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Brendan and Bailey O’Leary of True Respite: “Keep your customers informed”

Keep your customers informed. People like to be kept in the know. This is a huge part of our retail experience with the logistics functions for home deliveries. Customers can track the driver’s location in real time, and they’re notified when they’re the next stop on the delivery list. By keeping them up to date […]

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Keep your customers informed. People like to be kept in the know. This is a huge part of our retail experience with the logistics functions for home deliveries. Customers can track the driver’s location in real time, and they’re notified when they’re the next stop on the delivery list. By keeping them up to date on the status of their order every step of the way, we keep our customers happy.

Make their life easier. One thing a good retail experience should be is easy. Make content easy to browse or search. Remove the barriers that could stop a customer from completing their purchase. By minimizing friction in the retail experience, you’ll not only make customers happy, but also increase your sales.


As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bailey and Brendan O’Leary are the cofounders of True Respite Brewery. Graduates of Georgia Tech, they have been home brewing as early as 2008. They are the proud parents of two children.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

The idea for True Respite was born in early 2008 in a small home outside Richmond, VA. I [Co-Founder Brendan O’Leary] was a chemical engineering student at Georgia Tech and had taken a Co-Op position with Honeywell. The position paid a decent hourly wage and I no longer had tests nor homework for the semester. Given that I didn’t know a soul in the area, I decided to take a little of my excess earnings and invest it in a homebrew kit. I almost immediately fell in love with the marriage of art & science in brewing beer. I decided then that I’d use my chemical engineering degree to someday open my own brewery.

In late 2009, I started dating [my now wife] Bailey, an environmental engineering student at Georgia Tech. By early 2011, we’d started homebrewing and visiting breweries together. For her, it was less about the art or science of brewing and more about the community surrounding it. She fell in love with the craft beer community and agreed it would be fantastic to be a part of it. But how? When?

In April 2014, we agreed to start working on a business plan for a new brewery. We still weren’t sure what the final push would be to get us to leave our lucrative careers in engineering, but we knew we’d be ready when the moment came. When I was laid off from my job due to plummeting oil prices in January 2016, we took that as the sign that it was time. We sold our home in Denver, CO, and moved across the country to live with my parents near Chantilly, VA, while we finalized fundraising and design for the brewery.

We broke ground on True Respite’s Rockville, MD, brewery in December 2017 and officially opened for business in April 2018. After driving almost two solid years of steady growth and doing a ton of learning about the industry, the unthinkable happened: a global pandemic that shut down our business in March 2020. It’s a good thing we were prepared.

When Bailey and I opened the brewery, Brian O’Connor, my childhood best friend and college roommate, began pushing for some sort of home delivery option. Of course, that model was illegal at the time, and we had no intention of breaking the law and risking our license. However, as the pandemic flared up across the world (and most notably in Italy), an image of the early days of the American pandemic “curve” compared with the early days of Italy’s curve began to be spread on social media. We immediately recognized that we were looking into the future by watching the shutdowns in Italy. We had to be prepared to battle the same circumstances here in the States.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, we gave Brian the go-ahead to start building a home delivery platform. The following Sunday, the platform was ready to start accepting orders.

At 11am on Monday, March 16, 2020, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a press conference announcing the shutdown of bars and restaurants effective at 5pm that day. Because of our forethought and Brian’s hard work, on the very same day at noon, we announced that pickup and delivery orders could be placed on biermi.com. Then, we posted about the launch of biermi on the True Respite Facebook page and word spread organically, reaching almost 10x more people than our normal posts. Before we knew it, the orders started rolling in.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When we announced that biermi was accepting orders for True Respite delivery, we also encouraged other craft breweries to join the platform, most notably by posting to a Facebook group of craft beer professionals. Nearly 200 breweries requested to join over the next few days. We hadn’t had time to build out registration for new breweries and everything that comes with creating a new account. We didn’t even have a way to reset anyone’s password. For the first week, it was a battle of onboarding new breweries by manually creating their content in our database and trying to build out the registration so folks could do that on their own.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

The story of biermi is a semi-related chain of events that started with meeting Brian at 6 years old. From there, there are countless people who directly and indirectly had a hand in helping us reach where we are. Simply put, we’d be nothing and nobody without the help we’ve received along the way. But there is one exemplary instance that stands out and really defined our approach to creating and launching the platform:

