Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here. The first thing we’re going to do this afternoon, it’s just after lunch. I’m going to do a really quick introduction for Mark. And He is here so then we will be ready to go. Good. Mark. You’re there. All right.
Well, welcome to everyone. Mark nice is our guest today. And Mark is a president of Rebellion Brewing. Rebellion Brewing is a local craft brewer here in Regina, Saskatchewan. And, you know, I think their tagline says it all. Be a rebel and drink great beer. And on that note, Mark, I’m gonna have you open up your mic and introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about rebellion and your history because you do have quite the rebellious history.
Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah. Lots, lots, lots. Um, thanks for having me. I hope folks buy this fun and enjoyable. And I hope I can talk about all sorts of things. And so I hope I talk about things you want me to talk about? So if not, just ask the questions, and I will try and just go down that rabbit hole instead.
Um, yeah, I already get off the beaten path when you want to know that history or this or that. I can ultimately tell you, I’m from Regina born and raised. I went to school at the U of R. I took business school. And I worked as an accountant, and then I transitioned into IT. After a few years of being an accountant, I worked in IT for 17 years.
Okay, and those were all great. I learned a ton of skills focused on a ton of different things. But I really enjoyed brewing beer. I enjoyed beer just as an enthusiast as a teenager. I thought it was pretty cool. And I always like your different stuff. I love weird, different music. I will like weird different foods. I just always want something a little bit different, I guess. Yeah, I guess that’s kind of how I see it as destiny to end up running Rebellion Brewing, I guess.
But yeah, so I started home brewing just over 15 years ago. And I really love that I love spending all my free time doing that, like anything. If it’s a passion, that doesn’t feel like work, so do I. And you know, I know a lot of folks that enjoy hobbies as hobbies, and they don’t ever want to turn that into a business. I was pretty worried about that when we decided to open a brewery. Okay, but I enjoy every single day of it. I get up. I’m excited.
I get up way too early. I don’t know about you, folks. But yeah, if you wanna, if you do want to chat with me, tech messaged me at five in the morning, I’ll probably it’s probably the best time to catch me. Because then I end up doing this stuff all day.
Exactly. So let’s just back up there. Okay, so teenagers like beer, no surprises there. I don’t think we know too many teenage boys that don’t like beer. But like, what made you sit on your couch one night and go? You know what? I bet it could make a living off making beer. What made you and your partners come to that conclusion because I know, a ton of people brew in their basement, but they don’t pop up as a brewery and especially when it gets to be pretty well known.
Yes. So I wouldn’t say our story’s a whole lot different than a lot of other breweries. There’s now over 1200 craft breweries in Canada. But for us at the time, we seemed like we were pretty good at making beer at home. So we figured we do everything. So we should open a brewery. And you know, at that point, we oh, we only officially opened just over seven years ago.
So we started thinking about it about eight or nine years ago. There’s very few other breweries here. And as someone that travels, you know, around North America, you can see that crappier exploding everywhere else. So it seemed like there was definitely a good opportunity and a good time.
And we didn’t we certainly didn’t know anyone else here in the province that knew more about beer than us other than folks that already were running breweries. Okay. So that seemed to make sense. And, yes, I was reasonably successful in IT, but it wasn’t super rewarding. Honestly, I still make way less money doing this. So my wife absolutely encouraged and supported me on this. But some days, it’s kind of hard when you kind of look at what I used to make versus what I make now.
Mm hmm. Yep. But there’s something to be said for life satisfaction.
Yeah, again, I have zero. I do have zero regrets. And we’re gonna be okay. So yeah,
Exactly. Okay, so tell us a little bit about your journey. So you guys sat on the couch tonight? You said, Yeah, we’re gonna do this. Now. I agree with you wholeheartedly. There was a pretty significant trend until you were caught in that wave. What happens though, with all say, the big dawgs, those national players, you know, how do they take to a craft brewery? Do they really even pay any attention? What does that look like?
Well, I can tell you right now. I mean, we were talking about it yesterday in the office. I know. I know. It’s a fact that some of the big brewers offer deals to bars and restaurants and event centers, some of them do. And the stipulation is that if they’re going to give that, that offer to someone that they cannot carry Rebellion beer.
So clearly, we’re viewed as a threat. And I know about it, because some owners tell us about it and tell us that they refuse the deal. So that feels kind of good. But yeah, so when we started, you know? Yeah, I mean, those folks, they’re very, they’re, they’re some of the biggest companies in the world. They have massive marketing budgets and throw their weight around and are exceptionally good at what they do and are interested in losing market share to little twerps like me. Exactly.
