As the Public Relations Manager at Nav, I have the privilege of reviewing each of the applications that are submitted for our company’s Small Business Grant. In all honesty, it’s the best and worst part of my job all rolled into one. The week of reviewing applications is truly an emotional rollercoaster for me as I work with the team to narrow down the applicant pool to only a handful of finalists.
The minute I read Maggie and Jaron Clayton’s application for the Nav Small Business Grant, I knew they were going to be one of our Grant winners. Their application encompassed everything that our team looks for in a winner – a clear business challenge, authenticity, personality, passion for business and most importantly, a plan.
Opened in October 2017, in St. Helens, Ore., Running Dogs Brewery isn’t your average brewery – it’s a community-centric event space where folks of all ages, and man’s best friend, gather to enjoy one another’s company. The brewery offers a delicious menu of pub food, endless options for board games, live music and a variety of community-focused activities including emergency preparedness clinics, live music, charity events, yoga, trivia and more.
After deciding Running Dogs Brewery was the winner, I flew up to Oregon to surprise the couple with the good news, awarding them with the $10,000 check from Nav.
The brewery and atmosphere were exactly how The Claytons described it in their application, making me feel instantly at home the moment I walked in.
Late afternoon on a Friday, the place was already packed with regulars, including the former mayor of St. Helens, and dogs of all shapes and sizes had claimed spots on the patio.
Inside, patrons were enjoying food, playing board games and of course, enjoying the beer.
One of the most prominent features you’ll notice about the brewery is a large mural running down one entire side of the wall. This mural was part of the property when Maggie and Jaron started leasing the location. Hating to paint over it, they invited the local artist back to incorporate portraits of dogs into the scene, allowing it to connect better with their business and creating a seek and find for guests.
For The Claytons, it’s just as important that the community support their business, as it is that they support other local businesses.
Of course, when you’re at a brewery, you have to taste what’s on tap. And, I’m pleased to report that the brews are as delicious and the patrons are friendly at Running Dogs Brewery. My favorite? Jaron & the Giant Peach. A highly-recommended customer favorite? Chanterelle Mushroom Pale Ale.
Due to a lack of space in their current location, Jaron brews all of the beer in the couple’s converted garage and grows hops in the backyard alongside his extra keg storage. Chester and Annie, the Clayton’s two dogs, are part of the inspiration for the brewery’s name — Chester is the bigger dog in the company’s logo.
Over a pint (or two), I had the opportunity to ask Maggie & Jaron more about their business and Nav’s Grant. Here’s what they had to say.
We love sharing our craft in making beer and wanted to create a place where community could call home and join us for events, educational seminars, or just to meet for friendly conversation.
What’s the biggest challenge your business is currently facing?
If it’s possible to have “good” challenges, we’ve certainly got them! Running Dogs Brewery has been such a hit with our town and grown so quickly that we’ve already outgrown our space – both the brewery itself and our pub. In conjunction with that, we have a serious issue with keeping up with product demand.
How will you use the $10,000 from Nav?
Next month we will be expanding our footprint – leasing out the space next door and combining the two to make more room for guests and events. The $10,000 will be used to renovate and outfit the new space.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were first starting out?
When we started Running Dogs Brewery, it was just the two of us handling every single aspect of the business with help from volunteers. By relying only on ourselves, we were able to fine tune operations and build our exact vision for the business and product prior to hiring and training employees.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting the company?
We actually made two big mistakes. First, we didn’t invest in the right size brewing equipment – we went with the smaller option which was a safe bet, but we didn’t allow room to scale as our business grew. Secondly, we opted to buy low- quality items, thinking we’d be saving money, rather than the more expensive, longer-lasting products.
Any advice for other entrepreneurs?
Yes – whatever you do, don’t cut corners on equipment purchase. When you get lower quality, you end up paying double in the end because you’ll need to replace or fix the thing all the time. And, let’s be honest – as business owners, we don’t need that headache.
Additionally, don’t rely on others to create the business or product that you want until you have created it yourself and are comfortable with the results. Having personal validation of seeing the end product before you put it into someone else’s hands will let you sleep better at night and focus on other things that need your attention.
What’s next for your business?
In June we’ll be cutting the ribbon on our new, expanded space. After that we’ll be focusing on upgrading our brewery equipment to continue meeting the demand for our beer. Eventually, we hope to bottle our beer and be able to distribute it.
Surprising Jaron & Maggie with Nav’s $10,000 Small Business Grant was a moment I’ll never forget, and the entire Nav team looks forward to seeing the expanded space this summer.
In the last year, Nav has given out more than $50,000 to small business owners who have applied for the company’s Small Business Grant.
Think you could be our next winner? We’ll be launching the next round soon, so be on the check the Grant page for more details. I look forward to reviewing your application!