I'll Have a Beer – and a T-Shirt
Rhinegeist brews and screen prints onsite.
The fast-growing craft beer industry has led to small, startup breweries gaining a cult-like following. Naturally, those devoted beer groupies need T-shirts and other merch to showcase their love of their favorite brew. Rhinegeist, a five-year-old brewery and taproom that’s become a popular destination in downtown Cincinnati’s rejuvenated Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, delivers dozens of styles of their beer primarily around the Midwest – but they’ve shipped their T-shirts to every state in the country, plus international locales.
To keep up with the demand for merchandise – and have greater control over inventory – the brewery opened its own in-house screen printing shop in 2016. The small shop is tucked out of customers’ view in a corner of the massive taproom space (which also includes a retail shop, bar, counter-service restaurant – orders shoot up from the kitchen of a restaurant on the building’s first floor via pneumatic tube – ping pong, cornhole, private event space, and even a full-size dinosaur skeleton on loan from the Cincinnati Museum Center).
Although they were initially looking to hire a merchandise manager, Tracey Ireland, Rhinegeist brand manager, says the plan changed when they met Nick Elbisser, who instead became apparel production manager. Elbisser’s enthusiasm, plus his decade of experience running his own screen printing business, led to some number crunching and the decision to make the leap into producing their own items, with Elbisser at the helm. “Apparel is a big part of our business strategy,” Ireland says. “We had a desire to be more nimble in terms of the creative process, instead of working with multiple vendors.”
Elbisser and two other staffers print all of Rhinegeist’s merchandise for staff, distributors, and consumer sales on a single manual press in two or three shifts a day. Elbisser adds: “I’m sore every day.” Only athletic wear and embroidered items are outsourced. All designs are created in-house as well. They design, print, warehouse, and retail – all under one roof (to mention nothing of the huge brewing, bottling/kegging, and distribution facility on the lower floors of the building).
“We can test a design and if we don’t like, we can adjust it,” Elbisser says. “We don’t have to wait for a sample and pay a ton for it.”
Producing apparel in-house affords the Rhinegeist staff the ability to adjust what they are printing based on the day of the week. If a tour group is coming in or the weekend is approaching, they can ramp up production of their most popular designs and sizes, Elbisser says. “We would run out of sizes before [when we outsourced]. Now, we are more efficient with managing our inventory,” he adds.
Read more from the October/November 2018 issue.