By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewing craft beer is an art. Running a successful craft brewery is a balance of inputs and outputs. It’s the result of careful thought and planning, addressing each component of the business in the most efficient way possible. It’s undoubtedly a lot of work but one Oregon company has developed software that streamlines these processes, making it easier for craft breweries to focus on the part that we all love the most — the beer.
Beaverton-based Orchestra Software was started by Brad Windecker in 2008 to provide enterprise resource planning (ERP) software specifically for the craft beer industry. At the time, there were plenty of resources relating to brewing technology but nothing that addressed the business side of the equation — at least to the degree he intended. That intention was to provide true ERP, a comprehensive solution to run a business that would replace the various disparate tools and bootstrap solutions (i.e. QuickBooks, Peachtree, spreadsheets). Other companies were providing piecemeal offerings at a lower cost, but Brad aimed to offer a comprehensive package that was even more affordable as well as less complex — making it more approachable to craft breweries.
Identifying a need in the market is one thing and having the ability and know-how to implement a solution to address that need is another. So what put Brad in a position to go from idea to implementation? Growing up around a family business, Brad had always intended to be an entrepreneur and supported that plan by earning a business degree at San Francisco State University. Deciding not to take over the reins of the family business, it was somewhat of lucky chance that brought him into the craft beer fold. During his last year of college his girlfriend (and now wife) took him on a trip to Portland to attend the Oregon Brewers Festival. He was already enamored with craft beer, which could have landed him in a number of places, but during their visit he also fell in love with the city. From there, a path that combined his business background with a passion was forged.
The software Orchestra has created is similar to the kind that large enterprises utilize, but it has been brought down to an affordable level for small breweries or what Brad calls “democratizing technology.” It integrates purchasing and receiving, sales and shipments, production and packaging, quality control and inventory tracking while offering automated accounting and full reporting along with interfaces to third party systems.
Sound like a lot? It is, but it’s all part of what running the business side of a brewery entails. By addressing and successfully managing those things, businesses that utilize this software will not only run more efficiently, but will also have an advantage over those that are wasting time and resources on those same processes. By reducing the pressure of administrative tasks and allowing the focus to be placed on producing and selling product, Brad feels the industry as a whole is improving.
Starting with their early customers — Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Mississippi was the first, followed by Missouri’s Schlafly Beer and Firestone Walker Brewing Company in California — Brad says that, “word of mouth has been the biggest engine of growth since the beginning.” Brad sees an extension of that craft beer camaraderie in their Community Forum, an online resource where customers can ask for or offer help. It has not been uncommon for breweries that first connected in the Forum to go a step further and actually meet in person.
In addition to the always-available Community Forum, Orchestra offers an annual Orchestrate User Conference, yet another way to help their customers to get the most out of their software. At Orchestrate 2017: Level Up (Nov. 15-17), they are expecting 500 attendees who are there for the education and the networking.
Orchestra has come a long way since their inception and counts many Oregon breweries, including Buoy Beer Company, Cascade Brewing and Full Sail Brewery as customers. Their 40 percent year-over-year growth and 96 percent employee retention rate would make them highly attractive to many buyers, however, Brad isn’t interested in selling. He’s far more interested in continuing to grow and improve, changing craft beer on a global scale by expanding through the beer value chain. It may seem like a tall order, but based on how far they’ve already come it’s simply a matter of time before Orchestra is able to provide more avenues to help craft breweries run as efficiently as possible.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.