It may be a surprise to some people that Garage Project employs sales staff but, indeed, it does. Hannah White is their sales representative across the South Island and Wellington region. She moved into the role from a job at the cellar door.
Hannah visits supermarkets and bottle shops, and restaurants and bars around the regions. But, she’s probably familiar to most from all the events she coordinates and runs. Recently, there’s been the Milk Bar at Ma Masion in Akaroa and Pomeroy’s in Christchurch. And, there’s always something new and fun in the pipeline…(keep your eye out on their events page on BookFace).
Her job takes Hannah out of her home base in Wellington on a regular basis. The travel can be hard work but it is balanced by her love of meeting and knowing people across the regions. Hannah comments that she’s got mates everywhere now. Work gives her the opportunity to catch up with them and to see the country. If she’s somewhere new, she can take advantage of it and see the sites.
Although Hannah does miss the comfort of home, and will often get back to Wellington and take time to relax on the couch like the best of us, it seems she has had slightly itchy feet for a while! She spent time in South East Asia and Australia before moving to New Zealand, and then spent a year and a half on the South Island before moving to Wellington.
When she first arrived, Hannah volunteered in the community gardens in Christchurch; helping re-building both the community and the gardens after the quakes. She comments that, “they probably didn’t really need backpackers in the city” when she arrived but, she definitely wasn’t there to gawk. She was there to help. There’s a streak of community service running through Hannah’s work and volunteer experiences. And, there’s a love of gardening. Our conversation strays into permaculture here and there. She’s looking for a new flat with room to put in a vege patch (although I have suggested she take over mine more than once)!
Hannah came to New Zealand and into our beer scene via the highlands in Scotland and Glasgow. She spent her early working years running music venues. It was, “quite rock and roll” but she comments that, “eventually I needed a break”. That came via a move into the disability sector, supporting people with learning disabilities in gaining education and skills. To top up her income – it seems that disability support is under-valued everywhere - she also had a part time job at a German beer hall.
Hannah, like so many of us, fell in love with beer by drinking Weihenstephaner fresh off tap and sampling all the European styles the bar had available – Belgian beers were a key feature. This is when, as she describes it, she developed “a taste for the delicious”! These days, some of her favourites include the 8 Wired Cucumber Hippy Berliner and Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale. Maybe it’s her Scottish heritage, but Hannah comments that she likes a malty drop.
Hannah got her first job, selling “the delicious” for Garage Project, when she was still managing Aro Café, just next door to the brewery. The lads – Pete, Jos and Ian – would come in for coffee (long blacks, if you’re interested). They had good banter and eventually roped Hannah into helping them out. She worked Beervana and at the cellar door from time to time. And then, when she quit her job at the café to take a trip home to Scotland, she returned to work for them full-time. This was the time where she really “fell in love with the scene”. She’s got gorgeous stories of locals coming in to play guitar and serenade her in the evenings while she was busy with after work, cellar door sales.
The move from cellar door into her sales rep role came about when Hannah noticed an ever-increasing number of restaurant and bar managers from Wellington coming in, asking what was new. Garage was going through massive growth, and everyone was looking to get them on tap or in (at the time) the bottle. That was five or so years ago. She identified a need to establish some sales support for the small brewery and cellar door team – there was only about seven of them at the time. They were all crazy busy (and remain so even though there’s a staff of around 70 these days).
Wellington restaurant and bar sales might have been easy then – with all the walk ups - but the supermarket and bottle shop sales were, and remain, a challenge. Hannah reflects on how little space there is for beer on the shelves (especially chilled space) and how much competition there is. Not that she sees it as a bad thing. Like most people that we’ve spoken to, she’s not convinced that we’ve reached saturation point yet – or that there’s any issues with the expanding contract brand market. She also reflects on some of the challenges she initially had breaking down that old barrier of “women in beer”.
While things have mostly changed for the better, in the early days some customers were hesitant to engage as they were not used to a women sales rep in beer (one assumes this might have been different in wine – who knows). I asked about how Hannah overcame this, and if her approach was different or considered as she was representing her employer. She comments that she’s not a very confrontational person – even with her Scottish roots – which must help, both professionally and personally. She simply remained persistent and polite in her engagements. And, she used the challenges as opportunities to educate, and to demonstrate her beer knowledge. Hannah tells me of working through the, “no such thing as a man’s beer and a girl’s beer” with more than one customer to help break down the stereotypes. Alongside this, she helped break them by being herself.
Hannah’s beer knowledge is something she should be proud of – even if she might not frame it this way herself! When we met, she’s just finished an in-house tasting and evaluation afternoon – a regular Friday occurrence. And, it’s more than just a way to kick off beer o’clock. It’s one of the mechanisms used by Garage Project to undertake quality analysis of the beer. Hannah comments that the team take notes to feed back to the brewery team, so there’s a focus on constant improvement - it’s definitely harder that it sounds. You have to know beer and the beers you’re tasting. For this reason, the tasting and evaluation sessions are also a way of Garage Project ensuring that that their staff constantly build their skills and know what they’re selling. This is necessary, as they’re so regularly pushing the boundaries.
Hannah is also one of a handful of Certified Cicerones® having studied and sat the exam with a group of her Garage Project colleagues last year. She didn’t pass the first time – the exam is much harder that most people think - but got through the second time around. She enjoyed the discipline of study and one of the things she’s looking forward to is continuing to expand her knowledge of beer. She’s also looking forward to the opportunities that might come from Hāpi Hop Research Centre– something that’s been mentioned by quite a few people we’ve chatted to recently. She sees it as providing the potential to expand the growing region for hops in New Zealand. She’s also excited about the improvements in the quality of beer she’s seen across New Zealand and comments that “she’s riding the wave”…let’s hope it’s a tidal wave!
Thanks to Dan Crawford for the photo.
Steph will be running the Cicerone® exam in New Zealand this year - Full disclosure of an interest.