Unraveling Threadless' Synergy with Finch's Beer

The word "synergy" seems largely relegated to punchlines from Dilbert comics, but it's actually a pretty nifty thing. Historically, it's brought us peanut butter and chocolate, and now it's bringing Chicago a surprising new Threadless India Pale Ale. Given that pale ales don't exactly come to mind when thinking of crowd-sourced T-shirts, I was curious to learn more about how this partnership happened, so I gave Benjamin Finch, owner and managing member of Finch's Beer's a call. He also touched on ways other small or new businesses -- Finch's has only been around since 2009 -- can learn from his example in approaching other companies for some sweet, sweet synergy action.

So how did the Threadless beer come about?

Benjamin Finch: My other business is the Killswitch Collective, which is a creative branding agency here in the city. One of my colleagues is Tom Ryan, who is the CEO from Threadless, so I kinda knew him from my previous life. He and I sorta stayed in touch and basically approached me about doing beer. The conversation was more, at first, as a friend. They were actually thinking about brewing a Threadless beer onsite. This was probably about a year ago. I told him, "I've got this brewery I'm building, why don't I brew it for you? It can be a one-and-done-type deal. You guys can use it for private events. You can't sell it for market, but you can buy it through our distributor. Whatever you don't buy, will go to market." That was early on.

A couple more months went by and we decided that, hey, why not brand it Threadless? There's been no official press release from them, but I think they all decided it could be a positive opportunity for their brand. "Why don't we actually keep doing it. You guys can do it as your house IPA, and we'll co-brand it and stuff." They didn't even really ask about a co-brand, they were more about getting the beer made regularly so they could always have an option.

We make the beer, they pull kegs, and they get first dibs on the kegs. The difference goes out to bars and restaurants. The new development is we're turning it into a regular beer we'll be brewing once a month and it's going to have its own handle as well. It'll have a handle by August that's branded with Threadless and Finch. It'll be a handle that's similar to our others, with a different bird, our IPA bird. We're actually calling it the Threadless IPA, so that's kinda the whole story. We're planning on getting it into a can, and when it's in a can, the portability for both brands is of course huge. They can sell shirts with cans and so on and so forth.

Obviously you had a leg up on this if you already knew Tom Ryan, but what advice would you guys give entrepreneurs or small businesses thinking of approaching other brands for co-branding or synergy like you've had?

BF: The biggest piece of advice is that you have to do your homework if it's a targeted approach. I've been very fortunate because I've been able to use my contacts in the industry. Same thing with Groupon, we've been sponsoring their events because we had those relationships. I've also talked to other people, and when I've needed an intro, the biggest thing is always do your research on the organization and their history of past collaborations. Really I view this as a collaboration with Threadless. I don't think one brand is more important than another here. It's really like brewery-to-brewery, only it's brewery-to-brand. People need to make sure they research their targets and approach them with an idea they think they'll buy into.

The initial conversation with Threadless was natural and organic because we knew each other, but there still was that convincing that it was something we could deliver and something they'd actually want. Clearly with Threadless they're a huge brand and we're a small one no one's heard about. When you have that sort of dichotomy, there has to be that understanding that people know one brand and not the other. The smaller brand has to understand they have something to prove, if you will.

With co-branding, do you have to check in with each other on every move you make? Or is there any independence in that regard?

BF: There's a lot of independence. The only thing they've asked we use their logo on the handle. It's their beer. We're not going to use it for anybody else. We're still brewing it but don't have anything as far as legal goes to say it's their beer or our beer. It's a mutual understanding that it's a partnership and we advertise it the way we want to advertise it. I think it works well because it's known as Finch's Brews but it's also the Threadless IPA. We have an opportunity to be the makers of it and they have the opportunity to be the name of the beer.

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