Self-proclaimed beer nerd, music fan and lapsed trombonist, Sam McGregor loves and lives loud. Before becoming a founding director of beer brand Signature Brew, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year, McGregor was (and is) deep into music and not content to be just a fan.
McGregor has played both trumpet and trombone professionally in British ska punk bands, including Grown at Home—predecessor to the band Advantage. McGregor has also worked as a sounds digital project manager for X|Media|Lab, co-founded the independent record label CFP Records and, as marketing director for Good Lizard Media, helped musicians promote themselves and develop new digital revenue streams.
This is before, at the ripe age of 26, he partnered with his cousin Tom Bott to pursue another great love—beer. “When we started the business, we were both fairly young, which turned out to be a real advantage,” McGregor explains. Their youth empowered the cousins to move forward quickly without the weight of preconceived notions of their roles or what a beer brand and its brand experiences should be.
Despite McGregor’s youth when launching Signature Brew, he brought a wealth of experience and business contacts. “Because my background is in the music industry,” says McGregor, “we worked with bands since the very beginning.”
The live concerts at Signature Brew have made its brewpub and taproom destinations for music fans, and the beer brand earns a steady stream of inspiration and innovation on the packaged goods side of the business from collaborating with bands on co-created brews. [Editor’s note: To learn more about Signature Brew’s collaborations check out the case study about its recent rebrand—“Bold Rebrand, Sweet Collaborations."]
Naturally, musicians and their futures were on McGregor’s mind when the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread globally and birthed the subsequent economic shutdowns in the UK and beyond. He knew that both Signature Brew’s and the musicians’ futures were being threatened by the pandemic.
Determined to overcome
“The first day of this new reality was a Monday,” McGregor recalls. “Us founders and the other guys in management stayed late, drank and talked through what was happening.” His cousin then jumped into action. “Tom was writing thousands of words to our shareholders about how we might need help in the near future because what was happening is unprecedented,” McGregor explains. “While Tom was explaining to our investors that pubs have never been closed like this before, I started thinking about what I could do during this time.
“Knowing that 90% of our business comes from the pubs, I began to focus on the website [to replace that business],” McGregor adds, “and then, along with some other guys in the management team, we started thinking about local deliveries and store pickups.”
McGregor along with Signature Brew’s marketing manager and PR rep. quickly grew the concept of growing online sales into the brand’s newest launch, Pub in a Box, which enables the brand to deliver its experience within the context of physical isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Each kit comes with a selection of Signature Brew’s award-winning beers, glassware, snacks, a music quiz and exclusive playlists curated by music journalists to accompany the beers themselves. Initially, each Pub in a Box was delivered either by a member of the Signature Brew team or musicians whose concerts had been canceled during the pandemic.
Prepared to pivot
McGregor confesses that he initially wasn’t sure if Pub in a Box would succeed. “I didn’t think we would sell even one,” he explains, but I also thought, ‘let’s just do it anyway.’” He knew that Signature Brew needed to do something, and he also knew that they could pivot quickly.
The brand had recently worked with its design agency on a rebrand, which gave the Signature Brew team both a deeper understanding of the brand identity and the visual branding tools to create a new offering. “We had a lot of the stuff ready to go,” he explains. “We had packaging in the warehouse, and we had a lot of beer in tank—beer that would have gone to waste if we hadn’t launched this product.”
Pub in a Box is successfully delivering a new revenue stream and driving brand awareness for Signature Brew. The innovation was even spotlighted in the arts and entertainment website, Time Out. “The reaction to Pub in a Box is amazing,” McGregor remarks. “It’s got our beer into so many new people’s hands, and I’m looking forward to trying to get those people to continue to be Signature Brew fans after this has finished.”
At time of publication, the U.K. is still under stay-at-home orders. The Pub in a Box offering continues to deliver the Signature Brew brand experience despite the need to physically distance, but musicians no longer deliver the boxes. “As much as we would have wanted to build this giant workforce of people who could deliver the boxes,” McGregor explains, “we had to move to delivery by national courier for the safety of the musicians.”
McGregor hasn’t forgotten about the musician community, though. He’s currently innovating the next offering to aid musicians, which McGregor says will be a live event where multiple bands will play and the Signature Brew team will be serving beers and nosh.