beer, monitor and have the time do the appropriate relationship building that we don’t have the time or people power,” Woods said.
In addition to representing other craft breweries’ brands, Lefebvre is also getting into the brewing business himself with the launch of Double Trouble Brewing, which recently unveiled its first beer, an IPA dubbed Hops & Robbers. The dry-hopped IPA is available now on draught in the Toronto area. Hops & Robbers will be available in 473mL cans and is currently pending approval at the LCBO.