Tony Prebula is the Founder and Brewer at Saints Row Brewing Co. They’re about a mile and a half down the street from us at True Respite. In the lead up to True Respite’s grand opening, Tony did the unthinkable: he brewed a collaboration beer with us and invited us behind his own bar to help serve it and spread the word of our opening. This would be unheard of in any other industry, but the communal bonds that tie the brewing industry together let selfless acts like this become the norm. I’ve always been blown away by this act of generosity and as we were developing biermi, it stuck with me. I felt we had a debt of gratitude to the industry and that here was our opportunity to return the favor. So we did. We created biermi and opened it up for free to all breweries across the country during the first six months of the pandemic. We’re incredibly proud and humbled to have made such a difference for so many breweries at such a treacherous time.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There’s a book called “Hit Makers” by Derek Thompson. It lays out why things become popular throughout populations and uses examples throughout history. It’s incredibly insightful in how information spreads, but it’s particularly helpful in proposing the concept of MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.

In a nutshell, MAYA means people are most interested and excited by something familiar with a new twist. If you try something too established, it’s uninteresting. If you push the boundaries too far, people are confused by it and ignore it or reject it. The trick is to create something that is built on a foundation of familiarity, but has enough of something new to make it exciting and interesting.

At True Respite, we approach beer with MAYA in mind and we did the same when developing biermi. The concept of an online platform for simply selling beer isn’t new. However, providing options for home delivery, contactless curbside pickup, contactless dine-in order, managing memberships (like mug clubs and VIP programs) and offering the ability for customers to subscribe to regular releases or shipments really pushed the envelope. It engages the customer and gives them options to experience and consume the brand exactly how they’re comfortable.

The most interesting and exciting thing about biermi is the logistics functions for home deliveries. Customers are notified of driver locations in real time. They’re also notified when they’re next up on the delivery list, and their driver can create an optimized driving route and get turn-by-turn navigation instructions the whole way through. For alcohol sales in the past year, this level of ease and the very concept of home delivery for beer is brand new. When considering the prior existence of delivery apps like Uber Eats and GrubHub, applying these concepts to beer and developing something that specifically addresses the complex laws and regulations surrounding alcohol makes biermi a MAYA platform. That’s a large part of what led to our early success.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Two things make biermi stand out:

  1. biermi is the only home delivery app built by breweries for breweries. Bailey and I have used our experience in the craft beer industry to guide the design of the platform to efficiently manage strange and varied regulations across state and county lines, as well as to best manage the unique flow of information as beer is brewed, listed, ordered and fulfilled.
  2. Brian takes feature requests from customers and develops them on the fly. For example, the ability to print shipping labels from within the app was requested. Brian built that feature in an evening. We’ve had requests to create promo codes. Built. We’ve had requests to add photo capture for IDs. Done.

We haven’t found this level of customer service present in any other widely adopted app — period. If you want it, we can build it, and we haven’t charged a dime for the privilege. If the feature request clearly has value and may be useful to a healthy chunk of our customers, it gets added to the development list and included in future releases. Our customer-driven approach to development has led to some really great feature inclusions in the platform.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Most importantly: Invest the time up front to automate what can be automated.

Also: Delegate, accept help and let your tools do the work.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

It’s simple: give customers what they want, where they want it.

The development of biermi was born of necessity. While tap rooms and bars were shut down, the established means of selling beer were over and done with and customers needed a new way to safely get what they wanted. We created a safe process for completing home deliveries and curbside pickup before anyone else did. We shared it with the world and it took off like wildfire.

True Respite was selling the same beer it always had. The major difference this time was that we were able to offer it where our customers wanted it: on their doorstep or safely in their open trunk in the parking lot.

Other lessons include ensuring that you’re selling a product whose demand doesn’t swing widely in a recession nor a bull market. Lululemon sells workout apparel. It’s easier to find time to work out when you’re at home working on a flexible schedule all day. Kroger sells food, and grocery employees were lauded as heroes for working through the pandemic. The need for food will never dwindle, and when disaster strikes, people stock up even more. Costco is largely the same and its unit prices are even better if you can afford to buy in bulk. Plus, buying in bulk means fewer trips into the public during a pandemic.

Each of them thrived because their products aren’t at risk of becoming excess or unnecessary in a crisis. They found safe and acceptable ways to sell their products during a pandemic and earned public trust.