Well, when you look at the traditional beer drinker, like they’re loyal, they are super loyal to their brand. And so you know, even to find a crack in that armor so that you can get them to try, you know, a rebellion somewhere along the way. What do you think, like, how did you find that crack in the armor? Because I mean, you guys have a huge loyal following now. So where did you find that crack?
I’ve got these three things, but you probably have the loyal following, because it makes me think of another one. But number one is that younger people really care about the businesses that they buy from and support that really resonates with them. And so we try to carve out a place where we want people to know that we are local people, we are independent. We do care. We do sponsor stuff, we do give money to charity, we’re active in the community, all that sort of stuff. So that was number one.
We knew that that would resonate with you, whether you like beer or not. We have tons of people that are like they say, I don’t drink a drop of beer. I think your business is the coolest business in Saskatchewan. Yeah, that’s that’s pretty. That’s pretty. That feels pretty good. Exactly.
Yeah, number two would be the explosion of social media in that, you know, you don’t have to buy radio ads and newspaper ads and hockey ads, which we can’t afford. And we’ve never bought it. But I can shoot my mouth off on social media and say crazy things. And that gets people’s attention. So how about that, right? Yeah.
And so that really worked. And I know I’m already blanking out on what my third or fourth one was, in terms of the loyal following is that, you know, again, we want it yes, it’s a, again, to get people’s attention, we want to really stand out.
And I’d seen a few other breweries that opened before us. And a lot of them have already come and gone and closed. And I asked people about them now and nobody remembers them because they were not memorable. And that’s why they failed. They were honestly trying to duplicate a big, a big brewery style beer, just at a smaller local level. No one cares, it’s just noise, you just pass it off. It’s viewed as almost inferior, right? Or a cheap knockoff.
Whereas we were very clear, and especially at the start, we were very abrasive. And we made really crazy weird beers that were super strong. And yeah, like, we were, we wanted to make it very clear that we were completely different from everything else. Right.
And, and, and I knew that we would, um, I knew that if we did that, it would start out with a very small loyal following. And it was me and my nerdy beer friends. But because my nerdy beer friends appreciated what we did so much. Yeah, they wanted to tell their other friends and they would and they become your ambassadors, which doesn’t cost me a cent. Yeah. As opposed to radio ads and you know, as I know, some of you folks run your own business, if you can get that type of a reaction. That’s strong. Word of mouth, grassroots marketing. You can’t, you can’t beat that.
No, no, I agree wholeheartedly. So what’s your and also your beer statement? Now? How do you define the beer you brew?
How do I define it? Well, the Canadian brewing awards defines it as the best beer in Canada that was brewed this year.
Yeah. Okay, there we go. That’s a good definition.
I’ll take that. So we always knew we were gonna brew really great beer. And we do and and you know, when we brew a variety of styles, and so a lot of people, they’ll kind of be sheepish and be like, Well, honestly, Mark, I didn’t like that last one you did?
I said great, I don’t care. I’ve got 12 more new ones. And I’m pretty sure you like one of them. Yeah. And so it’s kind of this fearless thing of, we’re just going to make all sorts of different beers, we’re going to make them really, really well. And we’re sure that you’re going to find one that you’ll enjoy. So just trying to be really plain and really, like straight and narrow. Yeah, not gonna play that game.
So how many brews, how many beers are in the lineup right now?
I think we have five year round beers that we make year round. And I mean, in our Taproom right now, I think I think we have like 16 different beers you can try right now.
And so do you see that number growing? Like if you’ve got five that are year round? Do you see that being 10 year round? Where do you see it going?
Honestly, so in beer, one of the phrases that used to be used was rotation nation. And now the new phrase in the beer industry is the promiscuous consumer. So everyone wants to try a little bit of everything. Okay, so the idea of what we would call core beers are waning. And in fact, most breweries, their core beers are declining, and sales are actually seeing an increase this year, which is really interesting. But yeah, you’ll probably just see more and more of those quick, little seasonal type products. And, you can be really agile and creative. And, you know, when I mentioned that promiscuous customer, people want more and more, which, you know, is kind of what I put, I like trying weird, different things. So I can’t be upset that I now have a customer base that wants the same.
Exactly, yeah, that makes perfect sense. And, you know, if I look, even in our own house, I have one that I drink, I drink the lentil. And that’s really all I drink. But my husband every time we’re there, he tries something different. Right? And so he is very much that consumer that wants to try this in the other. And the seasonal, I think, is fantastic. Because again, he was trying different things. You know, each time we were buying in the summer to go up to the cabin and things like that.
