Štěpán Klíma of Obora brewery: When your business takes off, you must be ready to react
In the beginning there was a desire to make beer for oneself and a few friends. Obora Brewery started a few years ago in a small village in southern Bohemia as a small project with modest ambitions. However, with his enthusiasm for the craft and his willingness to cross the borders of what was until recently a very conservative industry in the Czech Republic, Martin Novák built a brewery that today fills the taps of pubs and the shelves of beer stores across the country. With brewmaster and founder Martin Novák and brand manager Štěpán Klímá, we discussed how the brewery has established its place on the Czech market, how it approaches current trends, how it changed its strategy during the pandemic or how to manage a business that takes off.
We don't have to pretend we're sustainable
Localism, ecology, seasonality, sustainability. Words that have become the mantra of all small entrepreneurs who in recent years have been trying to tackle the old structures of the Czech and global food market. However, a handful of them have decided to fight against their overuse and instead try to prove that localism, ecology, seasonality and sustainability are the new norm for them - something completely natural and self-evident. This includes the Obora brewery. "Farming has worked on localism, seasonality and sustainability for centuries. What is surprising, then, is that it has changed so much in the last few years that what used to be commonplace is now seen as a privilege." explains its founder Martin Novák. "In our communication with customers, we try to show all stages of beer production." continues brand manager Štěpán Klíma. "If we end up with a picture of a can, we can write whatever we want about it and the question is whether anyone will believe us. But we don't have to make anything up, because beer in Obora literally starts in the well and in the field next to the brewery." He adds.
"Farming has worked on localism, seasonality and sustainability for centuries. What is surprising, then, is that it has changed so much in the last few years that what used to be commonplace is now seen as a privilege."
Organic growth of business and website
The basic philosophy of Obora is a great building block, but to enter such a highly saturated market as the Czech beer market requires a great deal of patience. "I think that if you do something right, your product will find a place on the market. And it is not even necessary to be significantly different or to try to stand out at any cost. Ultimately, we don't do rocket science in the field. It's beer, made the way we think beer should be made. It is the same with the entire brand. Blue lettering, red circle, simple typography." says Klíma. "We've managed to break through, in my opinion, mainly because we didn't push the envelope and let the brewery grow organically. People can tell when something is supposed to be outright 'great'. It's best to build up to that greatness gradually." He adds.
However, the original intention of Obora was not to become big at all. "In the beginning it was just a desire to make beer for myself and a few friends. Our subsequent journey has been slow and gradual. Some things can't be rushed, and that's twice as true in the wild. If you plant a certain amount of hops one year and then want to have twice as many, there's nothing you can do about it. That's why all the expansion had to come gradually." Martin Novák tells us about the beginnings of Obora.
"The fact that it kind of took off in the end is great, but that wasn't our original intention at all." continues Štěpán Klíma. "When your business starts to grow this fast, you can see how well you chose the right tools to help you in the beginning. They should allow you to react to the situation without unnecessary inconvenience. A lot of companies look back at this point and curse themselves for the decisions they made at the beginning with the foolish notion that they wouldn't need to change anything else on the fly. We chose solidpixels at the beginning so our website can grow organically with us." He says.
"When your business starts to grow this fast, you can see how well you chose the right tools to help you in the beginning"
"A lot of companies look back at this point and curse themselves for the decisions they made at the beginning with the foolish notion that they wouldn't need to change anything else on the fly. We chose solidpixels at the beginning so our website can grow organically with us."
Such an easily modifiable website gives the brewery plenty of room for great content work. "It's nice that everything I create can be put straight onto the website and I don't have to wait for anything." Štěpán Klíma opens the topic. The aesthetics and overall visual communication of Obora is very specific compared to the competition. "It's absolutely clear that having a good product is essential, and I think that's what we have solved in Obora, but the packaging sells. A year and a half ago we made decision to go a slightly different route to other breweries. I think we've been able to create an aesthetic that's not quite common in our category. Both in the packaging design and the photos. So, in the final stages of the rebranding, I was quite appreciative to have a tool at hand that met my expectations aesthetically, while also being simple enough to make changing all the elements of the visual identity across the entire site as easy as possible." He adds.
"In the final stages of the rebranding, I was quite appreciative to have a tool at hand that met my expectations aesthetically, while also being simple enough to make changing all the elements of the visual identity across the entire site as easy as possible."
The brewery appreciated the clear and functional website especially last year. With the arrival of the pandemic, drinking habits in the whole society changed quite fundamentally, former regulars and other pub-goers had to move home, behind computer screens. How did the Obora brewery respond? "Pub goers moved home and we had no choice but to follow them there. We changed our communication and started to replace the role of the bartender more. He's normally the one who introduces the beer or recommends it if you don't know what to have." says Martin Novák. "We almost literally went home to our customers. We did a couple of full-length online tastings during the pandemic and it was unbelievable how interested people were. I remember a sentence from one of the connected beer drinkers who was touched that he felt like he was having a beer with friends again after a few months." adds Štěpán Klíma.
The successful overcoming of the pandemic was also due to the providence of Martin Novák, who had the idea of acquiring a bottling line for cans just before the pandemic. "It's been a long time coming, so sometime in the autumn of 2020 we drank from giant cans for the first time. That basically not only saved us, but also moved us forward. We started sending cans around the country almost immediately, to people's homes and to our customers. To make it easier for our customers to find us, we've added a clear map to the website with locations where they can purchase Obora." Klíma says. Today, Obora can say that some of its current customers were nurtured online during the pandemic. And thanks to consistent online communication, sales and availability of cans of Obora beer in multiple locations across the Czech Republic, they will be able to continue to drink at home, regardless of the current pandemic situation.
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