The Definitive Guide to Business

Owner of America's No. 1 small business says this is what it takes to succeed

Garrett Marrero, co-founder of Maui Brewing Company
Photo by Edward Smith, courtesy Maui Brewing Co.

The last week has been pretty incredible for the Maui Brewing Company.

The U.S. Small Business Administration named co-founders Garrett Marrero and Melanie Oxley the National Small Business Persons of the Year. Online media brand Thillist named Maui Brewing Company the best craft brewery in the state. Two of its brews were recognized in the Los Angeles International Beer Competition and four of its brews got medals at the San Diego International Beer Festival.

The recent accolades feel great, according to co-founder Garrett Marrero, 38. But what people don't understand, he says, is how much work went into achieving that success.

If you are not ready to give it 110 percent every day, day in, day out, then running a business isn't for you.
Garrett Marrero
co-founder of the Maui Brewing Company

"I have had the comment, 'Oh, it must be nice,' sometimes. And I hear that, from someone and I am like, 'You know what, yeah, it is nice. We have a nice home, it's great to run a company like we do and to work with the people we do but the sacrifice that we put in? It meant no vacation, it meant being broke," says Marrero.

"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. And it's much easier to be on the other side of the fence pointing back at a successful business saying, 'Oh yeah, that would have been so nice, I wish I would have done something like that.'"

After college, Marrero lived in San Francisco and worked in finance. His vacations to Hawaii convinced him he had to live there. He moved in 2004 and, with his then-girlfriend and now-wife and business partner, Melanie Oxley, he launched the Maui Brewing Company, first as a small brew-pub, in 2005.

A few years later, they expanded to retail sales.

By 2013, the Maui Brewing Company hit $10 million in sales. In 2016, it did between $12 and $16 million in revenue (Marrero declined to be more specific) and this year, it expects to do $20 million in sales. Currently, it has almost 400 employees. By the end of 2018 or early 2019, it plans to have opened additional restaurants and be employing 700 people.

Maui Brewing Company's success was buoyed by the rise in popularity of craft beer in the time since it opened, says Marrero. In 2005, there were 991 brew-pubs, 354 microbreweries, and 49 regional breweries, according to the Brewers Association, an industry organization. In 2016, there were 1,916 brew-pubs, 3,132 microbreweries and 49 regional breweries.

Building Maui Brewing Company required serious commitment from all of its employees.

"I don't think there is a single person who works with us who hasn't made a sacrifice at some point to contribute to the success of our company, whether that be [someone was] supposed to go out on a date but has to cover someone's shift because the work has got to get done," says Marrero.

"Or it's my wife and I, not taking a vacation for the first six years of this operation and nearly costing us our marriage a couple times. It's the sacrifices you make. And if you are not willing to do that, you are not going to be a successful small business owner."

When Maui Brewing Company sold some of its old production space to two couples getting ready to launch a start-up craft brewery on island, Marrero let them know what they were in for.

"I was very clear, I said, 'This is going to be the hardest work you have ever done,'" he says.

"'You are going to cry, you are going to bleed, you are certainly going to sweat here. Just be prepared, this is not going to be easy. You look at what we have today, that's not the way it was five, six, seven, 10 years ago. If you are not ready to give it 110 percent every day, day in, day out, then running a business isn't for you.'"

In addition to putting everything you have into a business, Marrero says, you have to be convinced that you can accomplish your goals. When Oxley saw their beer on a shelf halfway across the world in Brooklyn, N.Y., she commented, "Did you ever think we would see our beer this far away on a store shelf?" Marrero's response: "Yeah, kind of!"

"If you don't set out with the vision of being successful, you are going to fail," says Marrero. "We were not willing to quit. The vision had to be focused like a laser in order to really get to where we are."

Still, Marrero says running a business is also extraordinarily rewarding. "Once you cross that bridge and you achieve a level of comfort again, it is a pretty grand feeling. And it helps you to drive that feeling forward even more and gives you that strength you need to keep moving."

Was it worth it? "Absolutely. I love my life. I love my job."

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