Yeah, we tried to really market desperately for that for those demographics, right. And I mean, I could go into all of that. But yeah, we really try to focus on that. So you know, if you try to just be everything to everyone, you’ll probably fail. And if I explain what we do, it’s probably still too confusing and complex, but we we compartmentalize and have specific beers with specific marketing and whatnot and graphics
for different markets. Yep. Yep. Okay, so, um, you talked on social media, and I have to remember exactly how it went. But you just finished off some trademark work where you actually headed down to the states. Can you tell us that story?
Yeah, so we, we, it took us a long time to find a name. But I would just say on the name when you mentioned our tagline is be a rebel drink great beer. What I really love about that is that it is not that. That is an external facing slogan. It’s about the customer.
The customer can be a rebel and drink great beer. Hey, look at Mark, I’m the rebel and I make beer. It’s not about you. And anyone can be that anyone can be a rebel. Just drink rebellion beer, and boom, you get that tag. You’re a rebel, you’re the coolest person around.
So yeah. Again, I really like how that works. But in terms of trademarks, again, I’m really having fun business stuff that everyone loves to talk about is we settled on named rebellion brewing. And there was another brewery that used to have a rebellion lager in Ontario.
And they hadn’t brewed it in about 10 years. So they still had a trademark. But trademark law is that if it falls out of common use for seven years, someone else can claim it. Okay.
And so this was a large multinational brewery actually based out of Japan that owns that trademark. So we, again, I guess we were rebellious from the start, because we didn’t even literally just incorporate and we filed the trademark saying we’re stealing this name away from this giant company based out of Japan. And so they had 90 days to respond. On the 89th day their lawyer phoned us and he tried to intimidate us and give us crap and say that we weren’t you know, we’re very good industry players. And this is going to come back to bite us and all this.
Anyways, we just did. Well, thank you very much. No. So we thought that we were done. But it turns out, I then learned that in the United States, there are other breweries that are using that trademark. And it does give them some precedents in other countries to learn more about that.
So unbeknownst to us, another brewery had filed in the US for rebellion about 6 months before we did. So yeah. So we had to go in between smaller breweries. So we actually just went down there and met with the President in person.
And he said, Yeah, we can work out a deal. You’re just nice guys from Saskatchewan, like, nobody cares. And then he retired. Before it all got finalized, and then their league, their legal team was like, no, no, we need to pay us a bunch of money if you want us to walk away from this. Yep. So then that was years of fighting over how much money we should pay them, Oh, God.
And then another large brewery in the US, they started selling a rebellion beer here. And we sent them cease and desist letters. And while they didn’t really agree with that, they ultimately withdrew from the market because they couldn’t sell their beer here. So that felt pretty good. Again, another giant, giant publicly traded brewery in the US.
Oh, wow. You know, and so you think about it, you had that conversation sitting on the couch, and yet, you’re gonna start a craft brewery? Did you envision any of this being part of it?
Well, yeah, that’s the crazy thing. Like I say, we knew everything because we had won some metals as home brewers. Right. So yeah, I never imagined I would be spending this much time on intellectual property, and especially in a seven year battle with three other breweries over our names.
Yeah, but it’s as passionate as I am about beer learning. This stuff blows my mind, too. I just, I’m personally wired. I love learning about things and getting into the details, right, and then figuring out a strategy to hopefully win. Or if you realize you can’t win at it, well then figure out something else. Right.
Exactly. Are you the only one of the partners that’s full time in the business? Or is everybody full time in the business?
No, there’s just me. So there’s four partners, all equal partners in the business, self funded, but well, initially self funded, obviously, to do what we’ve done. We’ve had to get some loans along the way. None of us are independently wealthy. But yeah, I’m the only one active in the business.
Okay. Yeah. So you’re a pretty, I don’t know, vocal spokesperson on social media when it comes to supporting locals. Was that always you? Or was that you that evolved by being the President of the brewery?
Yeah, I’ve always kind of had that idea. And I love the whole support local thing. I try to put my own spin on it. So even before we opened a brewery, I was writing for some blogs and stuff around food and Saskatchewan and this and that, and what I was, again, just observing in other markets, or if you traveled to BC, I mean, if you go to BC, people are so proud of everything. They grow there, whether it’s the wine or the apples or anything, there’s that pride. Yeah.
