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Andrew Colley
Smarter Writer

Andrew Colley has written about technology, business and media for over a decade - nine years on a national newspaper

Andrew Colley
Smarter Writer

Andrew Colley has written about technology, business and media for over a decade - nine years on a national newspaper

Three workmates left the security of their corporate jobs to put their creativity into launching a craft beer.

It’s about 11am in the tearoom at the Stone & Wood Brewing Company’s new brewery just east of Murwillumbah NSW. To the south are huge rain clouds that have been drenching the region for the last two weeks over the spectacular Border Ranges that hem the town.

Telstra Regional Business of the Year 2014 winner Stone & Wood Brewing Company

three men stood in front of brewing distillers

The video session with Stone & Wood’s founding trio: Jamie Cook, Ross (Rosco) Jurisich and Brad Rogers has just wrapped. I’m explaining to the videographer that while the new brewery cost just shy of $5 million, its heavy wooden boardroom and tearoom tables were hewn from old pallets, when a staff member enthusiastically cuts in. “No, not this one. It’s made from machinery crates” he says, eager to set the record straight.

These employees are proud to be a part of this business. “We’ve got a great team out there and certainly for me, watching their development and what they’ve been able to do in the last few years, that’s been a real highlight and we all know we’re making good beer,” Brad says.

From passion to profession

Rosco, Jamie and Brad were all successful senior executives sitting on comfortable salaries at Carlton United Breweries (CUB) in Melbourne when they got the idea to start their own brand. With few choices for employers in their field they became circumspect about their futures. They decided that their mission to establish a craft beer division for CUB would be their last.

“It was an opportunity for us to take control, not only of our own careers, but also of our artistic drive and the beer styles we like to produce; to give what we do a name, direction and a future,” says Ross.

“You see a lot of long-lifers get parked in a role. We couldn’t just sit there and do that. There’s security in nice corporate gigs, but my dad said you pay a lot for security in other ways and I think that’s true,” says Jamie.

In April 2006 the boys started planning the new business, which would return them to the region where they grew up.

Cash flow before growth

With the help of a fourth non-executive investor, in 2008 the lads got hold of a 500 square metre shed in Byron Bay’s industrial estate and installed three 5,000 litre brewing tanks that pushed out less than 200,000 litres per year. Today it has 45 staff and last financial year, Stone & Wood sold over two million litres of beer.

“What we sell in a month now, took us just under two years to sell when we first started,” says Jamie.It wasn’t an easy ride, Brad acknowledges, remembering times when they wouldn’t get paid. Why? Because of cash flow.

“If you’ve spent your whole career at an $11 billion organisation where someone else pays for everything, it takes a while to get your head around when things have to be paid, by whom and to realise where that money’s coming from,” Brad says, seated at the boardroom table made from old wooden pallets.

Each of the four original owners hold 20 per cent of the company and the remainder was used to raise capital for the new brewery site from private investors.

Doing it their way

Having that control also lets them do business in ways that their former employer might not.

Acknowledging the recent backlash against anti-social drinking, Jamie says there’s no place for beer sponsorship at high profile sporting events.

“That’s one of our taglines − drink less but drink better. That’s our approach and the whole small brewery movement in Australia is about that,” he says. “It’s about drinking for enjoyment and flavour and not necessarily for effect.”

Winning ways 

Management: “One of the nice things about having your own brewery is being able to do things a bit differently. We’re not a multinational brewery. One of the things we do differently is to have our employee share plan, where we offer employees that have been with us for a certain number of months, a certain number of years, the ability to buy some shares at a very good price through our employee share plan.” Brad Rogers.

Social responsibility: “We’ve set up a program called InGrained, which is our way of giving back to the local community, providing funding back to grassroots causes through various programs, whether it’s farms or volunteering. For example, a few weeks back, about 12 of us went to a local community garden and helped them replant their garden for the upcoming season, so it’s part of something that we do as part of the team.” Jamie Cook.

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