The future of Rouleur Brewing

A Carlsbad brewery owner shares about big changes for his six-year-old business

Our latest Voices of San Diego Beer guest article comes from Rawley Macias (pictured above, photo by Matt Furman) the owner of Rouleur Brewing, a six-year-old interest that has grown a great deal over the past few years, expanding to open a satellite tasting room and operate a second manufacturing facility. That growth came during the worst years of the COVID-19 pandemic, while other brewing companies were fighting to stay open and, in some cases, downsizing to keep from folding. At every turn, Macias has made a conscious decision to advance his business in order to meet demand, seeing growth as the sole marker of success. Over the past few months, the fluctuating state of the brewing industry, economy and his personal life have inspired him to rethink the term “success”, to find a meaning more in keeping with his mindset when he started his business back in 2017. The following is what he’s come up with after some serious introspection, and how he plans to align his business to achieve his newfound definition of success.

The future of Rouleur Brewing

by Rawley Macias, owner & Brewmaster, Rouleur Brewing

If your business isn’t growing, it’s dying.

As the founder and CEO of Rouleur Brewing, those words rang true for me with nearly every decision I made; that axiom was one of my guiding principles. It’s the idea that without steady growth, your business loses its driving force, its momentum, its relevance. The idea assumes that without growth, your business will lose customer interest, that employees will become complacent, and that your company’s vitals will flatline.

I opened Rouleur in early 2017 and at the end of this month we just celebrated our six-year anniversary. I launched the company as a solo effort using personal funds, a Small Business Administration loan, and a loan from my in-laws. I had zero investors or partners, and, with my wife’s support, I left a high-paying career in aerospace to “chase my dream”.  At first, I was scared shitless, experiencing short, panicked states of mind and asking myself what the hell I had done. Why did I leave a lucrative job to take a big risk with a wife and two young children to brew beer as a career? But, shortly thereafter, I started to find my stride and rhythm. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but Rouleur started to become a success story in the San Diego beer scene.

In what feels like six very short years, we expanded our original Carlsbad brewing location multiple times, including adding cellar capacity and taking over neighboring business suites. In 2020, we converted our incubator-ish Brewery Igniter suite to a standard lease, purchased the existing equipment from our landlord, and expanded our square-footage again, going from 2,100 square feet to nearly 9,000 square feet. In 2021, we opened a satellite taproom and kitchen in the heart of San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. At the same time, we started experiencing capacity issues in Carlsbad, so in 2022 we secured a deal with Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG) to sublease a second, larger turn-key brewing facility in the North County city of San Marcos. Shortly thereafter, we signed on with Karl Strauss Distribution, and had our draft and canned beer flowing all throughout Southern California. We were able to demonstrate year-over-year double-digit growth, even throughout the pandemic years, all while amassing dozens of awards for our beer including a World Beer Cup medal, three Great American Beer Festival medals, and a best-in-show medal at the San Diego International Beer Competition.

So, up to this point, you might be asking, ‘What’s the problem?’ As I have heard several times before from our customers, friends, and family, all this growth seems like “a good problem to have”. Well, for me, personally, not so much.”

Rawley Macias, Owner & Brewmaster, Rouleur Brewing

Over the recent couple years, and especially in the last 12 or so months, I have slowly come to realize that I am having the least fun that I have had as a business owner. Sure, all this growth looks and sounds good, but it has come at a huge cost to my day-to-day enjoyment, my mental and physical wellbeing, my personal financial stability, my family relationships, and my passion for the craft.

As I sit here, drafting this letter, I am reminded of the times when I had an active hand in brewing our beers. Sure, I still write and formulate our recipes, but the last time I stepped on a brew deck was several months ago. I am reminded of the times when I knew every single one of my employees on a personal level. Now, there are some employees that I only see a couple times a month and know very little about. I am reminded of the times when I knew the establishments my beers were sold at and the neighborhoods they served. Lately, I find my beer in places that feel foreign, in areas of Southern California that I have rarely visited. I am reminded of the times when we sold all our beer organically, through word of mouth and a common bond. Now, we are forced to have marketing budgets to meet our sales goals and penetrate new customer groups. I am reminded of the times when I was able to maintain a stable work-life balance where I could do a quick getaway with my family and friends. Now, I can get away but not without having to come back to 400-plus emails. I am reminded of the times when I was having fun, chomping at the bit to get to work so that I could share my passion with staff and my customers. Now, I’ve come to realize that where we are as a company at present, makes my job a grind, the type of grind I purposely left back in the fast-paced, high-stress aerospace industry.

So, is the adage that “if your business isn’t growing, it’s dying” false? Is growth really what matters? I spent the last couple months really thinking about that. Why was growth so important to us? When we ran out of fermenter space the first time, why did we automatically conclude that we needed more fermenter space? When we ran out of fermenter space the second time, why did we jump at the opportunity to take over a second brewing facility? When our original taproom had a stable flow of loyal customers, why did we search for a second tasting room in a dense, highly competitive area? Why wasn’t maintaining our current size, exercising our existing facility, and serving our current customers satisfying enough?

As they say, “hindsight is 20/20”, and knowing what I know now, the term “growth” as I defined it might have been incorrect. The purpose of a business has many interpretations. Some would say that a business’ purpose is to create value for its stakeholders. Some would say its purpose is to create customers. Others would say its purpose is to make a profit. In my case, I have come to the realization that the purpose of my business is to combine my passions into a product that offers value to other like-minded individuals and that the monies earned by offering that product covers the operating costs of the business and provides for the needs of myself and my employees. It’s that simple. 