And in Saskatchewan, it dawned on me whether it was a local restaurant or a local food product, or honey or like, whatever, no one knew no one cared. And it was everyone kind of had that. Almost like an inferiority complex that, you know, nothing good comes from here. Or, you know, you need something imported from Europe, like, you know, Heineken or something. That’s a fancy beer. Yeah.
I mean, this is junk that they ship over from Holland. In fact, they don’t even ship it anymore. They brew it here in Canada at a plant here and slap a label on it to make it look fancy.
Okay, so that really bothered me about 10 years ago, and I was like, This is nonsense. Saskatchewan is awesome. We need to quit feeling sorry for ourselves. I also even steam for my grandparents, they have that real hard working, you know, Saskatchewan mentality and to never brag. And you know, because otherwise, you’re a jerk, and you’re just cocky.
But as a business and as a marketer, you have to be loud and proud, otherwise, they’re gonna forget about you. Yep. And so I tried to balance that I know, I still offend some people that think I’m a jerk, and too arrogant and too cocky. But I really try to celebrate the farmers and celebrate our partners, and you know, our next door neighbors that open up a cool business and be genuine about it. No one pays me to do those things. I talk about stuff that I truly like and truly enjoy. Exactly. Its authenticity.
I think it resonates, I think it resonates, yes.
Anything that’s authentic, people are typically gonna engage with it, and being able to create that office authenticity, because if you’re forcing it, right, I know we’ve got one of the folks here with us today who, you know, the thought of having to go live on social and be all bubbly and you know, bouncing around and she said like, that is so not me. And I’m like, Yeah, I hear you like not doing it. For some people. It works for other people. You know, it doesn’t. She’s waving at me now.
I wish I had some tips and tricks for that. Again, I can tell people I was an accountant. I still have that mindset and like I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to talk to anyone in high school in English. When you have to get up and do an oral presentation. I would take zero I would, I’d ask I’d find out from the teacher how much that counts towards my final grade and I do the math in my head. So as an accountant, I’d be like, yeah, if I take zero on this, I can still get an ad. Though I’m good, I’m not gonna speak.
And the only way I got so the only way I got over that was that again, I just knew that if my business was going to be successful, someone had to speak up, someone had to be loud. And I just was like, Well, no one else could speak better than I can about how I feel about my business. So I literally just forced myself to do it.
And it’s very, I hope, I hope I’m speaking Okay, today, what I can share with you is, once this is over, I spoke at the hotel Saskatoon weeks ago at the Tourism Conference, and I spoke for an hour. And I had to go and sit in a corner for half an hour, because it absolutely drains me. I hope I come across as exuberant and friendly and this and that, but it’s actually I have to work really hard at it. So yeah, this mentioned that to say that I can I totally relate with other folks that feel uncomfortable about it. And I wish I had Tips and Tricks other than we’ll just just do it. And it’s easy. It’s not easy. It’s really, really hard.
You know, Mark, if I put those pieces together, yes, it’s hard that first time, but when you talk about something you love, you can talk forever, right? When it’s something that you know, you know, to inside out and backwards, you’re knowledgeable, you’re confident, then the hardest part is, you know, pushing that go live button or that play button or that record button. So the rest comes so much easier.
And you know, I’m kind of the same, like, I’m not big on it. And I’ve shared, you know, some of my bloopers with this group, because I’ve had more than my share. But that’s what gets you comfortable with it. Because it’s real. Right? Like, absolutely. When the radio station started falling apart. That was as real as it got. And yeah, people can relate, because we’ve all had those screw ups. And then you just kind of go from there.
What kind of like, what are the lessons learned? If somebody came to you and said, Mark, are you thinking about starting a business? What can you tell me? What lessons can I learn? Are you going to share with people?
That’s a tough one, I do look back, I don’t know, if I I don’t know, if I have any real strong regrets, I think maybe, obviously make some different decisions. What I actually tell a lot of people, though, to be quite honest, is that I think you have to be a little naive, and a bit of a dreamer.
Because if you actually, if you knew what you do, now, a lot of people would have never opened my business. I don’t feel that way, I still would have done it. But you kind of are so naive. You just kind of fling yourself into it and be like, well, just I’ll just figure it out.
And that’s, I’m not, again, I’m not saying that that’s, you know, the recipe for success. Just throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. But I know that where I was at in my career, and with my partners, as we all will have quite an extensive professional careers, at least with different skill sets, you know, engineers, architects, business, people, accountants, IT, I did a lot of project management, so that some of my other friends, and so you can draw those skills and be like, Okay, well, even though we know nothing about the beer industry, we can probably apply a lot of those skills.