Beer is the same way. When things get bad, people cope with beer. It’s viewed as an affordable luxury — a simple way to support local and indulge in something safely without breaking the bank. biermi just enhanced the ability for folks to indulge even more safely. We deliver what they want, where they want it.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Remember the human — people don’t just make choices based on pricing. They want customer service. Accountability. Reliability. Being engaged with your customers, listening to their needs and adapting your service to provide what they’re asking for is going to keep you in business. As we’ve mentioned before, it is our job to give our customers what they want, where they want it.

Use the fact that you’re small and adaptable to your advantage. Being keyed in with your customers is critical for earning and keeping trust.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Particularly in our space, there seems to be a lack of forethought — especially when it comes to scale. We’ve handled beer releases that have done well over 100,000 dollars in two hours, including peak rates at release that we never thought we’d encounter. Yet, we were ready. Brian has baked scalability and stability at scale into the platform since the beginning. You can’t shoot too high in who your potential customers may be and the sort of demand they may drive. In the end, the fastest way to sink an online retail business is to be unable to meet the demand of your customers (or in our case, your customers’ customers).

This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?

People may not remember what you said or did, but they remember how you made them feel. Customer loyalty isn’t just a function of price and quality. There’s an intangible experience element that can make paying a little extra completely worth it if you’ve done it right. In a world where Amazon and Uber are your competition, that’s critical.

Here’s the great part about that: If you’re willing to listen, your customers will tell you what they want. Staying connected and being responsive to their requests builds trust and loyalty while allowing you to curate the experience they’re seeking.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

A short-sighted view of the bottom line is way too often the culprit. Making changes and offering great customer service can take up valuable resources or labor hours. When you’re staring at a Profit & Loss statement, it’s easy to start slashing dollars off of intangible expenses. Again, this is why it’s critical to stay connected and keep an open line of communication with your customers. They’ll tell you what they want if you let them. Giving your customers what they want, how they want it is the best way to become successful.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

We’ve received numerous emails from customers who have told us that biermi saved their brewery. There is no more humbling a message to receive than that. There has also been a slew of other breweries that have thanked us for saving (or often) creating jobs. The impact we’ve been able to achieve on local businesses has been incredible and is something of which we are all proud.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

We didn’t charge a dime for use of the platform for the first 6 months of the pandemic. Brian was paying all of the bills to keep operations alive on his own personal credit card. We had no revenue. Expenses were piling up as more and more consumers across the country signed up and started using the site. However, our core mission from the beginning was to give back and do all we could to save our peers because we had the right tool for the job, and we felt we had a debt of gratitude to our neighbors.

After such a prolonged act of goodwill, our customers had generally stabilized their businesses and we felt comfortable charging a modest fee for use of the platform. There was negligible loss of customers as the fee model came online. We’d built the relationships and earned the trust of our customers. (And now Brian doesn’t have to put server bills on his personal Visa!)

A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?

Offer the products or services your customers want.

Offer them in the manner your customers want them offered.

Organize them in a way your customers can easily browse or search.

Offer a price that’s reasonable.

Offer attentive and personalized interactions with the staff or brand.

Minimize the barriers to completing the purchase and receiving the products/services.

If you can successfully accomplish these goals, your customers will end their interaction with your brand feeling like they got what they came for and WOW was that easy! They will leave with an enjoyable, memorable experience worth revisiting.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

Keep your customers informed. People like to be kept in the know. This is a huge part of our retail experience with the logistics functions for home deliveries. Customers can track the driver’s location in real time, and they’re notified when they’re the next stop on the delivery list. By keeping them up to date on the status of their order every step of the way, we keep our customers happy.

Push the envelope. The pandemic pushed us to create the platform and offer home delivery, but we pushed ourselves beyond this. In addition to home delivery, biermi offers users the option of contactless

curbside pickup. We also allow customers to subscribe to regular releases or to manage membership options for VIP clubs and programs, as well as shipments. By expanding our offerings, we’ve effectively pushed the envelope and created an experience that gives customers more choices.

Automate. With biermi, we embraced automation, which effectively took a lot of tedious work off our plates. We were able use this newfound time to focus on delivering new features customers wanted to see and unparalleled customer service.

Be ready to scale. Sometimes things catch on more than you’d expected or even imagined (trust us), and you don’t want to be caught flat footed. Always be able to ramp up to meet demand. The ability to scale will help you to keep your customers satisfied.

Make their life easier. One thing a good retail experience should be is easy. Make content easy to browse or search. Remove the barriers that could stop a customer from completing their purchase. By minimizing friction in the retail experience, you’ll not only make customers happy, but also increase your sales.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can check out biermi at our website, biermi.com, and also keep up with us on social media at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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