In layman terms, if I am able to produce and offer a product that I am passionate about and provide for the needs of the business, my staff, and myself, then that is enough. Why do I need a dollar more? Maybe the growth I should have been focusing on all along was the growth in the quality of my life and my staff. And for me, quality of life is not proportional to the size of my bank account; I proved that when I left my high-paying engineering career.

As you have probably figured out by now, I am about to make some significant changes here at Rouleur. Some of the changes might come as a big surprise, however, I can assure you that they were all made after careful thought and consideration. The future is bright for Rouleur and I am excited to lead it through the next phase of its life. Forever ONWARD and UPWARD.

Brew Session for Miguel loza Brown

The following are questions posed by San Diego Beer News Executive Editor Brandon Hernández with Macias’ responses…

What are some near-term changes you’ll be making and why?

Our goal is to return to a production format that allows us to be innovative, efficient, and passionate about every drop of beer we brew, all while ensuring that we are economically stable during this uncertain time in our industry. To achieve this goal, we have decided to proceed on two major steps, 1) return to self-distribution, and 2) pull out of our second brewing location at Draft Republic.

We joined Karl Strauss Distribution one year ago and they have been incredibly great to work with. As mentioned above, we simply want to return to a level where we have a more personal relationship with the people who drink our beer. With increased sales volumes comes increased marketing requirements, increased staffing levels, a commitment to a core-beer offering, and increased production facilities. Before you know it, you’re operating a relatively large organization with increased exposure, risk, and opportunity for inefficiencies. By returning to self-distribution, we will be able to brew the beers we are passionate about and offer them to the customer groups who we know will appreciate them, all while being ultra-efficient and nimble.

For the same reasons listed above, pulling out of the second brewing facility was an economic requirement for us. CRG are top notch, and we truly appreciate the opportunity to work with their organization. We were honored and excited when they approached us to occupy and operate their brewing facility in San Marcos. At the time, our growth strategy required quick and significant increases in capacity. Our new direction as a brewery no longer requires two brewing facilities and we plan to consolidate back to brewing 100% of our beer in Carlsbad and expanding the facility as necessary. In the near term, our goal is to help CRG find a new tenant who can occupy the space and take advantage of the opportunity.

What does the future hold for Rouleur’s North Park tasting room?

While deriving the proactive changes mentioned above, we took the opportunity to assess all aspects and cost centers of our business. Unfortunately, we have decided to voluntarily cease operations at our North Park location near the end of April. This was, by far, the most challenging decision I have had to make as a business owner because it affects my employees directly. When it came down to it, the performance of our North Park taproom and kitchen did not give us confidence that it was wise to keep it going in the current financial climate. We opened that location in September 2021, and to-date it has yet to be consistently profitable from month-to-month, despite lean staffing and pointed marketing efforts.

As a business owner, you need to constantly reassess and, for us, this location simply did not work out the way we envisioned it to. Once North Park is closed, we plan to search for a new proprietor who will be able to launch a concept that suits North Park’s needs. I must make it clear that I am incredibly proud of the team who helped build and operate our North Park location and the things we accomplished together. Fortunately, it appears that we will be able to absorb some of the staff in new roles in Carlsbad. We appreciated our time in North Park and wish the surrounding businesses the best of luck.

How will your role change and what will you be able to do that you’re not doing now?

The purpose of all these changes is two-fold: 1) to return our company to one that is driven off our passion for the craft, and 2) prepare us for what I think is going to be a few difficult years in the food-and-beverage industry. Once these changes are implemented, I am confident that my staff and I will have more time, resources, and latitude to partake in doing what we love: brewing beers that we are passionate about when we want and how we want. If you cruise by the Carlsbad brewery in the future, you’ll probably see me on the brew deck with my brewing staff creating something new! You might even find me carving out more time to ride my bike along the local gravel trails or enjoying the Safari Park with my family.

Should Rouleur fans be worried about the company’s future?

Absolutely not. Rouleur is a healthy organization with a strong reputation. The changes mentioned above are a result of doing what any well-run organization should be doing, taking time to step back, examine what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it, then making changes and corrections based on that analysis. I encourage every business owner out there to revisit their business plan often and remember that it is a living document. I am confident in saying that Rouleur has a bright future and these changes will allow us to serve our most loyal customers with even more quality, creativity, and passion.

Where do you envision for the craft-brewing landscape in the coming months and years?

I don’t consider myself a pessimistic person. In fact, I am quite the opposite, finding optimism in most things. However, being optimistic does not mean I am oblivious to what’s going on around me. There is no denying that the food-and-beverage industry has undergone–and continues to undergo–major shifts in performance. Whether they’re related to the trickle-down from COVID, supply chain issues, inflation, or the shift in beer’s popularity, it is evident that the patterns of the drinker have changed. Like I said, I consider myself to be an optimistic person, however, in this case, I don’t see things improving for two-to-three years. I do think too many business owners are either blind as to what’s taking place around them or are aware, but are hoping for things to change. Remember, hope is not a business plan. For Rouleur, it’s time to batten down the hatches and reduce our exposure in this tumultuous climate, all while refocusing our efforts to grow our quality of life and return to a company driven off of passion, heart, quality, and community.

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