And so in beer right now, and just in general, you see a lot of young entrepreneurs, and I love that energy. And I love that excitement. And a lot of them are very, very successful. But I know it’ll stump them really struggling because they don’t have that strong background to rely on that skill set to say, Hey, I was in this situation before, maybe it was I was troubleshooting. The government email system that I used to be responsible for, and how did I fix that? Okay, well, now I know, I can use those same skills to figure out how to fix this broken tank or beer that’s gone bad or something, right? Yep.
Yep. You know, and there’s, there’s something to be said, If only we could have the energy of 20, but the intelligence of 40 and put those two together, right. And that’s where you see some fantastic teams that really excel and I think yours is one of those, you’ve got some life experience. But then you’ve got some people who are really smart when it comes to many of the other pieces that you need to talk about because is it just the four of you that have anything to do with brewing anymore? Or have you hired a Brewmaster? Right, like, Are there other people in the business now that are better at helping you grow?
So that’s probably one of the key things is, we were all home brewers. But I haven’t I haven’t brewed beer in six years. So we’ve been open for seven. So I have a team of six people that brew all of the beer, six full time staff, which, in terms of craft breweries here in Saskatchewan, that’s by far the biggest team that does that. I still have a little . I still love getting engaged in the recipes, but at the same time, I like to let them come up with some of their own recipes. I’m usually just gonna provide feedback or you know, determine the costing or profit margin on a beer and that sort of stuff. So I kind of play that role more than anything.
The accountant side of you!
Yeah I don’t I don’t, I don’t turn the wrenches or anything anymore. Sometimes they do. They just need someone to cover for a coffee break on the canning line or something. It’d be super fun. I log on and hang out with them. And they get their music plan and yet can beer for half an hour and take off. So.
But again, that was a very deliberate thing. I knew as much as I love brewing beer, I knew that there were other roles that had to be done within the company that only I could fill. And so yeah, so we knew we knew right from the beginning. And we hired some very competent technical skill brewers to do some work for us. They also happen to be friends that I knew in the industry from previously.
And so yeah, I mean, we’ve in my I mean, I hope people feel the same about their own company, that they’ve got the absolute best people working for them. I think we do. And so I guess what I was saying with that, too, is you have to if you’re planning to be more than just a single person business, you have to understand leadership and skills, and how are you going to empower and grow and all that sort of stuff.
And so that’s why I mean, that’s why I let them make a lot of those calls and decisions, because I can’t be there. I’m talking with you guys right now. So I can’t make the call on what to do with whatever beer is going on right now.
Okay, exactly. Does your canning happen at the same location as the brewery?
Yep, we can all have our beer on site, we do everything. We do everything ourselves, we have quite a large canning line, we were able to expand, we did that about three or four years ago. That also means I don’t have an office or lunch room or a bunch of other things anymore. But hey, we can get canned beer instead.
Exactly. Yeah. Do you guys have that whole building? Or is there still somebody in the other half?
No, we have the whole building there on duty. And then I actually have to lease office space? Just on Broad Street here as well. So we have about eight people working at that location as well.
Got it. Okay.
And that’s it. We’re out of time. I want to thank you for joining us today on The Secret Life of entrepreneurs. And thank you Mark from Rebellion Brewery, who we’ve learned so much about.
Thank you for coming in and talking about your approach, your marketing, your willingness to have that loud message. Your support for local is appreciated by so many.
If you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at Barb@abovethefold.live or reach out on our Facebook and Instagram page at Abovethefold.ca.
And just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of our live shows right on our Facebook page. I’m your host Bob McGrath, local business owner and GoogleGirl. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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Tune in to learn more about Mark Heise, President of Rebellion Brewing, a local craft brewer in western Canada. Rebellion Brewing’s tagline, “Be a rebel; drink great beer” says everything you need to know about the brewery and their product. It’s just damn good beer from seasonal hops to gluten-free lentil options and a traditional pilsner.
Imagine sitting on your coach one Saturday night, likely after a few too many wobbly pops, and deciding to take on the national brewers. The big guys. With big budgets. That’s exactly what Mark and his partners did; take on the big guys.
A few years later, Mark can look back with a silly grin and say, ‘yup, we did it.’ Rebellion Brewing jumped into the marketplace at a time when craft brewing was attracting customers in droves.
And that’s just the beginning of their story. Suffice to say western Canada has a lot of rebels.
Connect with Mark @ Rebellion Brewing